Wildlife Conservation Department catering to tourism industry instead of protecting wildlife By Dulindra Weerasuriya The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) was solely established to implement the provisions of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. The Ordinance states its objective is to protect the fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. Therefore, the sole duty of the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Ensure enough water and food within National Parks, animals won’t leave them


Wildlife Conservation Department catering to tourism industry instead of protecting wildlife

By Dulindra Weerasuriya

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) was solely established to implement the provisions of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. The Ordinance states its objective is to protect the fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. Therefore, the sole duty of the DWLC should be to achieve this objective and not to satisfy the requirements of any other institution, organisation or industry such as the tourism industry.
However, is the DWLC functioning to achieve the objective for which it was created? This is the question that comes to our minds when we look at the state of affairs at our National Parks.

In today’s context, most of the wild animals that have to be protected are mainly in National Parks and Strict Natural Reserves (NPs). Earlier wild animals were all over the jungle areas which were not NPs. However, with jungle areas being opened up or deforested for cultivation, the areas in which wild animals are given protection have now become limited to NPs. This has made things much easier for the DWLC. However, if these wild animals are to be protected, they have to be kept within the NPs by the DWLC. Has the DWLC succeeded in doing so even to some extent? The clear answer is NO! If the DWLC has, we will not be reading or seeing in print and electronic media almost every day, about deaths of wild animals, especially elephants outside NPs. The media largely cover the deaths of elephants, but the deaths or killings of other wild animals go unreported in the media.

Why do these wild animals leave these NPs? Just as we visit NPs to see animals, do animals come out of NPs or their habitats to see human beings? I do not think so. Then why? Why do people of this country go to foreign countries in search of greener pastures? They do so mainly because this country cannot provide the living conditions they look for or wish to enjoy. This is human behaviour or instinct. Do not animals, wild or not, have the same behaviour or instinct? They do! If our country can provide the needs of all its people, they will not go abroad in search of greener pastures.

Similarly, if the NPs can provide wild animals what they need (better living conditions or habitats), they will not leave the NPs. Fortunately, the needs of wild animals are not vast and/or numerous as the needs of humans. They only need a good habitat which gives them enough water and food. When they do not get the water and food they require in the NPs they live in, they naturally will come out from the NPs in search of water and food and get involved with humans and thereby starting the human-wild animal conflict. This problem aggravates during droughts such as what we are going through now.

Is erecting electric fences around NPs the answer to prevent wild animals coming out of NPs? Has the Government been successful in preventing people going abroad illegally in search of greener pastures by creating legal and physical barriers and restrictions such as emigration controls at airports and harbours? (Moreover, the countries they go to, also have many restrictions such as visas and job permits requirements.) But, have these legal requirements and barriers prevented people from going abroad in search of greener pastures? No! They will still go illegally by boat, even risking their lives. The same behaviour applies to the wild animals in the NPs. They will come out in search of water and food risking their lives. If this country (government) provides everything what its people need, they will not leave this country in search of greener pastures. Similarly, if the NPs provide all what the wild animals need (mainly a good environment with water and food), the wild animals will be happy and content not to leave the NPs. Even wild animals living outside the NPs too will come in to nearby NPs. (However, there is another reason why wild Elephants move from one area to another area which will be discussed later in this article).

Unfortunately it appears that the DWLC whose sole function is the protection and conservation of wildlife has not understood this basic behaviour, which is common to humans and wild animals. Just as the Government enacts more stringent laws to prevent people from leaving the country illegally, the DWLC keeps on erecting electric fences around the NPs to prevent wild animals from leaving the NPs. Yet people continue to leave this country illegally and wild animals too will continue to leave these NPs. This will never end.

Then, how can we keep these wild animals in the NPs? It is the same way we could stop the people of this country going abroad in search of greener pastures. Provide these people with what they need in this country itself. Fortunately, the needs of animals are limited and, unlike humans, they do not crave for more. Animal needs are limited to water and food (and mates to multiply their species which is a natural instinct.)

If we accept this basic logic, let us consider how greener pastures or habitats can be provided and developed to keep these wild animals within these NPs. In any area, there is an index called ‘Carrying Capacity’ of the living beings. This applies to human habitats and animal habitats though this is generally used for animal habitats in NPs. If there is no food and drinking water in a particular area, no human being will be able to live in that area and thereby, the carrying capacity of humans in that area will be very low. If water is provided, people will start moving to these dry areas and start cultivating land. The carrying capacity of humans will increase in these dry zones.

This is exactly what we did when we built the Mahaweli Development Scheme and the Galoya Development Scheme; Provided water and people started moving to and living in these areas. This should be done in NPs, if we are to keep wild animals within NPs and to attract wild animals living outside NPs to NPs.

First, sufficient water should be provided to the NPs without solely depending on seasonal rains. This can be done by diverting rivers into NPs. All major NPs have rivers, the water of which is not used for cultivation, when or after they flow by or through these NPs. Manik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya flow through or by the sides of the Yala and Kumana (Yala East) National Parks. Modaragam Aru and Kala Oya flow by or through the Wilpattu National Park. Almost every irrigation scheme that has been built in the recent past has catchment areas that have been declared as NPs such as the Gal Oya NP, Uda Walawe NP, Wasgamuwa NP, and Somawathi NP. These NPs do not have a problem of water other than during a severe drought. However, the two main National Parks, Yala and Wilpattu, which were established long before such irrigation projects were thought of, are not in the vicinity of such irrigation projects. Therefore, these two parks face severe water shortages during the dry seasons.

If we study areas where these human-animal (elephant) conflicts generally take place, we would realise that they are mainly areas close to but outside the Wilpattu National Park and Yala National Park. This proves the fact that elephants and other wild animals leave these National Parks in search of water and food. Therefore, if the water of Manik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya could be diverted to the Yala and Kumana National Parks and water of Modaragam Aru and Kala Oya could be diverted to the Wilpattu National Park by the construction of anicuts or small dams across these rivers, and internal water canal systems are built within the parks to carry this diverted water to the existing tanks, water holes or villus in these parks, the water problem in these three major National Parks could be solved. Furthermore, the existing tanks, water holes or villus in these Parks will have to be desilted and if necessary new tanks will have to be built.

It is conceded that such projects are long-term projects, which require detailed planning such as taking levels (contours) of the landscape and are costly. However, it would be better and more economical in the long term to implement the projects rather than carrying water in bowsers into man-made small concrete water basins in the parks during the dry seasons, as done at present. If no initiative is taken now, the problem will be more severe in time to come.

Diverting water does not solve or end the problem of the animals. Suitable vegetation should be there for the herbivorous wild animals to feed on. There are special types of grass, such as “Beru” grass. One finds them at Lahugala National Park where Elephants thrive. Therefore, DWLC officials who know better the eating habits of animals will have to consult botanists with practical experience to introduce these grasses and plants and grow them in the National Parks which will be having sufficient water after the water diversion. At the same time, invasive plants which are of no food value to any animal, such as commonly known “Gadapane” will have to be destroyed. This again needs quite a lot of studying and planning. Nothing comes easy.

More water and vegetation will keep herbivorous animals such as elephants, sambhur, deer and wild buffaloes within NPs and it will also attract animals living outside the NPs into the NPs giving them protection from being killed by human beings. When there are more herbivorous animals on which the carnivorous animals such as the Leopard live on, the number of carnivorous animals too will increase in number within NPs. By this, we will increase the “Carrying Capacity” of all wild animals in our National Parks and we will have ‘animal full’ NPs.

If one looks at well-managed and developed National Parks in other parts of the world, mainly in East Africa, it is basically the above what is done and called “Management of National Parks”. Once the animal population in a National Park goes beyond what that National Park can carry, the herbivorous animals by overgrazing will destroy their own habitat. Then certain steps are taken to keep the animal population at a manageable level.

But Sri Lanka will have to go a long way to face such problems. The other reason why elephants leave parks is in search of mates to breed. If they remain within a particular park, after some time there would be inbreeding with the elephants in the park and this will lead to degeneration of the species within that Park. Therefore, elephants by instinct go in search of new breeding mates. It is for these reasons that “Elephant Corridors” were established in our country connecting the National Parks of which some have been taken over by humans for cultivation. A way to overcome this problem of inbreeding is the translocation of male elephants from one area (Park) to another. Modern Wildlife Management methods have solutions for this inbreeding problem too. Before we think of the problem of inbreeding etc. let us take steps to save the decreasing animal population in our NPs.

Instead of improving the habitat/carrying capacity of our National Parks, what is the DWLC doing? DWLC is improving the facilities provided to visitors to NPs by renovating existing roads and opening up new roads within the park. The roads have been developed to such an extent that vehicles carrying visitors have been speeding and have run over animals. There have been accidents too involving vehicles. To prevent speeding, the DWLC has put up speed bumps on the roads. What a state of affairs?

Again to make matters more convenient to visitors, new entrances to NPs are opened, new bungalows constructed within the National Parks and existing bungalows modernised. Has the DWLC leaving aside constructing a single new water tank or a water hole for the benefit of the wild animals, at least repaired a damaged bund of a tank in any of the NPs? The answer is NO! Everything is for visitors and nothing for the animals. Fortunately for the DWLC, the wild animals in the parks cannot hold demonstrations holding placards fighting for their rights in front of the Fort Railway Station or complain to authorities, political or otherwise. Therefore, the DWLC has conveniently forgotten its duty towards the wild animals and is concentrating only on catering to the needs of the visitors who can and do complain to authorities in Colombo. As one DWLC junior officer said, if the animals can know what is being done in the name of their conservation, they will commit suicide.

A recent news item on a foundation laying ceremony for an office complex at the Yala National Park said that the Yala National Park had earned enormous revenue and it hoped to increase the revenue in the future. This clearly shows that the DWLC has forgotten the object for which it was created. It is playing second fiddle to the tourism industry and is only thinking of money and not of the wild animals.

Has the tourism industry contributed a red cent for the up keep or development of any National Park? No! If this trend continues, the DWLC will have to get ready with attractive posters or boards carrying pictures and phrases such as ‘Elephants used to graze here’, ‘Leopards were living and breeding in these caves’ and ‘Peacocks were dancing here’. In fact, trackers (official guides) who are unable to show animals in the National Parks have begun to tell visitors that “there was leopard at this water hole yesterday”, “a herd of elephants was drinking water in this tank this morning” and “there was a peacock here three days before”.
Therefore, before such excuses become official excuses of the DWLC, hope the DWLC will act fast to save our wild animals (life) not for the future generations, but for the present generation.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.