hile the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts. On this inaugural World Wildlife Day, I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably" Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - 2014.
At its 68th session the United Nations General Assembly decided to proclaim March 3rd the day of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES adopted on March 3, 1973), as World Wildlife Day (WWD). The WWD was proposed by the Thailand Government at the CITES’ Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the parties held in Bangkok in 2013 and the very first WWD was celebrated on 3rd March 2014.
The WWD provides the ideal opportunity to
Celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of fauna and flora;
Recall privileged interactions between wildlife and populations across the globe and;
Raise awareness of the urgent need to step up the fight against wildlife crime
Sri Lanka as a Bio-diversity Hotspot in the World
Sri Lanka must take a leadership role in terms of conservation of its rich fauna and flora diversity and also curb world wildlife crimes.
Sri Lanka is a unique country having a high point endemism (species found only in one place in the entire world) and also different ecological regions in a short distance. Sri Lanka is one of 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world although the country is relatively small in land size (65,610km²) but it has the highest biodiversity density in Asia.
Sri Lanka is home to 2,936 fauna, 3,492 flora and 3,021 marine species according to the National Red List 2012. Sri Lanka harbours the world’s biggest terrestrial and ocean animals i.e. elephants and whales. Sri Lanka’s land wildlife lives in the national parks, forest jungles, inland water bodies, and marshy lands. 14 percent of Sri Lankan land and considerable areas of sea bed belong to the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka.
Protect Wildlife of Sri Lanka
During the British colonial period, the British administrators introduced the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No.2 of 1937. This Ordinance was passed in the State Council on the 23rd February 1937. With this Ordinance in 1938, the government started to establish Protected Area Networks, which include Wilpattu and Yala National Parks and others. The Department of Wildlife was established on 1st October 1949 and was later transformed into the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). With the setting up of the DWC,the vision is to conserve the wildlife heritage for present and future generations and the mission is to work with others to ensure the conservation of wildlife heritage through professional management.
The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No.2 of 1937 was amended several times and in 2009 it became the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act. No.22 of 2009. The DWC functions under the several ministries since it was established. In 2013 the DWC got it own ministry, namely the Ministry of Wildlife Resources Conservation and the same year, the department celebrated its 65thAnniversary. As of 2014, there are 22 National Parks (including Marine National Parks), 3 Strict Natural Reserves, 4 Nature Reserves, 1 Jungle Corridor belonging to the DWC.
"Sri Lanka is a unique country having a high point endemism (species found only in one place in the entire world) and also different ecological regions in a short distance. Sri Lanka is one of 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world although the country is relatively small in land size (65,610km²) but it has the highest biodiversity density in Asia."
Soon after the war ended in 2009, the DWC with the support of the UNDP, has proposed to declare 16 Wildlife Reserves (including 4 National Parks) for the Northern Wildlife Region.
Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Facing a Difficult Time
Since post-Independence in 1948, Sri Lankan wildlife has faced unprecedented threats from the state. This is mainly due to the irresponsible development projects carried out by the successive governments which directly impacted on wildlife. The prevailing human-elephant conflict is the result of these unplanned development projects in the past. The Mahaweli Development Project aggravated this problem massively.
The previous UPFA government carried out certain development projects such as the Mattala Air Port, Cricket Stadium, Golf Course,Roads through the National Parks, Hambantota Harbour, several hotel projects on the coastline and illegal structures near the National Parks, filling wetlands and making walkways, building sites.
The Katunayaka Colombo Highway should have been built on pillars rather filling the Muthurajewela Wetland. This will badly affect wildlife and the natural eco-system of the wetland. In recent times many animals have been killed on the roads, which are built inside wildlife parks or in the vicinity of the wildlife areas.
The ongoing Colombo Port City Development Project will bring destruction to marine wildlife, wetlands and nature habitats near the coastal belt if this is build without a proper Environmental Impact Assessment Survey (EIAS). Encroaching wildlife territories not only badly impacts the wildlife, it will also cause an imbalance in the environment, linked to global warming.
In agricultural and non-agricultural areas the human-elephant conflict is aggravating and successive governments are looking for a permanent solution but have failed so far. Shooting, poisoning and trapping are the methods used by people to kill wild elephants in Sri Lanka. With the three decade long conflict there were thousands of land mines buried in the war torn areas and wild elephants are now the victims in post-war Sri Lanka.
People are used to killing wild animals for meat and they use very primitive methods such as victim activated weapons, trap guns and hakkapattas(an improvised explosive device concealed in fruits etc.).
People are targeting wild pigs and deer but using such weapons unfortunately affects elephants, leopards and bear consider as endangered species. Unfortunately victim activated weapons such as land mines, trap guns and hakkapattas are still not banned weapons in Sri Lanka. The local hunters are still hunting in Sri Lanka and killing many wild animals. Gene robbery is also taking place in a well organise manner.
Illegal capturing of baby elephants is the new addition to wildlife crime in Sri Lanka. In the last ten years this business gradually increased and it came to its pinnacle in recent years. It has been revealed that state sponsored illegal baby elephant trade is linked to Buddhist monks, politicians, businessmen and others as well. This has tarnished Sri Lanka’s image locally and internationally.
Sri Lanka’s Contribution
Sri Lanka is a signatory for the CITES since 1979 and RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands since 1990 and Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) since 1990. Currently World Wildlife Crimeis increasing - wildlife crime, which has a wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impact. Killing of elephants, rhinos are at an alarming rate today in the world and in another 10 years time they will be extinct. The illegal trade in fauna and flora (other than fisheries and timber) has been estimated by different sources to be worth US$7 to US$23 billion dollars annually. Blood ivory and rhino horns are major contributors in this.
Sri Lanka’s wild animals are not part of the illegal wildlife business and contribution to international wildlife trafficking is minimal. Sri Lanka’s Customs officials are working tirelessly to detect any illegal trafficking of wildlife. In 2012, Sri Lankan Customs found a container full of ‘blood ivories’ (359 tusks) en route to Dubai from Kenya. These ivories did not carry the CITES country code markings which under the Convention is totally banned. This was the largest ever stock of illegal blood ivories found by the Sri Lankan Customs. Unfortunately the previous government tried to use them. This brought shame on Sri Lanka internationally. Due to the local and international uproar against the government this was stopped and the container is still sealed at the Customs warehouse. Sri Lankan authorities should burn this container in public. People are eagerly waiting for this.
Top Seven of Sri Lanka
In the first year of the World Wildlife Day celebration and also the 65th Anniversary of the DWC in 2014, Sri Lanka declared its flag ship to be seven animals the “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka.”
This was a long-awaited declaration on Sri Lankan wildlife. Sri Lanka’s Top Seven represent both land and sea animals, which include the Asian Elephant (Elephantus Zeylonicus Maximus), Leopard (Pantheraparduskotiya), Sloth Bear (Melursusursinus), Crocodile (Crocodylusporosus), Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchusasiaticus), Leather back Turtle (Dermochelyscoriacea) and Blue Whale(Balaenopteramusculus).
Selecting of the “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” was based on diverse behavioural patterns, unique anatomical features, specific distributions and inimitable adaptations of the animals aiming to facilitate long=term conservation of the species. The Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka are ‘protected’ or ‘strictly protected’ under the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009 of Sri Lanka. Most of the wild animals of Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka are listed as ‘Threatened’, ‘Nearly Threatened’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and are also listed in the CITES.
The Way Forward
Sri Lanka needs a New Fauna and Flora Act. Some wildlife experts say the current Amended Act of Fauna and Flora 2009 is a‘Dog’s Breakfast.’ There are some areas that need to be totally updated (fines) severe punishments, banning of victim= activated weapons such as landmines, trap guns and hakkapattas, use of DNA and Genetic testing is a must and strict regulations should be introduced on newly emerged wildlife crimes with the new Act. Public and expert consultation is a must when draft as the new Act. There should be an immediate gazette of proposed 16 wildlife reserves for the Northern Wildlife Region. The previous government had proposed the construction of tourist hotels in the proposed Wildlife Sanctuary areas and the same government purposely delayed to declare them as sanctuaries due to personal economic gain. The current government should make this a high priority before any illegal constructions or any illegal land grabbing of those proposed Wildlife Sanctuaries commence. Sri Lanka must work towards zero private ownership of wild animals and there should be strict rules and regulations in the Act in this regard. No wildlife animals should be in human custody at any given time. Animal abuse in Sri Lanka is a national disgrace and we need to stop this immediately. Elephants should not be used for any purposes and this includes any religious, ceremonial, tourist, labour or any other activity. In Buddhism there is no reference to the use of elephants.
Sri Lankan wildlife looks into many areas to develop and improve its service. Marine wildlife is a new area for the DWC and needs resources both human and physical. Research and development (R&D) should be a priority for the DWC and the latest technology should be used. Park-related management and its various provisions and facilities should be upgraded for its animals and visitors. There should be a permanent solution in the dry season to ensure a continuous supply of water for animals. The issue of water was aggravated in the 2014 dry season period at the Yala National Park. There should be always a dedicated ministry for the DWC. The previous government set up the dedicated ministry (Ministry of Wildlife Resources Conservation) and this will immensely help to conserve the precious and prestigious wildlife for future generations. Appointing a knowledgeable and dedicated Minister, staff for the ministry and the DWC is very important in this respect.
It is important to note that working together will bring more results than working in isolation. The DWC and others could work together to achieve ultimate results of conservation of Sri Lankan Wildlife. In this regard, relevant ministries and other government institutes, Universities,INGOs and NGOs, Corporate sector, Lobby groups, Media, and Community groups and community participation at various levels are important. Continuous educating of children and people on conservation is needed. At the same time it should introduce wildlife, nature and environment as subjects in the school curriculum. Partnering and working together with other countries (relevant for Sri Lanka’s wildlife conservation) and studying their success stories will bring many benefits for wildlife conservation.
Sri Lanka could be able to host an annual State party convention meetings of CITES, RAMSAR or CMC in the future and proudly celebrate the World Wildlife Day each year. Sri Lanka could become one of the best countries in the world today in terms of wildlife conservation as well as the top international wildlife destination. The Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka can take the Sri Lankan wildlife to the world.
The writer is volunteer in the field of wildlife conservation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org