Thursday, December 7, 2017

A call to arms to shoot to kill on sight - Poachers in National Parks - the only deterrent to unabashed destruction

Press Conference – Hosted by Wildlife and Nature Protection Society

If a call to arms was needed then the headline should read as follows:

The President of the WNPS pleads for all DWC (Department of Wildlife Conservation) personnel trained in the use of weaponry and passing standard fitness and competence tests, to be allowed to carry fire arms openly, and SHOOT TO KILL any poacher they apprehend with a weapon of any sort, whether it is a gun that is a fire arm, or another that may not be a fire arm, but which is intended for use in killing animals, within the precincts of protected areas under the management of the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Further that they are protected and defended adequately through the resources of the DWC if brought to court as the defendants will have the resources to use the most expensive lawyers to state their case, and so should have adequate protection, to ensure that those doing their job, can in fact safely do it, without fear of being harmed in any way!

In short, “Rukshan Jayawardena of the WNPS, demands that, when poachers are identified with a weapon, DWC staff can shoot to kill, unless they surrender with hands held up, when found within the premises of National Parks.”

The objective of the press conference was to bring to the public’s attention the concern, hinged upon the recent killing of the crossed Tusker of Galgamuwa (Galgamuwa’s Dala Pootuwa) of the ravages taking place against the Wildlife and the Environment of Sri Lanka, often tacitly supported by the powers who rule over us, sometimes assisted by the DWC, in not following their true remit, which is not understood by those in charge.

We were informed that the present situation is such that the onus is on the DWC employee to justify his action, and no assistance is forthcoming from the DWC in this regard, and weapons are not issued except for a special purpose upon receiving information of a crime about to be committed, with poachers having the upper hand both of arms, and defense lawyers who can defend them, and no one to protect the DWC staff, least of all the DWC.

It goes without saying that there is NO real attempt of the DWC staff to protect any animal in their care, as if they bring to attention any misdemeanor, it is more upon their heads to prove this without the benefit of any support from the DWC in doing so. If one does not see the irony in all this one has to be blind, deaf and dumb, not to speak out at this basic IMPOSSIBILITY of the Staffers to their job!
It was pointed out at the briefing that when the only known instance of a Game Ranger who apprehended and arrested a poacher who was then prosecuted and imprisoned, that later it was the ranger who died in mysterious circumstances that has yet not been solved, and the suspects are still at large, and the evidence points out to a hit by the Mafia don who was behind the initial poaching cabal itself.

If proof of the above allegations are needed, it suffices to say there is NO incentive therefore on the part of the Wildlife Rangers to do their job to protect wildlife, when they themselves feel vulnerable in light of bigger fish behind the initial poacher, who has tentacles to the highest in politics to ensure that their rights are upheld in precedence to the hapless Department.


This has been the rallying cry from conservationists for decades, why has this not been heeded? Is it simply because the politicians who are answerable to their vote base do not care about the animals that don’t have a vote? And the vote base will only be concerned about that once they have completely disappeared when their lives will also be at risk?

Rukshan Jayawardena said in his opening remarks that elephants have been here for a million years. I believe he is a paleontologist by training so he knows what he is talking about. So what he said is that we must be aware of the thinking of elephants who have memories of their range and where they can and should go, and if humans prevent that passage by force he will not meekly submit!

This is key to understanding why mass translocations do not work, and why many animals trans located die on their way back to place of origin. So it was important to respect elephants and the people around need better education in terms of CO-EXISTENCE and not treat elephants as interlopers, pointing out how much this elephant must have suffered, due to injuries, and both eyes being affected due to man’s shooting. He further went on to say that in the end the elephant died with 40kg of buckshot or spent ammunition in its body, and so would have suffered for its life, let alone be killed for its tusks.

Whether the gathered reporters were covering this merely as part of the job, of if they attempted to understand the message to convey the gravity of the issue to their readers is beyond my level of intuition. His remarks were made to try and bring back to the front burner, how vital the Elephant Maximus is to the whole survival of all species in Sri Lanka, as the umbrella species survival will only guarantee all the other species down the food chain who can survive only if their habitat is intact   
There were three other speakers. A lady who is an environmental lawyer noted all the legal remedies and said as much, that we have to tighten them further so the punishment fits the crime and the current fines and imprisonment for elephant deaths are hardly worth pondering on and should be treated equivalent to killing a human being, as the elephant requires to be raised to that status.

An environmentalist was of the opinion that the DWC was not sufficiently interested in conservation, that which it is specifically asked to do, especially as the idea of preserving tusks of elephants that have been killed by others or the fault of the DWC are preserved even in the main office in Battaramulla, when they should have been treated as blood ivory and burnt in public with all the publicity it deserves in order to reduce the value of tusks in people’s view.

Further action in reducing the worth of ivory, by changing customs and myths was also discussed in order to change the myth if gajamuthu which was a complete con to fool people as there is NO such thing but manufactured products, sometimes from the bones of cattle to fool people on what it really is, and if there is no value attached to it after publicizing what a con it is, people will finally stop desiring which automatically results in the drop in demand for this, which will then reduce the incidence of killing.

Another environmental activist also spoke about the absurd local customs around elephants that only had traction in myth and not with any ounce of truth in them. Therefore if we can explode many myths to what they are we can change the public perception in the value of the products of dead animals and instead value and enjoy the sight of seeing the living in the flesh in its own natural habitat.

Remember elephants spend most of their time outside of protected areas, and so must necessarily live with the local community in harmony, and so it is the community which should surround itself by novel means of prevention of incursion, not just electric fences, so that elephant corridors are left intact and their transitory patterns appreciated and permitted that can only result in less incidence.

Remember that most of the HEC is with lone elephants NOT herds who tend to avoid confrontation due to the babies within their fold. So stopping migratory paths and not allowing free movement is not what we should do, identify problem specimens and have means to identify by new technology, collaring and such as to their range and reach and keep tabs on their presence when they come too close to human habitation.

Finally questions were asked of the reasons why law enforcement is not taking action on the known big time patrons of poaching by questioning them, searching their ample premises for contraband and ensuring the law is equal. That is the only way that we can stop, this terrible tragedy from spreading like a virus.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Wasgamuwa National Park – Observations from a brief 4 day visit

The 100,000 acre Wasgamuwa National Park, is without question the Hidden Gem in the Crown of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Sadly though, those in charge of this nation’s future, one part of the Environmental Conservation Battle, the PROTECTION OF SRI LANKA’S WILD LIFE FOR THE FUTURE GENERATIONS, have NO clue how to preserve it, nor enhance it and develop it. This can easily be done, in the interests of generating the needed income, while at the same time advancing the knowledge of our wildlife, with the aim of preserving the status of endangered flora and fauna in keeping with our Biodiversity value.

Just to point out one fact that horrified me, and I don’t think this made it to the Media, was the granting of 12,000 acres of PARKLAND to the displaced villagers of the  Moragahakanda Project, as their lands went under water when that project was begun. Surely it is a bad enough task of preserving what we got, but having to give so much land from the park for Agriculture in a Country where much of the Agricultural land is VERY POORLY UTILIZED smacks of POLITICAL EXPEDIANCY and not of the preservation of the future of the Country which in any case requires one third of its landmass protected from exploitation to be kept for future generations. It should be preserved as forest lands, which could be used for timber and for revenue earning means in an extremely sustainable manner preserving the ethos of regeneration of new forests, not cutting down existing ones!

Please do not forget, the Wildlife Parks act both as protectors of fauna and flora as the latter too is severely endangered, and there is NOT plan in place to document, preserve, and educate the public on unique flora that is also to be seen in this and other national parks. Why is Wasgamuwa so special?

What makes this park so special is that its climate, bordering the Riverston Range of the Knuckles Mountain Range on one side, offering spectacular scenery, and bordering on the Kalu Ganga and Mahaweli on its eastern and western flanks permits year round water, lush vegetation and ideal conditions for many species of flora and fauna to thrive. Our National Bird the Jungle Fowl thrives here.

Without a fully funded research station at Wasgamuwa, is a reason for its selection as an ideal location for the study of many species in their natural habitat covering a few different CLIMATIC HABITATS, being in the middle of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka with its unique status as a world famous BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT (few of the elected politicians are even aware of this status) does not even have a University, PhD program of international repute that studies this subject. We have the ideal location for such an Academic Institution, and so should at least have a minimal research establishment created for a specific goal of preserving DNA, collecting a database and enhancing knowledge for the future.

When one has leaders who are so busy fighting daily fires set by themselves, they don’t have the vision to identify this need. Their education level is merely to hang on to power, a task they fail miserably at anyway. If they have any love for Country, they must at least realize the potential of being a center of international research which could be completely funded from foreign University Research Programs, without the need to dip into the national coffers for anything. To say nothing of the foreign earnings of a world class research establishment located in Sri Lanka.

How idiotic are we when we catch foreigners attempting to take species out of this country for study, and confiscate and throw those items away, when they are merely taking it to study the genetic patterns to enhance human knowledge anyway. If we had an institution with experts in their fields, people will come here to do that research anyway! So to put it simply we don’t study our own nor do we want anyone else to study, and for all you know we may be losing endemic species we have yet to identify due to this utter foolishness on our part.

Only altruistic people would think about these possibilities, whereas nationalists, have an island mentality of a frog in a well, don’t want anyone interfering who is at a higher educational level than themselves. This has been the crux of why we have not had an outward looking educational foundation that attracts the best to Sri Lanka, a country that yearly loses its best to foreign universities never to return due to the lack of such world class establishments capable of retaining talent. There is NO place for graduates with first class honors in programs, so they go overseas and enhance the knowledge of the host countries. This is a means to reduce the loss of this catch 22 dilemma faced everyday by our best and brightest.

For a system that just cannot ascertain the most appropriate location for placing a practical Electric Fence, and have it maintained regularly to protect the animals and thereby the locals, how can they have foresight for anything more?

We have experts in Elephant behavior, why is their input not taken into account in making fool proof fencing, rather than leave it to a contractor who is tasked with a fence where his interest is merely the profit he can make out of building a fence that will NOT serve the purpose anyway, due to substandard material and longevity.

The Park Bungalows need extensive renovation, as they are simply not conducive to reasonable stays, and those in power simply don’t stay in such bungalows preferring luxurious alternatives, that result in step-motherly treatment, and the exploitation of this weakness by the private sector that is grabbing all the land outside the park to build their establishments to cater for this absence. Current design and solar technology is in place to permit suitable upgrades, without extravagant costs, if the tendering is done not for profit in mind only.

Frankly for a such a world class site (Wasgamuwa Park) the fact that even far thinking hoteliers are prevented from establishing luxurious accommodation, including helicopter landing facilities, by the existing hotels, who have selfishly prevented new entrants with better quality is a testament again to the frog in the well mentality that does not allow others to come in. At least if they renovate thier own establishments to an international acceptable standard for high end wildlife viewing this may mitigate the void created.

The big spending wildlife lover, is denied the conditions upon which to satisfy his demands preferring to spend millions on a holiday in South Africa that merely has game parks that are fenced in, in a canned tourism product that ensures animals are always there to be seen, with no surprises that our parks offer the viewer. Purists don’t like that kind of luxury that is so artificial that it is like going to the safari park to view wildlife and not to a National Park!

I know some of my own friends do not wish anything to be said or done at Wasgamuwa as they have been horrified by the destruction of Yala, Udawalawe, Horton Plains and Minneriya, that they don’t want a repeat of that here. I am not for a moment even pointing in that direction, merely on preserving this for exclusive very high end international tourism amounting to say a regulated 50 groups of a maximum of 10 individuals a month, yielding foreign exchange from their park visits of about US$500,000 a month. Not too bad he!(US$10K a group)

Leaving the development for organic growth as was permitted in Yala, where every person who was able to get a lease on a Jeep became a jeep owner or driver meant that it became a right for them to be allowed to take tourists into the park, even if they had NO love for the wildlife, and only for the money they hoped to earn from that.

It is precisely to prevent a repeat of that scenario, that I am pointing out an alternative means that auctions a slot into the park each month, which will prevent the unfettered exploitation that goes on. We are all free to as members of the public to bid for an entrance, and then we choose the jeep which takes us there, our own vehicle maybe or one from the pool of drivers who offer services, based on their knowledge and capability, not just their ability to race at speed, which appears to be the only qualification needed for Yala, a qualification designed to ruin one National Heritage unless it has not already been ruined. 

This is made possible due to the ruinous action of a senior Minister, who has NO love for wildlife, or for those who observe the rules of the park, and honor and respect other wildlife lovers from peacefully observing the beauty of nature, and enjoying a peaceful setting.

In Conclusion it is clear that we could use this park as a pilot project to be the world standard in Research and invite only those who are really interested in the biodiversity to enjoy and learn from this Wasgamuwa Experience.