Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Attempt to ‘Rescue’ wild cat babies could backfire

October 14, 2018

Two wild cat cubs were found in a tree cavity several days ago by workers at the Bogawantalawa tea estate. The mother could not be spotted so the workers carefully took the cubs away, thinking they had been orphaned.

The Nallathanniya Beat Office of Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) was alerted to the find on October 4 and rushed to the estate where they found that the cubs were young fishing cats only a few days old.

The cubs were in good shape, said wildlife ranger Prabash Karunatilleke. He told the people who found them it was best to take them back to their hiding place because their mother would return for them.

“Fishing cats usually hide their babies when they need to go out on brief hunting trips to find food. Perhaps the mother ran away in fright at the approach of the estate workers, but it would have been around,” Mr. Karunatilleke said.

Wildlife officers put the babies back in the tree cavity and cleared the area of people. When they returned to the site the next morning the babies were not there. Fresh pug marks around the tree indicated the mother had taken her babies to another hideout, Mr. Karunatilleke said.

The wildlife officers had acted sensibly in putting the cubs back in the tree cavity, fishing cat experts said, adding that worried members of the public often believe they are performing an act of kindness in “rescuing” apparently abandoned fishing cat cubs when in fact they were separating babies from their mother.

“If you find a fishing cat cub just check the surrounding area for predators. If the cub seems to be safe, just wait and keep your distance as the mother won’t come if it feels your presence,” fishing cat expert Anya Ratnayake said.

“If the mother does not appear even after about two hours, then there is a chance that the cubs have been orphaned due to some tragic thing having happened to the mother.

“Then, and only then, take the initiative to help them,” Ms. Ratnayake advised.

“The cubs of all our wild cats, including leopards, are adorable and it is difficult to resist the urge to help them, but being with the mother is their best chance of their survival.”

Carnivores are difficult to rehabilitate and be released back to the wild as grown animals, wild cat experts emphasised. It is difficult to teach a baby wild cat the techniques of hunting and other skills that cats need to survive in the wild and which they learn from their mother.

Many fear the fishing cat, known as “handun diviya” in Sinhala. Ms. Ratnayake and fellow young fishing cat expert Ashan Thudugala are doing a good job trying to educate the public about this species.

The fishing cat is a medium-sized wild cat that lives in wetlands. They are nocturnal and secretive wild cats so studying them is difficult for researchers.

Fishing cats face many kinds of dangers. They adapt to wetlands in busy cities, even in Colombo, so are often run over and killed by accident when trying to cross roads.

They are also often caught in snares set primarily for wild boar in many areas. The loss of their wetland habitats is also a major problem.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.10.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181014/news/rescue-of-wild-cat-babies-backfires-315532.html 

NOTE: Experts opined that the cubs found on Bogawanthalawa are infact the cubs of the Rusty-spotted Cat; world’s smallest wild cat.  

Fishing cats often become roadkill. Babies could go orphaned, if mother get killed or translocated elsewhere (c) Toshan Wijerathne – Near Kirala Kele, Matara

19m Lankans face financial hit from climate change by 2050

October 7, 2018

Living standards in the Northern and North-Western provinces will be badly affected by changing climate and the economic engine of the Western Province will also falter, according to a World Bank study that links GDP to the impact of climate change. Published on SundayTimes on 07.10.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/19m-lankans-face-financial-hit-from-climate-change-by-2050-314779.html

Going in search of water: Women are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts

The Jaffna and Puttalam districts will be the top hotspots – areas where changes in average weather will adversely affect living standards – while the second most populous district in the country, Gampaha, is among the top 10 most vulnerable districts.

Gampaha has been heavily affected by recent droughts, and the World Bank report points out that western Sri Lanka, along with south-eastern India, northern Pakistan and eastern Nepal, have experienced “unambiguous” temperature rises of 1C to 1.5C (1.8F to 2.7F) from 1950-2010.

The report, South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards, combines average temperature and rainfall information with household survey data to recognise looming changes to the human condition.

Such changes inevitably affect the national economy. “In Sri Lanka, living standards could go down by around 5 percent, and in the worst-case scenario may decline by around 7 percent,” said Professor Muthukumara Mani, a leading economist in the World Bank South Asia Region and author of the report.
“Under the worst-case scenario, GDP will decline by 7.7 percent, an estimated loss of $US50 billion.”

According to the report, about 19 million people in Sri Lanka today live in locations that could become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario. This is equivalent to more than 90 percent of the country’s population.

Stress was laid on the importance of coping with the changes of average temperature as much as the increase of severe weather events. “Global warming is proven, and the climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier. We are not doing enough, heading toward a 3C increase by 2100, and the poor will suffer most,” said Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, former vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We also tend to forget long-term effects as more focus is on the short term. In case of extreme events, we at least know kind of action that can be taken such as relocation, evacuation etc. and can have a robust mechanism to deal with natural disasters. But we don’t know much about gradual changes in temperature and how to face them,” Prof. Munasinghe said.

“Even a change of one week or two weeks of monsoon can have an impact on farmers. We still do not know what to do with the gradual changes.”
On current trends, humans would need the resources of two planets to satisfy our needs by 2030, Prof. Munasinghe said, stressing the need to take a sustainable path.

People employed in agriculture will bear the brunt of climate-change-caused hardship and many will face extreme poverty, the report states.
They have already begun moving toward other day jobs as they cannot rely totally on agriculture, according to figures shown at the study’s launch ceremony.

While less developed and agriculture-based households are more prone to livelihood upset, hardship will not be limited to rural areas: in Pakistan, the most vulnerable exist in urban areas. The report also states that female-run households are more resilient.

Dr. Herath Manthrithilake, head of the International Water Management Institute (IMWI)’s country programme, said the highlight of the study is its linking of weather changes to the effects on GDP, which allows policymakers to easily understand the consequences of climate change.

Dr. Manthrithilake said water will be an important resource and we would not be able to look as lightly on water management as we did in the last century. “We need to think about all the water resources and how to use them constructively — how we can combine usage. At the moment, once we use water for agriculture, we discard it. We need to find out how waste water can be reused,” he said.

Kusum Athukorala of Netwater Partnership pointed out that women are foot soldiers of climate change adaptation. “Often, women looking for water in parched land has been the tell-tale picture of drought. So they are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts,” Ms. Athukorala said.

Given that five of the top 10 vulnerable districts of Sri Lanka are in Northern Province – with Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi the worst affected – it is important that changes in average temperature and precipitation be considered for planning and development activities in that province.

The urbanised west of the country will not escape a financial hit from climate change. The report states: “The highly-urbanised and densely-populated Western Province, which includes Colombo, is also predicted to experience a living standards decline of 7.5 percent by 2050, compared with a situation without changes in average weather. This is a substantial drop, with potentially large implications for the country, given that the province contributes more than 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s GDP.”

The report states that as more people move from agricultural areas to urban areas to cope better with the economic effects of climate change these shifts will in turn create new climate impacts, particularly with risks to health.

The World Bank report suggests ways in which Sri Lanka could limit the problems caused by climate change. Increasing the share of the non-agricultural sector by a third could limit the deterioration in living standards from -7 percent to 0.1 percent. Reducing travel time to markets and increasing average educational levels would also help the country.

Link to the World Bank Report https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/28723/9781464811555.pdf

Brutal harvesting of gal siyambala treat leaves sour taste

September 2, 2018

With the gal siyambala season at its height experts are warning that unsustainable harvesting methods are pushing the fruit tree towards extinction while prices for the product have soared. Published on SundayTimes on http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180902/news/brutal-harvesting-of-gal-siyambala-treat-leaves-sour-taste-309655.html

Gal Siyambala tree laden with fruit (c) Ashan Geeganage 

With its velvet coat and sweetish acidic taste the gal siyambala or velvet tamarind has been a delicacy for generations.

The velvet tamarind tree (Dialium ovoideum) grows in evergreen monsoon forests and near rivers, especially in dry and semi-arid zones. It is not cultivated, so the fruit is harvested directly from the trees in the forests.

Increasingly, the harvesting is greedy and brutal, with little regard for conserving the health of the tree. Organised gangs from nearby villages go into the forest and chop down entire branches of the trees in order to pluck the fruit off them. It is common to find the remnants of these cut branches left under the trees.

Last week, 50g of gal siyambala fetched Rs. 80 at Dehiwala, with vendors lamenting that the fruit’s rarity increased the price.

Decades ago, gal siyambala could be found in large heaps at roadside fruit stalls and markets from August, when its season begins. Blooms appear on the trees from February to April and the fruits come on the market from August to November.

“At the end of August we visited a forest patch in Siyambalanduwa,” said Dr. Ashan Geeganage, who lives in Moneragala and has been lucky enough to taste the fruit directly from the tree.

“We found several gal siyambala trees, but only two of them had fruit. The fruits on the other trees had been plucked and some of the trees were chopped up very badly,” he said.

The head of the Department of Crop Science at the University of Peradeniya, Professor D K N G Pushpakumara, said this kind of harvesting was destructive and affected the fruiting of the following year’s crop.

Velvet tamarind trees are also cut down for the value of their timber as they can grow 30m high.

The species is now classified as “vulnerable” to extinction. The National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka: Conservation Status of the Fauna and Flora, published by the Department of the Environment, lists 177 plants as “possible extinct” while a third of 3,154 species of Sri Lanka’s flora are listed as “threatened”.\

While the global IUCN status remain ‘Least Concern’; the tree had been pushed to ‘Vulnerable’ in National RedLIst 2012

Cycling together in Palmyrah country

August 2, 2018
This year’s ‘Yathra’ organised by Eco-Friendly Volunteers (Eco-V) saw youth from the North and South getting a firsthand view of the northern environment. Published on SundayTimes on 08.07.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180708/magazine/cycling-together-in-palmyrah-country-301256.html

‘Vanni Yathra 2018’- a cycling journey by youth from both the North and South highlighted the importance of joint ventures in protecting nature. Launched on June 4 from Kilinochchi, the journey ended in Vavuniya covering over 200 kilometres in nine days.

Vanni Yathra team cycling past Palmyrah trees unique to the north

The team behind the effort- Eco-Friendly Volunteers (Eco-V) had previously organized seven such ‘Yathras’ or journeys covering different parts of Sri Lanka. ‘Yathra’ means journey in Sinhala and the participants are called ‘Yathrees’. Bicycles were used for these journeys which have been going on since 2011 with the aim of promoting the ‘poor man’s vehicle’ as an eco-friendly mode of transportation, said Eco-V’s president Kanchana Weerakoon.

Isyar Newton was the leader of VanniYathra 2018. Newton has been a ‘Yathree’ since 2011 (he was 31 then) and took part in the past six such journeys. Newton was an ex-LTTE combatant and very thankful for the opportunity he got to take part in the ‘Kelani Nadee Yathra’ (journey along Kelani river) in 2011 while he was under rehabilitation.

“Kelani Nadee Yathra’ was a turning point in my life. It was the first time that I got to see the beauty of Sri Lanka and got to know youth from different parts of the country. These ‘yathras’ helped me to realize that youth in Sri Lanka are like-minded as we had loads of fun while campaigning for the environment,” Newton said. “I feel 30 years of my life got wasted due to the war and now feel very productive as I’m now fighting a new kind of battle to protect the environment.”

Newton changed his lifestyle, became vegetarian, stopped drinking fizzy drinks, and now campaigns against environmental pollution and an unhealthy lifestyle. He has participated in many training programmes and became an environmental activist and champion from the Northern Province. “Newton learnt Sinhalese very fast and became the Sinhala- Tamil translator for our programmes. Whenever we had a programme, he always travelled from Kilinochchi and early morning at 6 a.m. he would be at our door-step,” Eco-V’s president Kanchana said. “He became “Our Newton” and I’m happy that he did drive his own JourneyVanni Yathra,” she added.

The 15 youth from North led by Newton were joined by 15 from the South led by Chapa Erandi – another young Yathree who emerged through Ruhunu Yathra 2016. Chapa lives in Deniyaya, in the Matara district and was delighted that she received the chance to explore the North closely for the first time. The team explored the forested areas while travelling and learnt about the plants and different eco-systems in the region. “The chance we got to observe lots of birds at Nandikadal lagoon is the most memorable,” Chapa recalled.

Newton and Chapa planting a tree while a child looks on

Chapa found the campaign interesting as it helped them to educate the Northern community. Healthy food, hygiene and clean water, climate change, healthy living and reducing the carbon footprint are some of the topics this youthful team spoke of. “Northern communities after 30 years of war, only today get to deal with these concerns.

“Language was a barrier, but we were divided into a number of groups, so that our Tamil colleagues could help us to pass the message of conservation to the people,” Chapa said. “Meeting schoolchildren in Pudukuduiruppu was special, as unlike schoolchildren in Colombo, they rarely get the chance to learn about the environment and biodiversity,” she added.

Kanchana also said the bicycle has been used for the journey purposefully as it has become a global symbol of shifting towards sustainability. However, in the social fabric of Sri Lanka many people are choosing motorcycles, cars and three-wheelers for travelling, even a short distance. The bicycle was the Northerners’ main mode of transport, but soon after the war many have changed their lifestyle and shifted to motorbikes and scooters. “Elevating the status of the bicycle in society and showing people the various functions and sustainable attributes to cycling was also an objective of Vanni Yathra 2018,” Kanchana concluded.

Spreading the environmental message among the local community

Earth Day – Every single individual matters

April 22, 2018
#Earth_Day: Today – 22nd of April- is the ‘EARTH DAY’. Have you noticed the popular search engine Google had following as its GoogleDoodle today..? Visit the link to read Earth Day message by leading primatologist Dr.Jane Goodall.
“Every single individual matters. Every single individual make some impact on the planet on every single day and we have a choice what kind of difference we are going to make” Let’s all hear Dr.Goodale’s Earth Day call to live all our lives in better harmony with nature..!!

Red light for spearfishing

April 17, 2017

Following continuing action by activists and reports in media including the Sunday Times, the government has banned spearfishing.

The gazette notice last month says: “No person shall engage in any fishing operation using spear guns or hand held spears within Sri Lanka.” The regulation also specifies that no person shall use or possess, or have on board any local fishing boat, any spear gun.

Spearfishing is a method of killing fish by a shooting a ‘pointed spike’ using a ‘spear gun’. Earlier, spearfishing was done by skin divers, but now scuba kits allow divers to remain under water longer to target larger, valuable fish species such as grouper and hump-head wrasse, which are also highly threatened.

Marine activists welcomed the ban.

Some of the large reef fish such as Napolean Wrasse are threatened

But there are those who claim spearfishing is a sustainable method, as it only removes the targeted fish and there is no by-catch.

“But if we specify a list of fish not allowed to be speared, will those spearfhishing in our waters adhere to such guidelines? How can we monitor?” asks marine activists. They say a total ban is the solution.

The Director General of the Department of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources, M C L Fernando said the support of the navy and the Coast Guard are needed to enforce the ban.

The Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act bans several methods of fishing.

Mr Fernando said the department and the ministry were planning to regulate few other fishing methods, including bottom-trawling.

TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran submitted a bill in Parliament proposing to ban bottom trawling. But some technical issues have surfaced and the bill will be re-drafted and resubmitted by the Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, the Director General of the Fisheries Department, Mr Fernando, said.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170416/news/incentives-for-dugong-hunters-to-abandon-illegal-killings-abandon-illegal-killings-237146.html 

Some of the illegal fishing methods

Another dugong butchered in Mannar

April 17, 2017

Can giving incentives for abandoning illegal fishing methods save dugongs and other threatened marine life..? 

Caught red-handed – Dugong meat found in the 3 wheeler with the culprit

Two people who were arrested while transporting 80 kilos of dugong flesh in a three-wheeler have been released on bail by a court.

There were detained on Sunday, April 9, by the navy at Thavulpadu in Mannar and handed over to to regional officers of Department of Wildlife Conservation. They were then produced in court and released on surety bail of Rs.100,000 each. The DWC unit in Mannar is investigating, according to Channa Suraweera who is overseeing its marine unit.

Dugongs recorded in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay in Sri Lanka continue to be hunted for meat and are now believed to be ‘critically endangered’ locally. Killing a dugong or the possession of its meat was banned in 1970s. Dugongs are often killed when entangled in fishing nets as well as through dynamite fishing.

Despite the laws, the killing [as bycatch] continues [with atleast 13 dugongs killed last year].

Marine activists say innovative methods are needed to discourage fishermen from killing dugongs. A trial is underway in Kalpitiya, Puttalam and other areas where dugongs are found. The project aims to give financial aid to the fishermen to replace illegal fishing gear.

A Kalpitiya fisherman inspecting his Sea Bass cage

“We have replaced about 30 illegal nets in Sottupitiya area in Kalpitiya. An agreement was also signed with fishermen not to resort to illegal methods,” said Thushan Kapurusinghe of the Sri Lanka Turtle Conservation Project, which is implementing the initiative.

This initiative is financed and managed Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment (UNEP) under the ‘Dugong and Seagrass Project’ that also functions in number of other countries of the Dugong range.

The project is also helping fishermen to set up crab cages and sea bass cages in the shallow waters, Mr Kapurusinghe said.

There is high demand for sea bass, also known as moda. The baby fish are being fattened in metal cages set up in shallow seas. Lagoon crabs, too, are being raised this way. “Raising sea bass is profitable. So this is an added income for us,” said Mr Priyantha, a local fishermen who plans to set up a sea bass cage in Kalpitiya.

The project is part of an international effort across the dugong range. It is an incentive-based approach to dugong and seagrass conservation. It is funded and managed by the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment.

The project, which ends in April, is also supporting alternative livelihoods for fishing communities including batik, sewing, dried fish packaging, coir mat production, and ornamental fish breeding.

During a recent media visit, we got a chance to meet a fishing community in Serakkuliya in Kalpitiya.

K B Nilmini, who has taken up sewing, together with a group of housewives said she can earn a decent living. “Our men used nylon nets to catch more fish. It is not legal, but that was a way to earn enough money. But, now, as I can support the family with the income from sewing clothes, we can abandon illegal fishing,” Ms Nilmini said.

But the numbers engaged in illegal fishing is large and they need to be persuaded to give up the practice.

Sewing for getting an additional income for abandoning illegal fishing

[Published on SundayTimes on 16.04.2017 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170416/news/incentives-for-dugong-hunters-to-abandon-illegal-killings-abandon-illegal-killings-237146.html. Please note that some corrections are required from the edited version. This blog post is published with all the corrections] 

Building boom endangers sand and gravel resources

April 2, 2017

Sri Lanka’s lawmakers this week approved a proper mechanism to mine sand, gravel, and rocks from lands belonging to the Mahaweli Authority and Forest Department where applicable. The decision aims to ease the demand for these and other building materials.

A cabinet paper states that only lands that are not declared as ‘protected areas’ will be targeted and that mining be done only after an environmental assessment. But environmentalists say the remaining forests should not be vandalized.

The Environment Conservation Trust’s Sajeewa Chamikara says that as soon as the war ended, forests in the north were mined for soil, gravel, and rocks to provide materials for infrastructure such as roads. “This eventually led to a severe water shortage in some of the northern areas and the new approval of mining in forest areas could also lead to such a situation,” he warns.

Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella, points out the situation is worse in the Gampaha District in the Western Province. “There are a lot of mining activities as these building materials could be easily transported to Colombo due to the proximity. But these mines already contribute to water shortages in the area,” he said. He also says there are no licences for 80 per cent of the excavations. Even those who have licences excavate more than what is allowed.

Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Acting Director General, Sajjana De Silva, said the agency had cancelled more than 100 licences citing violation of conditions during the past few years. He said there are a number of unapproved excavations and that support from other agencies is needed.

He said the daily volumes needed to fill the central expressway exceeds the amount of gravel generated by all licencees.But as controls are tightened, it is creating shortages of building materials.Projects such as expressways and numerous high-rises in Colombo and elsewhere require massive amounts of natural materials.Experts says there is a construction boom in Sri Lanka.

Sand mining at Dambulla

“Finding sand and other materials is the worst headache for contractors,” says the Chairman of National Construction Association of Sri Lanka, Athula Galagoda. He also says that the quality of the sand is poor.

Road Development Authority Chairman, Nihal Suriarachchi also says sourcing gravel for filling purposes is diffcult and it could affect expressway projects.

Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environment Conservation Trust suggests estimating the materials requirements and identifying ways of sourcing before projects are started.

Sand mining at Divulapitiya

GSMB’s former chairman, Dr. N. P. Wijayananda, points out that most of the problems regarding gravel occur because the constructors or suppliers of soil and other material are looking for sources closer to construction sites. It will be cheaper to transport, but will carry a huge environmental cost.

“Find a feasible source of gravel in a central place, do the mining scientifically and transport to the construction site. Yes, the supplier will have to spend more for transport, but environmental damage will be much less,” Dr Wijayananda suggests.

The SundayTimes also asked Dr Wijayananda, what could be a possible solution. He suggests a three-pronged approach – opening up new deposits, using railways to reduce transport costs, and promote the use of sea sand.

He recalled that earlier the sand deposits at Manampitiya were opened up to meet urgent needs.

“The flow of the Mahaweli river causes sand to accumulate around the Manampitiya Bridge in Polonnaruwa, creating a flood plain around it. If we do not use this sand, they will anyway be washed to the sea. The next monsoon will replenish the sand deposits, so sand excavation in this area could be done sustainably,” Dr Wijayananda assures.

He reveals there are other sand deposits between Manampitiya and Trincomalee. But there are no proper access roads and it is not easy to transport from the sites.

“All these excavations have to be done under strict guidelines without deepening the river unnecessarily and without affecting the banks,” Dr Wijayananda said.

He also said that during his tenure at the Mines Bureau discussions were held with the railways on transporting materials, but that it was more expensive. “But if the government is willing, it can amend the rules facilitating cheaper sea sand transport by rail. I’m sure the cost of sand can be reduced by 40 percent,” he said.

Sea sand needs to be properly cleaned. “Europe extensively use sea sand for construction. We need to mechanically clean the sea sand and set standards of minimum salinity levels.”

Published on SundayTimes on 26.03.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170326/news/building-boom-endangers-sand-and-gravel-resources-234121.html

Fishermen playing deadly games with dolphins

March 12, 2017

A video captured by an onlooker shows some of the dolphins being hauled in while alive

Deaths of a dozen dolphins trapped in a beach seine net (ma dela) last Wednesday evening in Trincomalee has stirred strong emotions.

A video captured by an onlooker shows some of the dolphins being hauled in while alive, contesting claims by fishermen that they had released some.

Nine Trincomalee fishermen who were arrested were denied bail and are in remand custody.

All marine mammals in Sri Lanka are protected under the Flora and Fauna Ordinance, and Fisheries Act. The fishermen were arrested under the provisions of these laws, said Roshan Aluthgamage, the OIC of Trincomalee Harbour.

The dolphins had been caught near the inner harbour. The fishermen who had come from nearby Manayaweli village started laying the net around 4 pm and it was dark around 7pm when they pulled the net in. According to the fishermen, they realized dolphins were in the net but that it was too late.

Beach seine nets are known as ‘ma dela’ in Sinhala. It is a fishing net laid from the shore and is a traditional fishing method, which is legal. The fishermen also had a license and it is also possible that they did not target the dolphins. But as it is a crime to kill the protected marine mammal, they were arrested, Aluthgamage said.

Marine mammal expert Ranil Nanayakkara, identified the victims as spinner dolphins (stenella longirostris), the most acrobatic of all dolphins.

In 2013, the killing of 40 dolphins as a result of an illegal purse seine net, called the ‘laila net’ in Kalpitiya, highlighted the need to look at fishing practices around Sri Lanka.

Laid out: The dead dolphins. Pic by Rahul Samantha

There are suspicions that hundreds of dolphins are getting killed in fishing nets.

As it is illegal to kill a dolphin or possess its flesh, Sri Lankan fishermen also tie their tails to sand bags and sink the carcasses, say marine activist Upali Mallikarachchi.

Often the flesh is used as bait, he said.

There are occasions when fishermen target dolphins. Two fishermen in Mirissa were arrested last year in the possession of a dolphin thay had harpooned, according to news reports.

Senior Lecturer of the Department of Oceanography and Marine Geology University of Ruhuna, Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, said dolphins alive are more worth than dead pointing out the benefits from the whale and dolphin watching industry. The worldwide whale and dolphin tourism industry was estimated to be worth US$2 billion in 2010. he said Sri Lanka stands to lose a good opportunity.

Travice Ondaatjie, the Conservation Officer of the Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club, said that killings in Trincomalee show the need for more effective monitoring by the Ministry of Fisheries and law enforcement. A few years back many more dolphin were killed in Kalpitiya, too. But were the perpetrators punished? he asks.

Dr Pradeep Kumara, general manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority, urged greater cooperation among government agencies. He suggests a coordinating framework involving the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Department of Fisheries, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, Central Environment Authority, and even the Forest Department as they manage some of the mangroves, to protect marine resources. Published on SundayTimes on 12.03.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170312/news/fishermen-playing-deadly-games-with-dolphins-232419.html

 

Sea cucumber hatchery to give momentum to industry while saving species

February 26, 2017

The construction of a new sea cucumber hatchery was initiated in Mannar yesterday at a cost of Rs 180 million rupees, says Nimal Chandraratne, the director general of National Aquaculture Development Authority of Sri Lanka.

Once completed this year, the hatchery will produce a million juvenile sea cucumbers annually, Chandraratne assured.
Sea cucumbers are bottom-dwelling primitive marine invertebrates closely related to starfish and sea urchin. They have elongated soft bodies resembling the shape of a cucumber or a sausage, giving rise to its common English name. In Sinhala they are called ‘muhudu kudella’ (sea leach). East Asian countries regard sea cucumbers as a delicacy where it is commonly known as bêche-de-mer (literally “sea-spade”) in French, creating a lucrative market.

Sea cucumbers seen at Mannar . Pic courtesy Kumudini Ekaratne, IUCN

Sea cucumbers seen at Mannar . Pic courtesy Kumudini Ekaratne, IUCN

The sea cucumber is a slow-moving animal that allows easy collection, so it was soon over-harvested in many areas. On average, a hectare of sea bottom should have a population of about 30 individuals, but a survey by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, a decade ago, revealed the number has dropped to one or two individuals in some areas, according to senior scientist Ajith Kumara.It is stated that the sea cucumber industry in Sri Lanka is quite old, having been introduced by the Chinese. Some old records mention that processed sea cucumbers appear to be one of the commodities taken to China during the last 1,000 years when trade existed via the silk route. But the demand has arisen sharply with a high price tag, so the industry surged in 1980s in coastal areas. They are dried and the entire processed harvest has been exported to countries like Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan bringing much needed foreign exchange.

In Sri Lanka, 27 different species of sea cucumbers are found, but the high value species are mainly confined to north, east and north-western coastal areas. The war had deterred over-exploitation with restrictions on maritime operations, but the post-war scenario seems to be detrimental to sea cucumbers.

A study funded by the Mangroves for the Future, carried out for six months between October 2013 and June 2014 by the University of Jaffna, found that the population is depleted in the Jaffna Lagoon. According to the study of 29 sites in the Jaffna Lagoon only10 locations had any sea cucumbers. The total in the 10 sites was only 360 individuals. But another survey between 1980 and 1981 recorded 20-160 individuals of high-value sea cucumber species per square metre.

The sea cucumber species called sandfish (holothuria scabra) that has higher value in the market is now categorized as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of threatened fauna. So the industry is doomed to collapse without intervention.

Against this backdrop, the sea cucumber farms are being introduced in Sri Lanka. A number of farms are already operating and the Mannar hatchery will help produce juveniles for farms.

Chandraratne of NAQDA said that holothuria scabra, that has a high demand, will be bred in the hatchery. The creatures will be artificially bred. At present there is a privately-owned hatchery and another operated by NARA.

Chandraratne said there are plans to establish a sea cucumber farm in Nainathivu and more hatcheries later.
NARA’s inland aquaculture and aquatic resources division researched to develop technology for breeding sea cucumbers since 2011 at their Kalpitiya field station independently.

Scientist Kumara said it was difficult to distinguish male and female sea cucumbers, so about 50 individuals are put into a tank and given a thermal shock by increasing the temperature of the water in the container and cooling it down quickly. This results in the male sea cucumber releasing sperm. Then the female starts to release eggs.

One female releases several million eggs, but very few hatch, Kumara explained.
Kumara said they are working closely with the community to protect the sea cucumber fishery by releasing some of the hatched juveniles into the natural environment.

Fisheries expert Dr Steve Creech, emphasized the importance of having a management strategy for Sri Lanka’s sea cucumber fishery to save the free living population. He recognizes the issue of open access for Sri Lankan sea cucumber fisheries that will further deplete the natural living species. So he suggests there should be harvest control strategies based on annual assessment of the status of the stocks. Dr Creech thinks that sea cucumber farming is a good development with low impact on the environment and ecosystem and fishing.

Published on SundayTimes on 26.02.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170226/news/sea-cucumber-hatchery-to-give-momentum-to-industry-230528.html

FISHERMEN, 302 SEA CUCUMBERS SEIZED
Fourteen fishermen were arrested by the navy on February 20 for illegally gathering sea cucumber. They were arrested in the Keeramunal area and 302 sea cucumbers, a dinghy, and diving gear were seized. They were handed over to the fisheries inspector at Kilinochchi the navy said. The navy has often intercepted smugglers bringing sea cucumbers from India, mostly in dried form. Due to over-harvesting, India banned gathering of sea cucumbers from the wild, so racketeers are not allowed to export the sea cucumbers through India. It is believed they are selling their stocks to Sri Lankans who can re-export taking advantage of loopholes in regulations.

Sea cucumbers seized by Navy in Northern seas

Sea cucumbers seized by Navy in Northern seas

Projects endanger remaining forest cover

January 14, 2017

Forestry officials responding to recent reports of large-scale destruction of land in Wilpattu National Park deny such damage, while environmentalists charge that deforestation is widespread in the country.

The Conservator General of Forests, Anura Sathurusinghe, denied the existence of new large-scale clearances of forest cover around Wilpattu. “We have taken action against a party who cleared a forest land recently, but it is a small plot. The large-scale clearances that are being referred to took place in 2014,” he said.

Not only forests adjacent to Wilpattu - forests are under pressure everywhere in Sri Lanka.

Not only forests adjacent to Wilpattu – forests are under pressure everywhere in Sri Lanka.

Commentary on social media erupted recently over clearing of forest land north of Wilpattu National Park for settlements. Since then, a presidential task force has been mandated to investigate.

Sathurisinghe said a survey will be undertaken in Mannar with the intention to declare a wildlife reserve. “Once the area is declared a wildlife reserve, then these settlements too will have to be removed,” he said. The forest lands had been released by the previous government for settlements. But environmentalists say it was illegal and the incumbent Government could act on that basis.

“We should also focus our energies to stop forest clearances in other areas as well,” said Hemantha Withanage of the Centre of Environment Justice. He observes that there is great pressure on officials to release forest land for so-called ‘development’ projects. “So it is important to be vigilant. Forests in the North and East will face a lot of pressure because of development.’’

A recent study, “Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Sri Lanka” done under REDD+ Sri Lanka (REDD stands for ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’) identifies three key contributory factors for deforestation —  encroachments, infrastructure development projects, and private agriculture
ventures.

There are other factors, too. Tree Felling – illicit or otherwise, cultivations, non-timber forest product gathering such as ‘walla patta’, cattle grazing, forest fires, gem mining are among factors that trigger the degradation of forests.

A recent survey by the Forest Department also found out that forest degradation does not necessarily involve a reduction of the forest area, instead it leads to the decline of the quality of the forests.

The REDD report indicates that several factors promote deforestation and degradation. There are plenty of examples where encroachments are made acceptable when governments give permanent deeds, specially ahead of elections. Weak enforcement and monitoring capability, poor coordination among agencies, demands due to population growth are some other reasons. However, political interference has been a major factor in deforestation, according to the report.

Land is needed for development and human settlements. But it is important to identify already degraded lands without sacrificing biodiversity rich forests environmentalists warn. The cost of losing the forest cover could be greater than the monetary value of a project, they say. “Doesa  a strategic assessment and identify zones with degraded lands without rushing to axe forests,” Withanage of the CEJ urges.

Yet more trees to be ripped up under Chinese deal 

More of Sri Lanka’s forest land is being marked out for ripping up under irrigation projects.

The Sunday Times learns that a large area of forest cover is expected to be sacrificed for the Maduru Oya right bank development project due to begin this year.

Maduru Oya is one of the major reservoirs built under the accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme of 1982 that planned to develop 39,000 hectares of agricultural lands in the Mahaweli ‘B’ zone in Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa Districts. While its left bank ‘developments’ have been completed, due to lack of funds, work on right bank projects did not begin.

Under the ‘Reawakening Polonnaruwa’ program the work is being revived.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment, made a proposal to the cabinet last September. Accordingly, the Maduru Oya right bank project aims to develop drinking water supplies, irrigation, and infrastructure for the socio-economic development in Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa Districts.

The project will be financed with loans from the Chinese EximBank and the US$475 million (Rs 70.45 billion) engineering contract was signed last October between the state-owned China CAMC Engineering and the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and the Environment.

Conservationists say the project would worsen environmental degradation.

The former director general of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sumith Pilapitiya, points out that at least 18,000 hectares of forest land would be destroyed for new settlements and agriculture.

“The President, as the Minister of Environment talks about increasing forest cover in Sri Lanka to 30%, while as Minister of Mahaweli Development, his ministry is destroying over 18,000 hectares of forest lands. The loss of this forest land will certainly aggravate the human-elephant conflict, with elephants guaranteed to destroy crops brought under cultivation under the Maduru Oya right bank development project,” Dr.Pilapitiya said.

There are no winners in such ill-conceived projects. The country loses forest cover, the elephants lose their habitat, settlements are subject to human elephant conflict and farmers are affected when elephants raid their crops.  So why are we undertaking such a project?’’ Dr.Pilapitiya ponders.

There are examples from the past. There were no winners in the Walawe left bank development project, he notes.

“We fool ourselves by making statements such as Sri Lanka is going to increase her forest cover to 30% and destroying what little forest cover we have,’’ Dr Pilapitiya said.

Mini-hydro’s power bulldozes Athwelthota ecology concerns

December 11, 2016

Environmentalists say yet another mini-hydro power project approved this week overlooks the irreparable damage being done to ecologically-sensitive areas in the country.But enviromental authorities defend their decision to approve the latest project in Athwelthota in the Kalutara district.

After reviewing objections by environmentalists about the negative impact on the Athwelthota Palan Ganga ecosystem, the Central Environment Authority approved the plant.“The CEA’s decision is not right,” insisted Hemantha Withanage, the co-founder and executive director of the Center for Environmental Justice. He had complained to Pesident Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Minister of Environment under which the CEA operates.

The Athwelthota Palan Ganga originates from the Sinharaja forest as
a tributary of Kukuleganga

The Sunday Times has learnt that the presidential secretariat had instructed the secretary of Mahaweli Development and Environment to review and report back. President Sirisena has repeatedly claimed he is committed to environmental protection, so Withanage is hopeful that he will walk the talk.

The Athwelthota Palan Ganga originates from the Sinharaja forest as a tributary of Kukuleganga. It is a living laboratory for scientists and is seen as the last hideout for a number of important and rare freshwater fish. Two point endemic fish species –

Martenstyne’s Goby and Rasboroides nigomarginatus have been recorded only in the Athwelthota environs. It is also a popular bathing spot.CEA Chairman Lal Mervin Dharmasiri said the project site borders a forest under the purview of the Forest Department. While the department is the apex approval body, the CEA’s consent was needed. Following CEJ’s complaints, the CEA withdrew its consent and met all the stakeholders including the developer. Everyone agreed to further review three points that the mini hydro could harm – aesthetic value, the waterfall and point endemic fish.

“We got the Survey Department to measure the height of the waterfall, an academic at the University of Kelaniya gave a report on the aesthetic value, while the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) surveyed the fish. But all the results were negative. Although there are some endemic and other freshwater fish, the point endemics could not be found at the location,” Prof Dharmasiri said justifying the approval.

He also adds that politics was not at play at the CEA. The report on the aesthetic beauty argues that local residents did not mind the project because 22 people had died over the past 50 years at the Athwelthota waterfall. Withanage said he was shocked that the destruction of the waterfall had been justified, “because some people use this location to drink alcohol.”

He believes it would be a crime to destroy Athwelthota for the sake of a 1 megawatt hydropower generation plant when more environmental friendly alternatives are available. Withanage complains that it is unfortunate CEA has no conservation mindset.

Published on SundayTimes on 11.12.2016 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161211/news/mini-hydros-power-bulldozes-athwelthota-ecology-concerns-219768.html 

Pollution hotspots along Kelani mapped

December 4, 2016
Communities trained as monitors to prevent another oil spill disaster 

Waste on the river bank

All the main pollution sources along the Kelani River have been mapped by the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) to prevent a repeat of the disastrous leakage of diesel fuel into the river in August last year.

Flowing through highly-populated and highly-industrialised zones the Kelani, Sri Lanka’s fourth-longest river, is also its most polluted waterway. Waste discharge from rapidly-multiplying industries located alongside its banks, agricultural runoff and domestic and municipal wastes, including ad hoc dumping of municipal solid waste, are the main sources of pollution of the Kelani River.

The EFL has studied the river’s most polluted area from Avissawella to the river’s outflow – about 40km.

With financial support from The Asia Foundation, EFL surveyed the river to identify nearby industries that could pose a threat to the health of the river through direct discharge or spills of chemicals and disposal of waste. The survey documented the type of the industry and their GPS locations among other details pertaining to the industry. Data on water quality was also collected.

To set up a factory or large project, an Environment Protection Licence (EPL) needs to be obtained and approval through an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The EFL points out that while existing policy and legislations for curtailing industrial pollution are firm, there is a need for effective enforcement of law and a highly stringent monitoring mechanism to verify all standards are met.

These licences need to be renewed periodically – every one, three or more years – and that is the only time checks are carried out to establish whether an industry adheres to standards. “Unless there is a complaint there is no proper monitoring process of whether these industries adhere to agreed standards,” EFL project coordinator, Dhiya Sathananthan said.

The EFL believes it is vital for the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to move from being a reactive compliance monitoring (complaint based) body to a proactive compliance monitoring (regular monitoring) organisation.

Aware of the CEA’s current limited resources the EFL is empowering local communities to be environmental monitors, Ms.Sathananthan said. It has carried out a series of training programs for community-based organisations in the highest-impact areas of the Kelani River.

A canal bringing pollutants to the river

The workshops aimed to educate local community to improve the river water quality and to minimise any further disasters caused by effluent discharged by industries as well as residents.

“Through these training programs community-based organisations were trained extensively on preventing pollution as well on pollution monitoring and identifying sources of pollution. The workshops saw a positive response, with participants enthusiastic about monitoring pollution discharges along the river and reporting their findings to the CEA, EFL or other environmental organisations,” Ms.Sathananthan stated.

In a report, the EFL has made several recommendations to prevent future pollution of the river. All new industries should be located in designated industrial zones and stand-alone industrial siting should be prohibited. The setting up of high-polluting industries in ecologically sensitive river basins and water-bodies should also be prohibited. The CEA should consider introducing toxicology assessments, the report further states.

In addition to the location of industries, the EFL project team observed a number of canals and drains emptying into the river. Heavy foam was observed in water discharged from some canals, probable evidence of industrial discharge. Canals in urban areas from Peliyagoda to Kelaniya carried domestic discharge.

The Kelani supplies water to the commercial and administration capital of Sri Lanka – about 500,000 people in Colombo and the periphery – so it is important to reduce pollution for the health and safety reasons as well as for the benefit of biodiversity, the EFL said.

Published on SundayTimes on http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161204/news/pollution-hotspots-along-kelani-mapped-218910.html

Kind hearts and a bedraggled crow

December 4, 2016

As Colombo received torrential rain this week, humans, animals and birds managed to rush to some sort of shelter, be it under a roof or in the thick foliage of a tree – all except a particular crow.

Residents of Thalawathugoda spotted the crow soaked in the rain, unable to fly. They went up close but it didn’t move. Even though the unfortunate crow is not the most attractive of birds the people of this household had it in their hearts to feel for its  discomfort.

Executing a crazy plan, they extended an umbrella attached to a stick to protect it from the torrential rain. Folding its wings, the crow seemed happy to escape the rain and was surely grateful to the wildlife lovers. The next morning, the rain had stopped and the though the umbrella was still standing the crow had disappeared.

“We hope the crow is out of harm’s way and flew back to its flock safely,” the residents said wishing to remain anonymous as they said the act was committed for the love of animals, not seeking publicity. Every day, they said, we hear bad news of humans abusing animals so may this be an example to inspire everyone to care for others.

The umbrella placed over the wet crow 

Published on SundayTimes on 27.11.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161127/news/kind-hearts-and-a-bedraggled-crow-218267.html

Land grabbers eye unprotected forests around Sinharaja

November 30, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 23.10.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161023/news/land-grabbers-eye-unprotected-forests-around-sinharaja-213439.html

Protect these LRC forests immediately – environmental organisations urge president

School children learn importance of protecting environment at BLUE – GREEN event

Environment organisations fear  there is an ongoing attempt to grab forest lands in the vicinity of the Sinharaja forest by individuals and groups.. The scheme came to light when a group commenced surveying around 400 acres of the Delgoda Forest located near the Sinharaja Forest last week. The group claimed they possessed  deeds to the land.

The Sunday Times learned  the Forest Department’s Range Forest Office in Kalawana was able  to stop the activity as no proper documentation regarding land ownership was provided..

Sriyantha Perera of the ‘Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka’ said many fraudulent attempts are being made to grab forest land. In one instance an individual claiming rights to the forest land based on ‘Nindagam Oppu’ claimed to have been issued during the British colonial era in 1940.

According to this old ‘nindagam’ document  the individual claimed he owned an extent of 800 ‘vee kuraniya’ – an old unit of measure used to quantify amount of harvest. This roughly equivalent to 2000 acres according to Rainforest Protectors.

The reality however is that no individual can legally own over 50 acres of land.

Another ruse of the land grabbers is to peruse documents of the Land Registry in an effort to identify land  owners who may have died and those who have left the country, create fake documents and claim ownership. Perera added that with the advent of nature-based tourism, land value in the area had sky-rocketed and this was another reason behind the rush to grab land illicitly.

The Kalawana Divisional Secretary refused to comment on the issue when the Sunday Times contacted her. The Conservator General of Forest, Anura Sathurusinghe said that he also got to know about the attempts to grab forest lands adjacent to Sinharaja and the matter is under investigation.

Meanwhile, the ‘Rainforest Protectors’ has called on government to take over all forest lands adjacent to Sinharaja because the high value of its endemic biodiversity. They added these patches of forest also act as corridors linking the larger rainforest complex, and if destroyed, the already fragmented fragile ecosystem would be adversely affected.

The environmentalists said they recognised difficulties faced regarding forest lands claimed by private individuals. However they pointed out that forest lands belonging to the Land Reclamation Commission (LRC) are forests which can be immediately brought under the protected area network as the  LRC had agreed to transfer the lands to the Forest Department several years ago.

Unfortunately boundary demarcation disputes have slowed the process of transferring the said lands for protecting under the control of the Forest Department.

Forest Conservator General Mr. Sathurusinghe said these LRC lands were now being surveyed, but said that Forest Department has to wait until the survey Department finalised its demarcation.

Environmentalists point out that as there were attempts to grab forest lands in these areas with blessings of the local politicians, it was very important to expedite the process of protecting LRC forest lands.

“There have been instances where lands are grabbed overnight. Why can’t work to protect these forest  lands be expedited? especially when the Environment Minister is the President of the country who enjoys executive powers environmentalists ask.

Meanwhile the month of October is earmarked as ‘Tree Planting Month’ with the campaign spearheaded by the President Maithripala Sirisena himself. As Environment Minister, the President also aims to increase Sri Lanka’s forest cover up to 32 percent from the current 29 percent.

Environmentalists are thus  urging the President to expedite the process of bringing these LRC lands under the protected area network to give them the much needed legal protection necessary to ensure their safety.

Sri Lanka NEXT – Blue Green EraSpeaking at the opening ceremony of the “Sri Lanka NEXT – Blue Green Era” policy initiative, held at the BMICH,  President Sirisena emphasised that should any individual or institution take action to upset the balance of the environment,  government would not hesitate to enforce the laws against the wrongdoers.

While welcoming these sentiments, environmentalists said action rather than words were necessary. They pointed out that approval had been given  for the implementation of environmentally harmful projects such as mini hydro power plants.

Activists who have a joint stall in the “Sri Lanka NEXT – Blue Green Era” exhibition, are using the opportunity educate people on how sensitive environments are being destroyed for a negligible amounst of power generated by mini hydro power projects.

The ‘Rainforest Protectors’ also handed over a letter President Sirisena emphasizing need to take timely action to ensure Ministry of Environment, Central Environmental Authority and Sustainable Energy Authority cease issuing permits for future mini hydro projects and urgently appoint a team to investigate issues connected  to existing mini-hydro projects.

The organisation accused unnamed government politicians of attempting to get permission to restart currently halted mini hydro projects which allegedly harm the environment.

Ecological survival a shared responsibility

October 10, 2016

World Bank binds communities into visionary project – published on SundayTimes on 18.09.2016

Sri Lanka and the World Bank have signed a $US45 million loan to help protect the country’s natural habitat and resources from degradation and over-exploitation. The Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) aims to address key issues in conservation while assisting to improve the lives and livelihoods of neighbouring communities.

ESCAMP was initiated in 2009 when the former Rajapaksa government asked the World Bank for a $US30 million loan. The bank, with assistance of number of experts, come up with a proposal including a science-based action plan to address number of conservation issues including the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in selected areas.

Conservationists had high hopes for ESCAMP as a landmark project but in the latter stages of negotiation the Ministry of Finance requested fundamental changes and the World Bank decided to drop the project in 2011, fearing the changes would harm its objectives.

The Sirisena government showed interest in reopening the project and made a formal request. After updating the proposal both the WorldBank and Cabinet signed approval of the project on September 5. Most of the main components remain intact and this time the amount being given is $US45 million.

“The project will improve responsible planning and management of protected areas and other biologically and ecologically important locations throughout Sri Lanka,” said World Bank Senior Environment Specialist and Project Task Team Leader Darshani De Silva.

Importantly, it will create partnerships of environmental guardianship with local communities, she said. “It will help to create sustained linkages with communities living adjacent to protected areas to ensure participation in protection of critical ecosystems and benefit sharing, promote compatible developments within and around sensitive ecosystems, raise quality of visitor services and revenue potential of forest and wildlife resources, while developing the capacity of Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation to deliver on their institutional mandates.”

There are four main components. One is a Pilot Landscape Planning and Management for Conservation scheme in two particular areas in the dry zone and biodiversity-rich wet zone. The second component, Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and Human-Elephant Co-Existence, includes financing the scaling-up of successful human-elephant coexistence pilot projects along with identifying economic incentives for affected communities.

The third component, Protected Area Management and Institutional Capacity, has the biggest funding allocation, $US 24.2 million. It aims at supporting the Protected Area (PA) network, support of nature-based tourism development and strengthening of the institutional capacity and investment capability for conservation and management. Project management is funded as the fourth component.

Conservationists view ESCAMP positively as it clearly looks at long-term solution for many issues including human-elephant conflict. The proposal clearly specifies that project funds should not be used for failed solutions such as elephant drives or the capture and domestication of problem elephants.

The Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment will lead the implementation of the project in partnership with the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife. It is expected that ESCAMP will conclude in 2021.

A wild elephant attempting to cross the iron barrier along a main motorway in Hambantota (c) Rahul Samantha

A wild elephant attempting to cross the iron barrier along a main motorway in Hambantota (c) Rahul Samantha

Activists back plan to source perahera jumbos from Pinnawela

October 1, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 10.07.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160710/news/activists-back-plan-to-source-perahera-jumbos-from-pinnawela-200107.html 

An illegally caught wild elephant.
Pic courtesy Animal Welfare Trust

Wildlife activists have welcomed Cabinet’s decision this week to have a herd of 35 captive elephants from Pinnawela trained to take part in cultural events while under the care of the Department of Zoological Gardens.

The move follows a proposal submitted by the Minister for Wildlife, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera in the aftermath of the seizure, from private owners, of some 30 elephants believed to have been caught illegally from the wild. Preliminary investigations into this matter have been completed and the elephants, of varying ages, have been transferred to a facility in the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Udawalawe.

Forces opposing the confiscation of the elephants began a campaign of fear that the confiscations would disrupt cultural events, claiming even major events such as the Temple of the Tooth perahera would be threatened due to lack of elephants for the processions. There have even been claims that wildlife activists and conservationist groups were being bribed by western countries to disrupt Sri Lanka’s cultural life.

The setting up of a unit of trained elephant to be used for cultural events was first proposed by a former director of the Zoological Gardens, Brigadier H.A.N.T. Perera but was blocked by captive elephant owners, and the former government was not interested in implementing the proposal.

The Director at Species Conservation Centre, Pubudu Weeraratne, who voiced the need to bring those behind the jumbo racket to justice said keeping trained elephants at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was the best solution. “This solution will help the elephants’ welfare and they will get the chance to move around with other elephants when there is no work,” Mr..Weeraratne said.

The elephant calves have to be sourced only from Pinnawela and not from the Elephant Transit Home, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environment Conservation Trust emphasised.

The Pinnawala orphanage was started as a facility to house elephant calves found abandoned or orphaned in the wild. But since 1995 all such orphaned elephants are housed at the ETH with the intention of rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild. To take an ETH elephant for training would be to deny its chance to return to the wild, Mr. Chamikara said.

Pinnawela has now has become an elephant management centre, with several births annually, and as the animals there have more interaction with humans activists agree it provides best option as a source of calves to be trained for use in pageants.

Prior to Cabinet’s decision this week, the Secretary of the Tamed Elephant Association, Dhamsiri Bandara Karunaratne, told media there was a dire need to have more captive elephants trained for cultural events and that the removal of 30 captive elephants from private hands had left a large void. He said that while there were 19 tuskers among Sri Lanka’s captive elephant population only three were suitable for carrying the relic casket of the Temple of the Tooth.

The veteran environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardene, said the wildlife activists’ fight was only against the illegal capture of animals: they were not opposed to using elephants for major cultural events.

“Even by the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, which is the main legal document, the using of elephants for the main cultural events is honoured. We never proposed anything to block the elephants from being used in cultural and Buddhist events,” emphasised Mr.Gunawardene, saying those who wanted to keep elephants in private hands for their own satisfaction were trying to hide behind religion.

“We know that traditional elephant owners too get into some difficulties. But it is mainly due to those who acquire these elephants illegally” he concluded saying that the justice should be delivered without delay.

“Don’t use the Dalada Esala Perahera for to let the elephant thieves escape,”  the Anti-Corruption Front’s Ulapane Sumangala Thera said in a separate interview.

Elephants in Esela perahera of Sri Dalada Maligaya (c) newsfirst.lk

Esela perahera of Sri Dalada Maligaya (c) newsfirst.lk

Famed snake rescuer killed by rescued cobra

September 28, 2016

Note: ‘Window2Nature’ was not updated for several months. During this period, I have done several articles and these will be uploaded to the blog in coming days. Apologize from those who subscribed to the blog for filling your inboxes with number of posts in shorter period. The blog will be active and get updated regularly hereafter. 

This article was published on 16.08.2016 on SundayTimes. May it be a tribute to Amal Wijesekara’s silent service of rescuing countless number of snakeshttp://www.sundaytimes.lk/160807/news/famed-snake-rescuer-killed-by-rescued-cobra-203978.html 

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Amal Wijesekara – saviour of countless snakes, died last week of a snake bite, aged 47 and unmarried. He was found dead on August 3 morning, near his residence in Galle, with bite marks on his left hand. Apparently the tragedy had occurred late at night or in the early hours of the day. The large cobra believed to have bitten him was also found dead in a cage.amal-wijesekera-milking-a-venomous-thith-polanga-russells-viper

Popularly known as ‘Amal Ayya’, Mr Wijesekara was famous in Galle and its suburbs for ridding gardens and houses of intruding snakes. If a suitable place to release the snake is not available in the vicinity, he takes the snake home and keeps it in a cage, until he can find transport to release them in the wild. Many of the snakes Amal rescued had been beaten, so there were times he had to treat their wounds for months, before releasing them to the wild.

If not for Amal, many snakes would have been killed, as the public doesn’t know how to get rid of venomous snakes. Amal did not belong to any organisation and conducted his rescue mission voluntarily. Amal’s technical assistance was used by the National Geographic team for their field work on snakes. Amal also trained elite soldiers on handling and surviving snakes in the field.   “Amal was very competent at handling snakes” recalls Prof. Ariaranee Gnanathasan of Colombo University’s Faculty of Medicine. “Amal is a good man and it is sad to hear of his untimely loss,” grieved Prof Ariaranee.   Amal Wijesekara was very good at identifying snakes. About 9 years back, he picked an unusual looking Hump-nosed Viper and referred it to his colleagues Dr Kalana Maduwage and Anjana Silva. “Amal gave this strange looking specimen of a Hump-nosed Viper from Galle, to Kalana and me, saying, “Malli meka new wage” (Brother, this snake looks like a new species). Indeed, it was a new snake species. We named the snake after him to honour him, by proposing the name Hypnale sp. “amal” – according to the proper nomenclature – Hypnale amali. This is the only thing we could do for him,” writes Anjana Silva.

“He is a wonderful person with a big heart,” say his colleagues who recognise Amal as one who worked for the love of snakes, sans any personal gains. He studied at Richmond College Galle.