During a crucial meeting with several environmentalists today, the Minister of Land, Land Development, Environment and Wildlife Resources agreed to issue a directive which would request that the relevant authorities refrain from providing more guns to the Civil Defense Force (CDF). The Minister also agreed to review the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) mitigation strategy.
The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) teamed up with many like-minded conservation groups and individuals, who came together under the banner of ‘Protect Sri Lanka’, to present serious concerns about the recent decisions, the present volatile and deteriorating situation of HEC, and the haphazard manner in which these issues were being dealt with.
After a very fruitful dialogue, including expert opinions from the likes of Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando from the Centre for Conservation and Research (CCR), it was widely appreciated that the Minister decided to issue directives to request a halt to any further issue of guns to the CDF, and to issue another directive to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Police to recall and hand over all issued guns to the DWC within a six-month period. The DWC acknowledged that this new stance by the Minister and Government is a very important step for all stakeholders, provided these measures are executed speedily and effectively.
In addition, the Minister instructed more DWC ranger presence in conflict areas and immediately appointed a committee under the auspices of the DWC Director General from the delegation, to revert to him with a more scientific approach for how the escalating death toll and negative impact from the HEC could be better contained.
These outcomes followed protests made by groups outside the DWC, combined with sustained media reporting and articles which featured critical issues connected with the above-mentioned policy decisions. Many individuals and influencers have also been lobbying for change in recent weeks. Further, the WNPS recently issued many statements and a full feature article over the weekend, participated in protests, and made written objections to express its utmost dissatisfaction.
“We aim to keep up the intense pressure on all such policy actions while wholeheartedly extending our fullest support to all conservation initiatives being taken, which balance the development interest of the nation, the welfare of our people and the wellbeing and survival of our precious fauna and flora,” the WNPS stated.
Another important decision was taken by the Minister, on the suggestion of the group, to evaluate the current electric fences and to investigate if these fences could be moved to ecological boundaries instead of the current administrative boundaries they stand on. Since Minister Chandrasena has both of these departments under his portfolio, he was able to give a directive to the Ministry Secretary Jayanthi Wijethunga to get senior individuals of both departments to work together. The WNPS and others have requested for years that the Forest Department and DWC come under the same ministry. The conservation groups were in agreement that this decision, if implemented, would be a huge benefit to mitigate HEC in future.