Another majestic tusker dies
Missaka, the majestic tusker, died last week. So did the Galgamuwa cross tusker a few months ago, and more followed. It is almost hypocritical that we have to produce an article each when a tusker dies due to human actions. The environmentalists are almost tired of suggesting the same proposals and pointing out the same loopholes. Meanwhile the vicious cycle continues.
Missaka who roamed Yala National Park for 35 years, was found severely injured on Sunday, April 15. He had sustained injuries to his jaw and front left leg. According to sources, the tusker was suffering from these injuries for nearly two weeks when it was finally found near Bandu Wewa, close to Kataragama. The officers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), including Veterinarian Vijitha Perera and Veterinarian Ananda Dharmakirthi, provided Missaka with medical treatment continuously for four days. However the giant succumbed to sepsis yesterday. Missaka, who possessed three-foot long tusks, was an iconic figure at Yala National Park.
Meanwhile, it was reported last Sunday that the young tusker Kuda Wewal Dalaya was shot near the Dambulla, Digampathaha area. The tusker’s front leg has been injured by a gunshot. According to sources, five more elephants have been attacked in the same area. These elephants roam this habitat to consume the waste disposed in this area. Elephant conservationists raise concerns over the security of Minneriya Chief Tusker Wijayaba who dwells in the same area.
Environmentalists also renew their fears of an attack against the majestic tusker Mahasen who has been a continuous target of poachers. According to environmentalist Shashikalana Rathwaththa, Mahasen has returned from his absence from populated areas and has started his yearly travel this month. Rathwaththa said that they have continuously requested the DWC to map out the route taken by Mahasen for his yearly journey and provide necessary protection to the animal. He pointed out that Mahasen also needs medical treatment for numerous injuries on his body due to gunshots. However, Rathwaththa says, the Wildlife Department turns a deaf year to their request, as usual. Rathwaththa alleges that the DWC officials are trying to ignore the matter of Mahasen’s security by attempting to maintain a low profile on the return of Mahasen.
Environmentalists and elephant conservation activists have repeatedly requested the authorities to set up a proper system to monitor tuskers for a prolonged period of time. Their main argument has been that when the tuskers get injured, the relevant authorities are not immediately notified about the attack. However, up to date there is no proper system applied to monitor the tuskers in the country.
Environmentalist Supun Jayaweera responding to the Daily News said that immediate changes should be introduced to existing elephant conservation policies in Sri Lanka, if the country is to safeguard its remaining tuskers. While pointing out the obvious disappointment in the lethargic attitude held by the authorities to solve the long-festering matter, Jayaweera said that amending the Fauna and Flora Ordinance is of much importance.
“Wildlife conservation policies and the law in Sri Lanka need to be updated,” Jayaweera said. “Final amendment to the Fauna and Flora Ordinance came from Act No. 22 of 2009 and since then the law is yet to be amended. We think that the punishments prescribed by the said ordinance for killing elephants is not proportionate and an increase in the imprisonment period and an increase of prescribed penalty should be introduced. Stringent measures should be taken to conserve elephants and specially the tuskers. Rapid decline of these majestic creatures adversely affects eco-systems and therefore, wildlife protection policies should be drafted with central focus on elephant conservation.”
Jayaweera also pointed out that the security provided to tuskers is completely insufficient. “The majority of tuskers in SL roam outside of protected areas,” he said. “These tuskers migrate according to their ancestral corridors and therefore face grave dangers of being poached or killed by farmers. Although legal protection is afforded to these elephants, security measures on the field have not been implemented. We have been urging the authorities to utilise state-of-the-art technology which is available to track and monitor at least iconic tuskers. Since these creatures roam outside prescribed areas, tracking and monitoring is a necessity and ought to be implemented as soon as possible.”
Jayaweera also pointed out the absence of progress in the suggestions made for the DWC to introduce radio collars and other hi-tech monitoring systems.
“Cheaper and more advanced technology than radio collars exists,” Jayaweera added. “GPS collars are one such example. We have suggested that the DWC researches the possibilities of using WIPER – Wireless Anti-Poaching Technology, which is armed with ballistic shockwave sensors to identify and recognise gunshots. If we are to protect tuskers of this country, we need to utilise these technologies. Annually, the DWC and the government of Sri Lanka earn money from wildlife tourism and, if so, spending to protect the source from which they earn, should not be an issue if they do want to sustainably use these natural resources.”
Jayaweera emphasised the need for efficiently utilising the allocations for wildlife conservation purposes. “If we look at the newly drafted Blue – Green budget, the government has allocated a total sum of 245 million rupees for different conservation purposes. The allocated amount is not proportionate to the earnings from wildlife-based tourism. Yet, we do not request more, but the issue here is, do they really take an effort to properly channel these finances to be efficiently used? Corruption within the department and ministry leads to a waste of these finances and therefore conservation goals cannot be achieved.”
Speaking on the need to strengthen the DWC, Jayaweera said, “At the DWC, from labourers to officers, everyone ought to be constantly updated about new threats to wildlife. If they take more time to adapt to such novel situations, there won’t be any time left to save what is left of precious fauna and flora. Adaptation is the key for an efficient department. Last week when the second tusker from the Tabbowa sanctuary was shot dead, the acting director of the DWC wasn’t aware of the incident until environmentalists informed about the said incident. This illustrates the lack of a well-oiled mechanism within the department. Officers should take the blame for this inefficiency and they should be proactive rather than playing passive roles.”
Meanwhile, DWC Director General M.G.C. Sooriyabandara said that they have launched a special investigation into the death of Missaka. He further said that the evidence collected from the investigation will be produced before the court in the near future. Speaking further on the matter, Sooriyabandara said 50 percent of elephant deaths are caused by human action. Accordingly, he said, the DWC’s main target is to deter purposeful killings of these animals. Sooriyabandara further said that a special operation will be launched by the DWC against the persons responsible for such killings. He also said that 200-300 officers will be recruited to the DWC to make the department more efficient. These officers will be given the power to implement the law against the culprits behind elephant killings.
Continuous attempts to contact the New Wildlife Minister Ravindra Samaraweera failed as he was unreachable via the telephone. (Amali Mallawarachchi)