Is the Wild Life Department protecting it’s property or giving it away?

Article No 27

Kamini Meedeniya Vitarana
Ruk Rakaganno and Centre for Environmental Justice

On Monday the 22nd September 2008, about a hundred or more people came with axes knives and other cutting instruments and proceeded to cut trees in what is known as the Dahaiyyagala Elephant Corridor which is situated on the north east of the Uda Walawe National park.

This corridor runs through this sanctuary of Dahaiyygala to the mineral and salt deposits found in the proposed Bogahapattiya Sanctuary north of Veli Oya and was declared so by gazette notification on June 07, 2002. (gazette number 1239/28)

What the invaders were trying to do is to close this corridor by building a fence across it and so preventing the elephants from going to Bogahapattiya . This will create a huge human elephant conflict as enraged elephants try to go to their source of salt and minerals through other land cultivated by human beings.

Dahaiyyagala ali mankada is an old established passage for the elephants and other wild animals to replenish their salt and other mineral requirements and move back again to the areas of the National Park. An electric fence was built by the Wild Life Department to contain this corridor and so prevent elephants from wandering into the fields of villagers along the route creating a elephant-human conflict. A small part of the fence had to be completed north of Pokunutenne wewa and village to link up with the northern part to Bogahapattiya as the map shows. Up to now the villagers of Pokuntenne have no problems with the elephants who drink at the wewa and proceed quietly to their salt lick in Bogahapattiya.

Before the 22nd of September 2008, when the hoards went in to clear the corridor, attempts made by the Department to construct the balance part of the fence was stopped by a powerful politician in the area. Those who went in on September 22 were also said to have been backed by this same politician. The chopping went on for three days and at time of writing the choppers have stopped to go and hire some bulldozers to tackle the larger trees such as Palu which were too much for their axes.

The police when contacted said that they can take action only if the Dept of Wild Life requests their assistance. The .DWLC did not do so. There in lies the mystery. In fact officials were asked to ‘sahaya denne.’ One distraught official in the Uda Walawe park said ‘how can we support the destruction of what we have been protecting all this time?’ If this corridor is blocked there will be a massive human elephant conflict in the area. The villagers of Pokunutenne will be the worst hit as elephants and other wild life try to find a passage to their mineral deposits. The police say, “no one made a complaint.’’ Yes, because they are too frightened to do so. Some property of a person who worked to get the fence completed, was burned in Pokunutenne.

Other Directors of Wild Life Conservation starting from Lyn de Alwis and Shelton Atapattu have worked tirelessly to protect Wild Life and the former Director Dayananda Kariyawasam worked hard to get this corridor declared and gazetted to save both elephants and people. Has there been a change of policy? We should ask the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources

We learn today (Daily Mirror September 27)that the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources has said that there is no move to distribute part of Dahaiyagala Sanctuary among the people. He quite rightly refers to the Fauna and Flora Ordinance. We are glad to note there is no change in policy. However the facts as stated above did take place. There are plenty of photographs and videos to prove this. So all we can say to the public who do not wish to exacerbate the human elephant conflict, is to be vigilant and keep checking that this corridor is kept open.

This article was appeared in Sunday Island on 28th September 2008

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