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Field Reports

Saturday, 24 September 2016 17:18

NEWS FROM THE FIELD

The following are concise field reports on incidents or events, for which WNPS has had important involvements; which will convey to its membership & the general public, the depth of WNPS’ direct involvement in some of the key issues.

I. Electrocution of Four Bull Elephants

No sooner media released the gory details of deaths of 4 bull elephants being electrocuted by high-tension power lines on 29thNovemeber 2012 in the Valachchenai area; the incident was ascertained to be true by the DWLC (Department of Wildlife Conservation ) officials. WNPS addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Power & Electricity, expressing our deepest concern over this incident and demanding an impartial inquiry into the incident. The Ministry referred the matter to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), who in turn informed the Society of an inquiry to be held at the site of the incident on 29th January 2013.

The Hony. General Secretary of WNPS travelled to Valachchenai and the inquiry was conducted by two Dy. Directors of the PUC. The others who attended the inquiry were the Sr. Electrical Engineer – Valachchenai, two regional engineers – Batticoloa, Park Warden – Maduru Oya.

After a thorough inspection of the precise location where the 4 elephants in their prime were haphazardly buried and the whole area pervading with an unbearable stench; the group moved across to a SL Army Officers’ holiday bungalow in the vicinity to take down proper statements. During this time period, two SL Army Majors of the area dropped in to give their formal approval to use their premises, and they too verbally informed the PUC officials of what they knew of the incident. They also clearly indicated to the WNPS representative their appreciation for bringing up this matter, as they sincerely feel for wildlife & their habitat protection.

The Park Warden of Maduru Oya strongly assisted the 2 PUC officials by downloading photos of the preliminary investigation conducted by WLC officials, and clearly indicating to the latter that they should pursue the matter with his senior officials at the Head Office. The PUC officials will complete their investigation and will submit a copy of their report to WNPS too, who is the prime Complainant in this matter.


II. TEC Issues

Due to the rapidity with which the Train-Elephant Conflict (TEC) was escalating, WNPS very strongly demanded from the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) authorities that this matter needs to be addressed together with the officials of the DWLC. Accordingly, commencing from late 2011 a series of discussions between the two Departments in the presence and with the input from WNPS representatives (initially Hony. General Secy. And Mr. Ravi de Silva) ensued, which were followed up with ‘Training Sessions’ for SLR Operational Staff at the DWLC training center at Giritale.

Not withstanding all these efforts, more and more elephant casualties occurred, and WNPS demanded from SLR honest answers to some queries and SLR officials had a frank dialogue with 4 WNPS representatives (Mr Lal Anthonis & Mr Melwin Herath joining in with the earlier mentioned 2 individuals); during which acceptable answers were given to the queries.

With the intention of checking into some of these mitigating measures taken by SLR, the Hony. Gen. Secretary on behalf of the Society made it a point to travel to Valachchenai (for the matter mentioned earlier) by the night-mail and return from Batticoloa to Colombo by the day-train. He was quite satisfied that most of the measures discussed are already taking place, and the SLR Operational Staff have taken up the TEC issue quite seriously.He was also impressed by the spirit of cooperation & concern shown by the SLR Operational Staff (mainly the Engine Drivers & Guards), to minimize the elephant fatalities.

However, some of the advanced technology will be on experimental level for some time. One such item to be considered will be to install certain ‘Infra-Sound Emitters’ that will disperse elephants away from the tracks when a train is approaching. Mr. Lal Anthonis is taking a lead role in this matter and he is discussing the feasibility of making several ‘Prototypes’ with certain manufacturers, with the input from several specialists too.

Mr . Lal Anthonis mentioned that chasing away elephants using ‘infrasound alarm calls’ were successfully experimented in Namibia by Caitlin O’Connel of Stanford University who has been studding elephants for over two decades. Mr. Anthonis also read out the relevant paragraphs from her book’ The Elephants Secret Sense’.

III. Wilpattu N.P. Illegal Road

Within a short period of time after the general public became aware of the construction of a direct route for public use through the Wilpattu NP, with the intent on linking up Puttalam to Mannar, under the guise of ‘simply developing the “Old Mannar Road”; WNPS together with 3 other environmental groups filed legal action in the Supreme Court against several Ministries and government departments, in early 2010.

Since then, the case was taken up for hearing several times, without a final decision nor a ‘Stay Order’ on the public use of this road, and as a result the FFPO (Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance) has been flouted in many ways. The case is being heard next on the 26th February 2013 and as such, a group consisting of M/S Melwin Herath, Douglas Ranasinghe, Sanjeeva Ratnapala and Sarath Edussuriya from the Society, went to Wilpattu NP on 17 - 19thJanuary 2013 to evaluate the current status-quo of this road.

This road has been made unusable by the ravages of the NE Monsoons and the recent one has not been an exception. As a consequence of the major flooding conditions last December and in the early part of January 2013, the journey was delayed to the earlier mentioned dates. As per a request made by the Hony. General Secretary of WNPS to the DG of DWLC, two senior officers of that Department accompanied the WNPS group on the 18th January 2013.

Several of the salient aspects that were observed, are displayed visually below:-

The above were observed on day 1 of this journey and the WNPS team noted from the several conversations of the residents along the stretch from Puttalam to Kala Oya, that the road is already a ‘Done deal’ as altogether about 10 buses ply per day, in addition to other traffic along this road when it is usable.

They had the least knowledge nor concern for the laws of the land, but simply had socio-political objectives.

 

(Note – All photos in this section were taken by Mr. Sanjeeva Ratnapala)

On day 2 the two Teams travelled together going southward from Murungan and crossing into the Park across Moderagam Aru. However, due to the floodwaters still stagnating in many areas, the Teams were unable to travel more than 5 km and had to return. The information gathered during this visit is being properly assimilated at present, to assess the real viability of such a road that would have an extremely negative effect on the wildlife of a National Park, while causing irreparable damage to its habitat.

Alternatives are also being proposed to achieve the same objective, in a more economical and practical manner; with least damage to the integrity of a National Park. The journey from Puttalam to Mannar along some of these alternative roads will be faster than along this disputed road through the Wilpattu National Park.

IV. Weheragala Elephant Holding Grounds

The Weheragala elephant ‘Holding Ground’ has a perimeter of approximately 34km. and was officially declared open in the year 2009, and is located within the Lunugamwehera NP. On 6th December 2012 the writer visited this National Park and after obtaining special permission from the Head office, travelled in the company of a Park Tracker along two sides of the Holding with one going along a 2 km length of the deep canal conveying water from the Weheragala reservoir to the Lunugamwehera reservoir.

2013 04 29 16
However, we were unable to travel along the remaining two sides, due to the flooded conditions at that time after the heavy rains. As per the information gathered from the Tracker, on many occasions several aggressive elephants that were contained within this enclosure have broken down the electrified fences and escaped to other areas of the NP. On such occasions, prior to the broken fences being repaired small herds of docile elephants containing many cow elephants have gone inside the holding grounds, which perhaps contributes to negating the aggressiveness of some of the bull elephants.

It is the contention of several senior officials of the Department that this Holding Ground serves its purpose to tame some of the very aggressive elephants and release them once subdued to other Parks. (An experiment that still needs to be tested. But progressing – Note : Lal Anthonis)


V. Dahaiyagala Elephant Corridor

When the DWLC decided to build an elephant corridor to provide a safe passage for the regular elephant migration from the Uda Walawa NP to the pristine Bogahapattiya protected forest that contained much needed salt-licks for elephants; it was stalled due to several people protesting that the planned elephant corridor was traversing their traditional agricultural lands. The truth was that these individuals were engaged in certain illegal activities, and had strong political backing.

WNPS together with two other environmental groups –EFL (Environmental Foundation Limited), SLLT (Sri Lanka Leopard Trust); filed legal action with the Supreme Court in October 2008. After many hearings, the Supreme Court gave judgment in favour of the Petitioners and the DWC was ordered to build the elephant corridor within a period of six months; which construction was periodically checked in the field by several officials of WNPS.

On 7th December 2012 when the writer met the Park Warden of Uda Walawa NP, he was informed that all 26 km of the South side of the corridor is completed, but the final 6 km of the North side is not, due to 7 individuals taking legal action and proving that they have traditional agricultural lands with valid deeds. The matter was pursued with a senior official of DWLC who briefed that they have now obtained permission and are in the process of paying compensation to those individuals and subsequently complete the North side fence too.

Compiled by:-
Sarath C. Edussuriya
Past Hony. General Secretary,
WNPS.

Last modified on Saturday, 24 September 2016 19:11