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Monday, 29 July 2019 05:37

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society story

A journey of 125 years dedicated to protect our environs
By Jithendri Gomes

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society is a household name in all spheres in Sri Lanka. Recently, they celebrated their 125th year with a fantastic lecture, covering all elements of land, water, and sky with experts in each area in a panel discussion.

How it all began
The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka was first formed in 1894 under the name “Ceylon Game Protection Society”. This came about in 1888 when the Government appointed a committee to report on the current laws relating to the protection of “game”. Wildlife, at that time and for a long time after, was known as game as the emphasis was on hunting and not protection. The Government in 1891 based on the recommendations of this committee introduced an “ordinance to prevent wanton destruction of elephants, buffaloes, and other game”. Incidentally, this was the first time that elephants were given some form of protection. It was following this that a license was required to shoot or capture an elephant. The ordinance also prohibited night shooting.

It is interesting to note that this committee was headed by R.W. Levers, who later became the first President of the Society. Further, in 1894, an “ordinance to prevent wanton destruction of birds, beasts, and fish not indigenous to this colony” was introduced in the Legislative Council. This was in fact introduced to protect imported bird species, such as pheasants, which were released in the jungles and quickly hunted by the locals and exterminated. This is totally prohibited now.

This should be considered the beginning of wildlife conservation in the island. It was at this point that E. Gordon Reeves of Ratnatenne Estate, Madulkelle decided to promote a meeting which laid the foundation of the Ceylon Game Protection Society in 1894. At this meeting, it was resolved that the society be called Game Protection Society of Ceylon. However, during the course of the next few decades, membership and (also perhaps the general population who were interested in the island’s natural environment) realised protection was needed not only for game, but for other species that inhabited the island’s wild places as well. At the annual general meeting of 1930, the Society was renamed Ceylon Game and Fauna Protection Society.

Then in 1955, the society went through a significant change. On 29 January 1955, at the annual general meeting, Aloy Perera proposed a change in the name of the society which would take away the emphasis on protection of game for hunting and focus on becoming a fulltime wildlife protection society; it was seconded by Dr. R.L. Spittel. Though some members opposed it, the resolution was passed 28 for and 10 against. Thus, the society became the Wildlife Protection Society of Ceylon.

In 1970, then President Thilo W. Hoffmann suggested a further change in the name, pointing out that wildlife cannot be protected without conserving nature. This proposal was brought up at the annual general meeting on 14 December 1970 and the society then became Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Ceylon – later Sri Lanka, as it remains to this day.

Where they are at now
The current President of the Society, Sriyan De Silva Wijeratne had these thoughts to share about where they are today after completing 125 years dedicated to protecting wildlife and nature.

“These are indeed troubled times, where the boundaries of right and wrong have been blurred, where technology is creating transformational positive and negative impacts, and where environmental destruction, due to man’s greed and lack of consciousness, is wreaking havoc on our planet and natural ecosystems. Here in Sri Lanka too, commercialisation and urbanisation are relentlessly depleting our natural resources and causing extinction at an alarming rate. Changes in rainfall and temperature cause economic consequences which, in turn, push people to clear more forests, and these vicious cycles continue. Unfortunately, the biggest negative impacts are being caused by the absence of planned development. A lack of political will, corruption and greed on all sides, and the failure of the rule of law also become major contributors.

“But all is not lost, and we have many reasons to approach the future with optimism. Sri Lanka still has much intact which needs protecting. The broader area, in and around the North and East, plus Mannar and the North West, are regions rich in biodiversity which, due to the 30-year internecine conflict, were spared the inevitable damage caused by commercialisation, increased population settlement, and urbanisation. Sri Lankans thus have a unique opportunity to plan development in these areas and find a better balance between nature, wildlife, and human needs.

Photokrishan kariyawasam