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The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) was established in 1894 as a game protection society and evolved over the years to become a wildlife and nature conservation society of Sri Lanka by the 1970s. For much of this period, the society was the only civil organization promoting fauna and flora protection, and was associated very closely with the enactment of Sri Lanka’s wildlife protection legislation. It continues to maintain close links with the Departments of Wildlife Conservation and Forest Department specially in highlighting conservation issues. Its primary role now is as a policy advocate and environmental educator. It publishes two bi-annual journals in English & Sinhala and maintains three park lodges for its members in Wilpattu, Yala and Udawalawe National Park.


History of the WNPS

Source: WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IN SRI LANKA. A History of Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, 1894 – 1994. C. G. Uragoda. A WNPS Centenary Publication – 1994.

The Beginnings

"The history of wildlife protection in Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with that of Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka ... "

The British gained control of the whole of Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was then called) in 1815 with the annexure of the Kandyan provinces. Earlier they occupied only the Maritime Provinces following the ousting of the Dutch in 1796. Access to the mountainous central provinces led to an influx of Britons who cleared the jungles and commenced coffee cultivation; later this was changed to tea plantations.

These British planters lived secluded lives in remote places, their only relaxation being visits to the clubs that were established by them in the larger towns. Jungles full of wild animals bordered the estates, and hunting became a pastime enjoyed by many.

By the 1870’s wildlife numbers were declining rapidly as a result of uncontrolled hunting. Those responsible were not only the planters but also commercial hunters who traded in dried meat, horns and hides. In an attempt to reduce this destruction the Government introduced various bits of legislation over the next few years:

- Ordinance to prevent wasteful destruction of buffaloes and game throughout the Island’ – 1872. This resulted in the declaration of a closed season for hunting buffalo and deer between April and September.

- Ordinance to prevent the wanton destruction of elephants, buffaloes and other game’ – 1891. Under this ordinance a license was required to shoot or capture an elephant and night hunting was prohibited.

- Ordinance to prevent wanton destruction of birds, beasts and fishes not indigenous to this colony’ – 1894. This was designed to protect birds such as pheasants that were being introduced to the Island.

It was in this backdrop that the Ceylon Game Protection Society, the forerunner to the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka (WNPS), was formed in 1894. The inaugural meeting was held on the 23rd of May 1894 at the Bristol Hotel in Colombo. Following a resolution moved at the meeting the Government banned the exportation of the hides of sambhur and spotted deer for a period of 5 years from January 1st, 1885. At its second meeting the Society moved the adoption of rules that required its members to see that the provisions of Game Ordinances were enforced within their districts. It also made provision that any rewards paid to a member who gave information that led to a successful prosecution would be paid to the Society’s funds. The same meeting adopted a proposal to employ game watchers paid out of Society funds, but the first watchers were so employed only in 1899. During this time the Society was active in ensuring good hunting for its members, whether by shooting or by hunting with hounds. Hunting by hounds – using packs of trained dogs – was restricted to the jungles above 4000 feet. Resident Sportsmen’s Reserves were maintained by the society for this purpose and supervised by paid watchers and volunteer wardens appointed by the Society (the Southern Province Residents’ Reserve eventually became Yala Block 1). One of the duties of the watchers was to detect poaching and to take action in accordance with the game ordinances. This was a function that the society undertook as it felt that the Forest Department (established in 1886) that had the responsibility of enforcing these ordinances, was not up to the task. In time, the Forest Department took over more of the patrolling work and the role of the Society’s watchers changed to that of being just trackers.

The Society had a close relationship with the Government from the beginning; its members were all British, many holding high office and therefore influential. The situation persisted even after 1931 when a constitution was adopted that paved the way for ministers. Indeed, Mr. D. S. Senanayake, who was the Minister of Agriculture and Lands was elected an honorary member of the Society at the Annual General Meeting of 1931. The Forest Department, that was responsible for wildlife at the time, came under his Ministry.

In 1937, a new Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance came into force. Representatives of the Society were invited to sit on the statutory Fauna and Flora Protection Advisory Committee that had much influence on shaping official thinking on wildlife conservation. Under this Ordinance the Sportsmen’s Reserves became Intermediate Zones and passed out of the hands of the Society.


The Wildlife & Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka (WNPS) was first formed in 1894 and was named the Ceylon Game Protection Society.

The formation of the WNPS was prompted by the following series of events:

  • In 1888 the Government appointed a Committee headed by R. W. Levers (who later became the first President of the Society) to report on the current Laws relating to the protection of game (wildlife at that time, and for a long time after, was referred to as 'game'; the emphasis being on hunting and not protection).

  • In 1891, based on the recommendation of this Committee, the Government introduced an “Ordinance to prevent wanton destruction of elephants, buffaloes and other game”. This was the first time that elephants were given some form of protection by Law. A license was now required to shoot or capture an elephant. The Ordinance also prohibited night shooting.

  • In 1894, an “Ordinance to prevent wanton destruction of birds, beasts and fishes 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.

There were certain ambiguities in these Ordinances and some clauses were, perhaps, to some extent inoperative. These should, however, be considered as the beginning of wildlife conservation in the island.

It was at this point, in 1894, that E. Gordon Reeves of Ratnatenne Estate, Madulkelle, decided to promote a Meeting which laid the foundation of the Ceylon Game Protection Society.

The “Times of Ceylon” of Monday 7th May 1894 carried the following notice:

Game Preservation.
It is proposed to hold a Meeting at 2 pm on Wednesday the 23rd instant at the Bristol Hotel.
All who are interested are invited to attend.

Thus was the Society established as the Game Protection Society of Ceylon.

During the course of the next few decades, as the realisation dawned that it was not just 'game' but all other species and the wild places of the island needed protection, the name of the society evolved to reflect this new thinking. In 1930, the name was changed to being that of the Ceylon Game and Fauna Protection Society; in 1955 to the Wildlife Protection Society of Ceylon; and finally, in 1970, to the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), which name it retains today.


Society Emblem

In 1894, when the Society was first established, the emblem was the side view of the face of the European Red Deer.  In 1929, it was changed to be the head of a Sambhur, an emblem that is continued with today.


The objects of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka are:

To prevent the destruction and harmful commercial exploitation of wild animals, plants, and wherever desirable and possible, to preserve wildlife intact in natural conditions in Sri Lanka.

To assist in protecting nature in all its forms, such as landscape, soil, water, flora, fauna, marine habitats and to conserve it for future generations.

To co-operate actively with other persons and organisations in Sri Lanka and in other countries in the interests of nature conservation and to give support for study and research concerning wildlife.

To negotiate and co-operate with the state and public bodies in the interests of wildlife and nature conservation, especially to establish and support national reserves and sanctuaries, and assist in their administration.

To establish, administer and hold private wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves.

To publicize the importance of wildlife and nature conservation in this country especially among school children.

To do all other things which seem to be incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above aims.