Legal Extinction?

  • Amending the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance enables export of critically endangered and protected species

By Nirmala Kannangara

Aponogeton jacobsenii, Systomus asoka, Devario pathirana, Labeo fisheri and Systomus martenstyni

Sri Lanka Ornamental Fish and Water Plant Exporters’ Association (SLOFWPEA) is accused of influencing the Economic Development Ministry to legalize the export of critically endangered and protected inland fish and water plant species.
It is learnt that the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) is now in the process of drafting regulations to amend the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) No: 22 of 2009 enabling export of critically endangered and protected inland fish and water plant species, environmentalists alleged.
Eyebrows have been raised as to why the DWLC is taking such a drastic action knowing well that once the regulations are made, extinction would occur in the very near future.
“Although SLOFWPEA has a hidden agenda to get the existing FFPO regulations reduced to make money without considering extinction, it is the DWLC that has to protect these critically endangered species. Any department or individual can make requests to the DWLC to amend certain regulation for their personal benefits, but why cannot the DWLC stand firm and tighten the existing laws to protect these critically endangered species?” Director Environmental Conservation Trust, Sajeewa Chamikara questioned.
According to Nadeeka Hapuarachchi, of Galle Wildlife Conservation Society, there are 21 critically endangered fresh water fish species and 19 endangered species in the country.
“It is surprising why the government is taking such a drastic decision in order to serve the purpose of a few, without considering conserving these critically endangered fish. Out of the endemic fish species, 18 varieties are critically endangered and 19 varieties are endangered species. This is clearly stated in the National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka, which was published by the Ministry of Environment. According to this report, 50% of fresh water fish and 83% of fresh water plants are now critically endangered. It is the SLOFWPEA that has to take the sole responsibility for this extinction, as they have never had any methodology to breed fish or water plants, but export straight from the fish and water plant population from the streams. That is the main reason for the rapid extinction,” Hapuarachchi said.
According to Chamikara, on the direction of the Economic Development Ministry, a committee comprising DWLC, Forest Department, Agriculture Department, Botanical Gardens Peradeniya, National Aquatic Resources Agency (NARA), Customs Department and Health Ministry officials have drafted the new regulations and the draft has been sent to the Attorney Generals Department for approval.
“The Economic Development Ministry is claiming that this would be implemented for the benefit of the villagers. Although it is said that these species would be regenerated for export, how could this be implemented when most of these species are found in small numbers in tiny waterways? In the event these small numbered species are taken from their natural habitat for regeneration, these critically endangered species would be extinction very soon,” added Chamikara.
The eight varieties of critically endangered fish that are to be regenerated and exported are Pathirana salaya (Devario Pathirana), Gadaya (Labeo fisheri), Asoka pethiya (Systomus Asoka), Bandula pethiya (Pethia Bandula), Dumbara pethiya (Systomus martenstyni), Wilpita dandiya (Rasbora wilpita), Dankudu pethiya (Dawkinsia Srilankensis) and Ratu Weligowwa (Sicyopus jonklassi).
“All eight varieties are endemic and found in small numbers only in few places. Bandula pethiya is only found in a small stream stretch in the Kegalle District. It was first identified in 1991 and when researched was carried out, we were able to find this variety in 2009 and 2012 in the same stream. Only two varieties of Wilpita dandiya were found in 1991 and during the 2009 and 2012 research, we could find only one variety of this fish.
There is a high demand for Ratu Weligowwa and it is found near waterfalls. They are of microhabitat and in 1991 there were six varieties and in 2009 and 2012 it was able to find only three varieties. Asoka pethiya was found in the Seethawaka River and its surrounding places and two varieties were found in 1991 and 2009, but the latest research in 2012 reveals that only one variety could be found in the country.
Dumbara pethiyais can only be found in the Knuckles Range, and its extinction has taken place rapidly. Although we could find five varieties of this fish during the 1991 research, it has come down to two when research was carried out in 2009 and 2012,” Hapuarachchi said.
According to Chamikara, out of the 13 endangered water plants that are to be regenerated and exported, are two varieties of Kekatiya (Aponogeton), seven varieties of ketala (Laginandra) and four varieties of Athiudayan (Cryptocoryne).
“If these plants are removed from the natural habitat their extinction too will occur in the near future. Unless the DWLC takes prompt action to strengthen the existing FFPO and to prevent the SLOFWPEA from exporting these critically endangered and endangered species, the country will soon lose their endemic fauna and flora,” Chamikara said.
All attempts to contact Director General Department of Wildlife Conservation, H.D. Ratnayake, Deputy Director Legal, Chandani Wilson, and Assistant Director Legal, D.M. Weerasinghe, for comments failed as they were continuously at meetings.

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