The Sunday Leader

Wildlife Sanctuary Or Poachers’ Paradise?

By Nirmala Kannangara

Rampant poaching is reported to be taking place within the Udawalawa and Lunugamwehera National Parks and the Department of Wildlife Conservation and the respective police stations are helpless to take action against the poachers.

Although poaching is reported from each and every national park, sanctuary and nature reserves in the country, the situation in Udawalawa and Lunugamwehera has become worse and no action has been taken against the offenders because of the political interference.

Although environmentalists and naturalists accuse the respective police stations for their failure to take action against poaching and selling bushmeat (meat from animals hunted in the forests) as they are getting their ‘share’ every evening, reliable sources at the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) said on condition of anonymity.

They said that their (DWC) hands are tied because of the political interference, although the department is keen to bring the hunters to book.

“We are helpless as we cannot discharge our duties as it should be, because of the political interference.

We cannot pass the blame on to the police as well because we know they too are scared to carry out their duties as they too are under pressure.

The Minister of Coconut Development and Janatha Estate Development Jagath Pushpakumara and the respective local council members put undue pressure not only on our staff at the Udawalawa and Lunugamwehera national parks but also those in the head office who carry out raids,” said the sources.

However Minister Jagath Pushpakumara refuted allegations levelled against him and queried as to why the DWC had failed to lodge complaints against him in police if he has given instructions not to take action against the poachers.

“I am not involved in any of these illegal activities. Anyone can level baseless allegations against me.

I request the DWC to lodge complaints in police if I have ever pressurized them not to take action against the hunters at Lunugamwehera and Udawalawa national parks.

Maybe there are people who use my name and give instructions to the Wildlife Department.
Since I am a popular politician in the district such allegations would come my way but I have not resorted to any illegal activity,” said Minister Pushpakumara.

However DWC sources confirmed that Minister Pushpakumara had instructed DWC officers not to take action against the hunters and further claimed that Minister Pushpakumara had also instructed not to take any action against cannabis cultivation within the national parks.

“All our attempts to take action against these illegal activities that are taking place within these two national parks have failed and even our higher officials are not spared.

They too get warnings from these politicians very often. As a result we have no other option but to refrain from taking action against these illegal activities,” added the sources.

According to the sources, the DWC has had to transfer its park wardens at Udawalawa and Lunugamwehera recently since they are getting continuous threats from these politicians.

“Since pressure was mounting on those two park wardens we had to transfer them for their safety and two new faces were sent there.

We hope they can stop what is taking place illegally within parks at least to a certain extent,” he added.

Meanwhile Zoologist Dilan Peiris accused the police and the DWC for not taking action against poachers in national parks and added that although bushmeat could not be sold, cooked bushmeat was freely available in restaurants in and around Thanamalwila and Hambegamuwa.

“This clearly shows that the people around Udawalawa National Park know that they would not be penalized by the police or DWC for having bushmeat in their possession as they are well protected by the politicians.

It is shocking to see how these hunters enter the Udawalawa and Lunugamwehera parks with clubs and guns after 4pm for hunting while the wildlife officers turn a blind eye,” added Peiris.

According to him, under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, it is a punishable offense not only to hunt within a national park but also even attempt to kill an animal.

“When the DWC has the authority to take action against those who violate the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, the reason behind their unusual silence is questionable.

It is also surprising as to how the police too are following a deaf-and-dumb attitude against the poachers. The known secret behind this is a powerful minister in the government.

He has asked the DWC and the police to ‘mind their business’ and not to take any action against the hunters,” said Peiris.
Meanwhile, the National Coordinator for the Center for Environment and Nature Studies, Ravindra Kariyawasam said that poaching in Lunugamwehera and Udawalawa National Parks have increased over the years.

“Illegal poaching in national parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries are common but in Lunugamwehera and Udawalawa this has become a great threat as the hunters are moving freely with guns and clubs in their hands without any hindrance,” said Kariyawasam.

He further said that he was surprised to see how poachers walk past the Hambegamuwa police post in Tanamalwila carrying the hunted animals on their shoulders.

“This is happening daily and the police officers ignore them.

I have lodged many complaints with the Hambegamuwa and Tanamalwila police against poaching but to no avail,” said Kariyawasam.All attempts to contact Director General DWC, H. D. Ratnayake to find out as to why his department has failed to take action against poaching in national parks failed.

Although a message was left with his staff, Ratnayake did not return the call till the paper went for publication.

2 Comments for “Wildlife Sanctuary Or Poachers’ Paradise?”

  1. well how true about the government agencies turning a blind eye to the happenings inside these national parks due to political pressure. poaching and ganja cultivation within the parks are rampant. bushmeat are even available as far as tangalle and dickwella. if i am not mistaken nearly 90 per cent of the ganja sold in sri lanka originates from the golden triangle of tanamalwila, hambegamuwa and lunugamvehera areas.
    this country is supposed to be the miracle of asia. what a joke.

  2. Candy

    Very well written. Thanks

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