The Sunday Leader

Poachers Protected

  • Political clout allows illegal poachers to thrive

By Nirmala Kannangara

Rampant poaching is reported to be taking place within the Udawalawe and Lunugamwehera National Parks as 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 strict nature reserves in the country, the situation at Udawalawe and Lunugamwehera has become worse and no action has been taken against the offenders because of political clout.

Environmentalists and naturalists accuse the respective police for their failure to take any action against poaching and selling bush-meat (meat from animals poached in the wild) as they are getting their ‘share’ every evening, reliable sources at the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) said on condition of anonymity. They claim their (DWC) hands are tied because of the political interference, although the department is keen to bring the poachers 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 to the police either, because we know they are scared to carry out their duties as they too are under pressure. 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 Udawalawe and Lunugamwehera national parks but also those in the head office who carry out raids,” said the sources.

Minister refutes allegations

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

“Since I am not involved in any of these illegal activities, anyone can level baseless allegations against me. I request the DWC to lodge complaints to the police if I have ever pressurized them not to take any action against the poachers at Lunugamwehera and Udawalawe 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 on my way but I have not resorted to any illegal activity,” said Minister Pushpakumara.

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

Minister Jagath Pushpakumara
“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 on my way, but I have not resorted to any illegal activity.”

“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 avoid acting against these illegal activities,” added the sources.

Transfers due to threats

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

“Since pressure was mounting on these 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 even to a certain extent,” the sources added.

Meanwhile, Zoologist Dilan Peiris accused the police and the DWC for not taking any action against poaching in national parks and added that although bush-meat cannot be sold, cooked bush-meat is freely available in restaurants in and around Thanamalwila and Hambegamuwa.

National Coordinator CENS Ravindra Kariyawasam
“This is happening daily and the police officers ignore them.”

“This clearly shows that the people around Udawalawe national park know that they would not be penalized by the police or DWC for having bush-meat in their possession as they are well protected by the politicians. It is surprising to see as to how these poachers enter the Udawalawe and Lunugamwehera parks with clubs and guns after 4PM for hunting while the wildlife officers are turning a blind eye,” added Peiris.

Turning a blind eye

According to him, under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, it is a punishable offense not only to hunt within a national park but even an 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 silent is questionable. It is surprising as to how the police too are following a deaf and dumb attitude against the illegal 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’ but not to take any action against the poachers,” said Peiris.

Zoologist Dilan Peiris
“It’s surprising how these poachers enter the parks with clubs and guns after 4PM for hunting while the wildlife officers are turning a blind eye”.

Meanwhile, National Coordinator of the Center for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) Ravindra Kariyawasam said that instances of illegal poaching in Lunugamwehera and Udawalawe National Parks have increased over the years.

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

He further said that he was surprised as to how the hunters walk past the Hambegamuwa police post in Tanamalwila carrying the poached 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.

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