Grazing On The Rise In National Parks

by Ifham Nizam

The previous government oversaw unnecessary land-grabbing amounting to nearly 200,000 acres which was  one of the prime reasons for the human-elephant conflict in the country, an environmentalist said.

The present government too had failed to look into the matter despite number of planned initiatives.

The baby elephant abduction racket has been another injustice that went on unabated. There were incidents where there was enough evidence to frame charges against the culprits but no action had been taken.

Even the Auditor-General’s report stated that at least 14 elephants had been captured from the wild. Recently, the Department of Wildlife Conservation team raided a property and confiscated a baby elephant kept by powerful figures.

With the complex political situation, some of those who stand accused by environmentalists of offences are now supporting the government, so vigilance was needed to make sure investigations were fair and unbiased.

Minimising the  human-elephant conflict, protecting greener pastures especially within the national parks were among the top recommendations forwarded by a group of environmentalists who fight for the welfare of the fauna and flora of the country.

The group consisted of environmentalists Rukshan Jayewardene, Sajeewa Chamikara, Pubudhu Weerathne, Nayanaka Ranwella, Nadeeka Hapuararachi, Bandula Beberanda, Dinesh Malliakarrachi and Manoj Ratnayake.

Once again they had urged President Maithripala Sirisena to attach all institutions related to the environment currently under several ministries to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to put an end to all aggravating problems.

Spokesman of the Collective of Environmental Organisations and Director of Environment Conservation Trust Sajeewa Chamikara said that during the past 10 years institutions coming under on the subject of environment had been placed under several ministries for political reasons.

He said most of the departments were chopped and joined in order to make a quick buck rather than using them for the welfare and betterment of the animals.

He said President Sirisena has clearly stated that he will give more attention to environmental protection and he, too, has held the portfolio for some time.

The President had also promised to create an environment development programme for the next five years and provide a sustainable solution to the human-elephant conflict, he noted.

Environmentalists said that some institutions had been removed from the Environment Ministry and separate ministries had been set up for some institutions just for political reasons during the last 10 years.

Chamikara said that sand mining, gem mining and grazing cows in national parks such as Udawalawe, Maduru Oya, Wasgamuwa and Wilpattu had increased during the tenure of the former Wildlife Minister.

He said that they had already written to President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in this regard.

The few feeding areas available are taken up by the village cattle, sent into the park to feed. Herds of cattle can be seen in the sanctuary- they just cross the road to get into the National Park side which does not have a fence. Part of the Bundala National Park remains a sanctuary and village activities like grazing cattle and fishing in the lagoon are permitted under the Sanctuaries Ordinance.

It was former Wildlife Resources Conservation Minister Wijithamuni de Zoysa  who gave an assurance that all national parks and the animals in them will be protected and alternative land provided for cattle to graze, but thousands of cattle still invade the parks and deprive other animals, especially the gentle giants, elephants of their food, according to environmentalists.

 

Grazing and man-made forest fires have been on the rise in the
national parks

The Government recently assured senior environmentalists that steps would be taken to safeguard the national parks under the Fauna and Flora Act. Wildlife Conservation Department officials said that Cattle grazing in the national parks would not only lead to more human-elephant conflicts but possibly spread diseases among wild animals.

According to senior Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardena allowing cattle to graze in the national parks was illegal.

However, people from faraway places brought herds of cattle and released them in close vicinity of the national parks, he said, noting that it was an offence under the Section Six of the Fauna and Flora Act and legal action should be taken to confiscate the animals and punish their owners.

Some cattle owners deliberately set fire to patches of jungle to get fresh grass for their animals. When thousands of domesticated cattle raided parks on a daily basis there occurred shortages of fodder for other animals, especially elephant and,  they make forays into homesteads looking for food, he said.

According to Environment Development Unity, Chairperson Pubudu Weeraratna an estimated 50,000 cattle were harming nature’s balance in the three national parks.

He said the Department officials were unable to act as the farmers had political clout.

It was also revealed that cattle herders deliberately broke the electric fences around national parks for their animals to get easy access to them thus enabling wild elephants to enter the surrounding villages and wreak havoc.

More than 30,000 cattle enter the Lunugamvehara National park, while 15,000 enter the Maduru Oya National park and some 15,000 enter the Udawalawe National park on a daily basis.

The government was not in a position to make a decision on cattle grazing in national parks until the Forest Department provided alternative lands; otherwise those animals would end up in beef stalls,  was the  response given to the writer by former Wildlife Resources Conservation Minister Wijithamuni de Zoysa. The former minister said that he did not want to be termed a sinner by taking such a decision. However, he said through provincial councils they had instructed cattle owners to identify alternative lands countrywide and get the nod of the Forest Department. On its part, the Ministry would be doing its utmost to facilitate the granting of alternative land for grazing.

Despite an assurance that all national parks and the animals in them would be protected and alternative land provided for cattle to graze, thousands of cattle still invade the parks on a daily basis and deprive wild animals of their fodder, according to environmentalists.

Wildlife Conservation Department officials said that Cattle grazing in the national parks would not only lead to more human-elephant conflicts but possibly spread diseases among wild animals.

An estimated 50,000 cattle are harming nature’s balance in the three national parks.

It is estimated that more than 30,000 cattle enter the Lunugamvehara National park, while 15,000 enter the Maduru Oya National park and over 15,000 enter the Udawalawe National park on a daily basis.

1 Comment for “Grazing On The Rise In National Parks”

  1. This aspect of cattle farmers and the chena cultivators moving into the forests has been going on for years, even when the land under forest cover was much greater in the many years ago.. They do not have the capital nor the separate land mass necessary for the grazing of their livestock, unlike the large acreage, which were owned by the state and ran at huge losses due to politics and corruption. that has found its way into private hands. Most important once the true natural forests are destroyed, it will lead to the ultimate decimation of our population, followed by mans inhumanity to mankind with greater ferocity.

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