All wildlife enthusiasts are invited

By Jithendri Gomes

In celebration of its 125th anniversary, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) plans to host a special interactive edition of its monthly lecture series for its members, with short presentations to be made by four experts in their field, covering four major issues affecting conservation in Sri Lanka today. The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience, and will be an extended version of the usual lecture series with an expected duration of two hours.

The WNPS invites and advocates the attendance of all those interested in the future protection of the wild animals and wild places of Sri Lanka, hoping they will actively contribute to the discussion.

Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya will be the moderator of the panel discussion. Speaking to us exclusively, he shared his thoughts with us. “There are many issues in the wildlife sector and some of those problems can be dealt with a little easier and have direct solutions while others are far more complicated.

So for the 125th anniversary, WNPS has done a wonderful thing by bringing four panellists – all experts in their respective fields – to have a discussion and share their opinions on their species of choice.

“Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando will be speaking on elephant conservation and some solutions to this issue that have been practised and proven successful. He will touch on how the government must get involved in a large scale to mitigate this problem with the possibility of adopting this method.

“Rukshan Jayewardene will speak about leopard conservation and how poor tourism practices are affecting these animals negatively and changing their behaviour patterns. He will also touch on the incident that occurred with a leopard at Kumana National Park recently.

“Dr. Nishan Perera will speak about the main marine species and the key issues they face in Sri Lanka. He too will touch on how the badly-managed tourism practices affect them. And finally, Dr. Sampath Seneviratne will speak of birds and the role they play in our wildlife ecosystem. He will also speak of how Sri Lanka has the potential to be a fantastic bird-watching destination.”

Dr. Pilapitiya is a household name in conservation in Sri Lanka today. A former Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), he has a PhD in environmental sciences from Rutgers University, New Jersey. He is currently a consultant to the World Bank for its conservation projects in the South Asian region, including its ESCAMP project in Sri Lanka.

He also told us that the event is open to the public, while hoping some officials from the DWC will also be present. “We want it to be an interactive session with the audience where they too will be able to share their thoughts and even findings of their own research projects. Some of the findings by enthusiasts are not known to us experts. So we hope it will result in an exchange of ideas and we welcome everyone who would like to attend and contribute.”

The conservation of leopards – Rukshan Jayewardene

Speaking to us exclusively, Rukshan Jayewardene shared his focus points for the upcoming lecture. “I hope to speak of Sri Lankan leopards and about their current conservation status. The population has been fluctuating; for example, it increased during the war and had declined in the recent past.

“I will also be touching on the adaptability of our leopards and about conservation efforts with regard to human expansion, potential conflicts, difficulties in co-existing, and the inability to share the limited land with humans. The leopards also face many international threats like poaching, trading, and being used as by-products. The push for coexistence will be a key point in my presentation.”

Rukshan Jayewardene is the immediate past President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, and has served as a Director – Environmental Foundation Ltd. for the past nine years, and is a founder member and first Chairman of the Federation of Environmental Organisations.

Human-elephant conflict – Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando

For the last quarter of a century, Dr. Fernando had extensively studied the Asian elephant, especially the Sri Lankan elephant, and has no peer in his understanding of the human-elephant conflict. His knowledge is eagerly sought in countries that have the good fortune of hosting wild elephants and yet, of late, in Sri Lanka, his services are not called upon as his proposed long-term solutions clash with the politically expedient, destructive, “stopgaps” of those in power.

“What should be done and who should do it will be the main theme of my presentation. For the past 65 to 70 years, ever since the Department of Wildlife was established in Sri Lanka, they have tried to solve the human-elephant conflict by housing them in parks and it has not worked. Currently 70% of the total elephant population lives outside of park boundaries.”

Dr. Fernando obtained a PhD from the University of Oregon, US on genetics, ecology, and conservation of the Asian elephant, and pioneered genetic analysis of Asian elephants and the radio tracking of them in the wilds of Sri Lanka. He is currently Chairperson of the Centre for Conservation and Research (CCR), which conducts research to mitigate the human-elephant conflict and conserve elephants.

Marine conservation – Dr. Nishan Perera

“I will be emphasising on Marine Protected Areas (MPA) and how they can be used in marine conservation efforts. I also hope to highlight the existing state of the MPAs and issues related to it. The coverage and the selection of areas to be MPAs are inadequate. If used properly, it will be a vital and effective tool in our conservation efforts.

“I also hope that the audience will engage and ask questions. I do hope to stimulate their thinking patterns.”

Dr. Perera is a marine biologist and underwater photographer with an interest in coral reef ecology, fisheries, and marine-protected area management. He is a Co-founder of Blue Resources Trust and has previously worked with international conservation agencies in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Indonesia, and Australia.

Conservation of birds – Dr. Sampath Seneviratne

Dr. Sampath Seneviratne also shared his thoughts about the lecture and what his session will entail with The Sunday Morning Brunch. “In my briefing, I will focus on five key aspects of Sri Lanka’s bird conservation. I will start with the common debate in birding circles on the issue of the number of birds found in Sri Lanka. The list varies from 450 to 500 species and of that, about 100 forms are unique to the island – that is about one-third of the 250 species of breeding residents – a very high endemism for any country.”

Currently the President of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), Dr. Seneviratne made the conservation of Sri Lanka’s birds a mission of life. A senior lecturer in Zoology at the University of Colombo, he has a PhD in evolutionary ecology from Memorial University, Canada.

With these experts on the panel, the WNPS lecture is guaranteed to be a success. It will be a series of presentations by renowned research scientists and conservationists followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience, and will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on 16 May 2019 at the Jasmine Hall, BMICH. We hope everyone interested in our wildlife and its future will attend.