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Crop damage by wild animals: Monkey sterilisation causes concern 

  • Impractical and unjust: Environmentalists, conservationists, activists 

 

With Governmental authorities seeking to propose sterilisation as a means of protecting crops from monkeys and other wild animals, environmental groups and animal rights activists yesterday (4) raised concerns in terms of the feasibility, practicality and ethicality of the plan. 

The authorities are considering this ambitious plan, spanning six Provinces, in an effort to control wild animals causing havoc to a variety of lucrative agricultural crops, following complaints from pastoralists of the menace to their fruit and vegetable cultivations from quadruped and biped fauna. 

Whilst acknowledging the need for solutions to rising populations of monkeys and other wild animals damaging fruit and vegetable crops across six Provinces, environmentalists and animal conservationists raised concerns regarding the feasibility, practicality and ethics surrounding the Government’s recently proposed initiative to control these populations through sterilisation and other means. 

The sterilisation of wild animals such as monkeys and peacocks through surgery, injections and the oral administration of sterilising drugs as well as by capturing the animals and releasing them to the wild, and the preparation of large enclosures to hold the animals, are some of the suggestions that will be discussed as solutions for the problems faced by farmers. 

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (4), the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation Secretary Bandula Harischandra said that a committee was appointed on 3 February to provide a report on the best strategies to go about controlling populations of wild animals that enter farm lands and damage crops. 

“Monkeys are our main concern as they have damaged about 20% to 25% of the agricultural produce. We however do not want to kill any animals and we want them to be in our environment. Therefore, the committee will be looking for options to control their populations and balance it. Sterilisation, holding them in enclosures, and capturing and releasing the animals back into the wild are some of the suggestions we will be considering.” 

He stressed that the control will only be on heavily populous animals that enter into crop fields and noted that this will not be practiced on animals such as elephants. 

A six member committee that consists of representatives from the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, the State Ministry of Wildlife Conservation Protection Programmes Including Electric Fence and Ditch Construction and Re-Forestation and Wildlife Resources Development, the Department of Agrarian Development, the Department of Agriculture, the Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and agriculture specialist Thilak Kandegama will be providing a report with recommendations in early March which would then be presented to the Cabinet of Ministers, said Harishchandra. 

Papaya, banana and corn are some of the main crops that are damaged by these animals in the Central, North Central, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Eastern and North Western Provinces. 

“Farmers organisations from these areas have made complaints so we are trying to respond to their grievances. District agricultural committees and farmers’ societies would be working together with Wildlife Conservation officials and if we are going ahead with sterilisation, the DWC’s veterinary surgeons and veterinary surgeons working with farmers will also be a part of this. The medicine, equipment and necessary facilities needed for this would be provided by the Government,” added Harischandra. 

When queried about the causes of the wild animal invasion of crop fields, he said that this is not due to deforestation alone and that these animals have gotten used to finding their food from these crops. 

However, conservationists and environmentalists have raised their concerns about the initiative to control animal populations and the suggested methods to go about doing so. 

Speaking to The Morning yesterday, the Centre for Conservation and Research Chairman Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando claimed that sterilising large numbers of wild animals is not practical. 

“We can’t even sterilise the stray dogs in the streets. To catch wild animals such as monkeys and to sterilise them is a fanciful idea that is not practical,” he noted. 

Dr. Fernando also said that administering injections that need to be received periodically on so many wild animals is impractical and that offering oral sterilisers through food targeting the monkeys, could be picked up by a non-targeted animal and eaten. 

However, he also said that if sterilisation is practically possible, a pilot programme should be conducted in a small area where after the conducting of the sterilisation programme, the impact it had on controlling the population and on the human-animals conflict should be assessed before it is implemented on a larger scale. 

The Centre for Environmental Justice Chairman Ravindranath Dabare, speaking to The Morning yesterday, said that sterilisation and the enclosure of animals are not just and that it may have ecological impacts that affect food cycles. 

“There should be justice for all members of the environment, animals and humans. Humans don’t have a right to sterilise animals. About 80% of Sri Lanka’s land has some kind of human intervention. We have to reserve a just space for the animals.” Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardana told The Morning yesterday that animals could be facing situations of being driven out of their habitats. 

“These animals could be in a desperate situation that might be driving them to these crop lands”. 

He noted that therefore resorting to ad hoc solutions without exploring the causative factors behind the rise in the monkey population, is not advisable.