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It’s not just monkey business: The DWC is severely lacking resources

“This particular subspecies is encountering growing challenges in human habitats resulting in injuries and death – what I can assume is due to habitat encroachment and destruction as a result of urbanisation”  Freelance private ranger John Wilson

We recently came across an incident shared with us courtesy of a concerned citizen residing in the Thalawathugoda-Hokandara area, with regards to an unfortunate interaction they encountered with a purple-faced langur, a primate species that is endemic to Sri Lanka.

This particular species, the western purple-faced langur, endemic to the tropical rainforests in southwest Sri Lanka around Colombo, is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world.

We were informed that the monkey that the resident of this suburban area came across was severely injured, and so they called the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), whose hotline 1992 is dedicated to attending to matters regarding injured protected species, which includes monkeys.

However, this citizen informed us that the officials dispatched from the DWC were highly incompetent, thoughtless in their actions, and fumbled the encounter, and were therefore unable to capture the animal safely. This interaction raises some questions regarding how the DWC handles such matters; if they have sufficient resources to attend to these types of situations, if they care to provide the necessary training to their officers, and are efficient in the manner in which they function.

The citizen was later informed that the authorities did in fact catch this animal and were able to treat it accordingly, and they followed up with the original complainant as well.

We reached out to the DWC for comment with regards to this, and they shared that for the Colombo area, the relevant regional office is the Attidiya Wildlife Rescue Centre, which works in collaboration with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre there. They said that while they do have limited staff right now, they are trained and in case of an emergency and where the animal requires sedation, their officers would be accompanied by a doctor.

“Many native, endemic, and endangered species are being pushed towards a survival crisis with accelerated habitat destruction and encroachment in the Wet Zone of Sri Lanka, the purple-faced langur being one of those badly affected for their ecology and behaviour”  Conservationist and veterinarian Dr. Deepani Jayantha

We also spoke to DWC Range Assistant Welgama, who also confirmed that for incidents in the Colombo area, the Attidiya Animal Hospital has two doctors who can attend to it, and additionally three others at the head office, if the use of tranquiliser is necessary. He said that legally, those who are not medical professionals cannot sedate animals.

Speaking to several other officers who shared their thoughts with us in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the DWC, we found that they do believe this is an area which could be improved upon, as in other parts of the world training is given to wildlife officers to sedate animals so that they can more efficiently offer their services. However, despite requests made, policy changes have not been addressed.

“Having visited the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Attidiya, I can confirm that they are in fact incredibly scarce in resources, and that despite the officers involved being very passionate and dedicated to helping the animals in the best way possible, their resources are spread too thin”  Avishka Sendanayake of Extinction Rebellion Sri Lanka

With regards to the matter of these endangered primates, we reached out to a number of wildlife experts and activists to share their thoughts on the matter of handling this human-monkey interaction.

Conservationist and veterinarian Dr. Deepani Jayantha shared: “Many native, endemic, and endangered species are being pushed towards a survival crisis with accelerated habitat destruction and encroachment in the Wet Zone of Sri Lanka, the purple-faced langur being one of those badly affected for their ecology and behaviour.”

Adding also that while it is encouraging to see the public come forward to help injured wild animals, Dr. Jayantha stressed that they should also take precautions against the possible transmission of rabies in the case of wild mammals and that therefore, it is always best that an injured animal is handled by a skilled and trained professional. She said that the DWC, the authority on defending the legal rights of wild animals, is supposed to take care of the conservation and welfare issues of wild animals. Unfortunately, she said, the Department, with limited trained staff and resources, has sub-optimal approaches to attending to distress calls of wild animals all over the country.

Similarly, freelance private ranger John Wilson commented: “This particular subspecies is encountering growing challenges in human habitats resulting in injuries and death – what I can assume is due to habitat encroachment and destruction as a result of urbanisation. However, despite the growing concerns, the DWC, which is the relevant authority, has not grown proportionally and remains severely understaffed and does not get the support it needs.” He pointed out that despite these challenges, they are doing a tremendous job.

“It is quite unfair to expect these authorities, as they stand, to deal with every incident of human-primate conflict, as there are far too many and the authorities are doing their best despite the lack of resources”  Primatologist and behavioural ecologist Wolfgang Dittus

Avishka Sendanayake of Extinction Rebellion Sri Lanka also commented: “Having visited the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Attidiya, I can confirm that they are in fact incredibly scarce in resources, and that despite the officers involved being very passionate and dedicated to helping the animals in the best way possible, their resources are spread too thin.” She also pointed out that many of the officials absolutely know what they are doing and are well educated in the subject. However, they struggle due to lack of manpower, funding, and overall assistance from the authorities to carry out their work.

Speaking with primatologist and behavioural ecologist Wolfgang Dittus, he shared: “It is quite unfair to expect these authorities, as they stand, to deal with every incident of human-primate conflict, as there are far too many and the authorities are doing their best despite the lack of resources.”

He added that what can be said is that the general public should exercise some empathy towards these animals – when they come onto your land, there is no need to throw firecrackers at them and there is absolutely no need to fear them. He said that often, land owners would chop down extending branches which they believe opens up avenues for these primates to cross paths, however, in doing so all they will be doing is removing easy access to the assumed safe path that was available to the animal; now they will utilise this same path, however, they will endure a harsher jump from the trees to your rooftop, which will cause more impact on your roof and cause more impact on the animal as well – it will harm both parties and nobody benefits, he said.

It can be concluded that there is indeed a need for rapid response and well-equipped and well-trained personnel to be able to carry out rescue missions, and subsequently a procedure to effectively release the animal back into the wild. Supporting staff should get exposure in terms of professional training including veterinary first aid, etc.

What is evident is that attending to such accidents is nothing trivial, and that it has conservation and welfare importance. However, the lack of urgency on the part of the authorities has remained static.