Concern for conservation | Daily News

Concern for conservation

A country with an enviable green cover, Sri Lanka is home to a vast spectrum of flora and fauna. The bionetwork embodies many surprises and wonders. Every small act in nature has a balance to it and human behaviour remains the key driver to biodiversity loss. Ahead of World Biodiversity Day on May 22, Daily News TnC met the eco-warriors of the country who are making a concerted effort to preserve its rich ecosystem.

Climb every mountain, ford every stream – they have done them all. Their mission is to give a true taste of nature; encouraging people to explore, not pollute. Founded in 1972 by Lyn De Alwis, a globally acclaimed academic and nature lover who also happened to be the Director of National Zoological Gardens during the era, the Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) works towards creating awareness and conservation. Under the slogan ‘Protect Nature’, this non-governmental, non-profit, voluntary youth organization based at the National Zoological Gardens at Dehiwala, has engaged in countless awareness programmes to make conservation a habit rather than an activity. They have won many accolades for their selfless dedication to preserving the environment and for instilling the message of conservation in the hearts of the community.

With the ‘Sewa Prasadini 2017’ award

The team had won the ‘Sewa Prasadini 2017’ award for their wildlife conservation work. This award had been handed to them by President Maithripala Sirisena. YZA has also won the Presidential Environment Award under the non-governmental category the same year.

“Conservation through education is our vision and we focus on nurturing love towards nature in young minds via awareness programmes. The YZA members meet every Sunday at 2 pm to learn about different groups of flora and fauna. Birds, aquatic life, flora, butterflies, mammals, reptiles, wildlife art, and wildlife photography are in focus in some of our main study groups and members can join any of them according to their preference. These members can also face an exam later and get a certificate issued by the National Zoological Gardens Director General,” YZA current President Diluksha Soysa, who had been a member of YZA since 2008, said.

He notes that mere education and awareness alone cannot bring about a change. The YZA holds general workshops to educate the youth on how to act according to certain nature-related situations in life.

“People who know about our association seek our help when they encounter environmental issues. For example, if they find a wild animal in their house, they call us because they know that we can handle the matter. We possess the knowledge to send the animal back into the wilderness rather than let it be killed,” he added.

The YZA believes that change can be more effective when addressed at the school level. Therefore their members are between 13 to 35 years. Their members are made up of students, undergraduates, young professionals and nature lovers. Each year more than 500 members join the team and during some years more than 1000 have joined the YZA.

“We also hold lectures and workshops at schools to spread awareness. Our most recent workshop dealt with focusing on the amphibians in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Such field visits give our members practical knowledge. All our lecturers engage in these events on a voluntary basis,” he added.

They had been to Hikkaduwa in January this year to study about the coral reefs and deep sea fish. Their next visit was to Pahiyangala to observe birds, rainforest plants and freshwater fish. They also learnt about marine life during their whale watching trip to Mirissa. The Sripada polythene cleaning project is one of their upcoming programmes this year.

The YZA have created fire belts in Horton Plains to minimize the destruction by fires. They were responsible for minimizing the destruction created by the Ulex europaeus flowering plants too.

“We did not eliminate the Ulex europaeus because we found out that the Black-lipped Lizard seeks safety from predators by hiding in these plants,” he explained.

They have also maintained the Thotupola Kanda and Kirigalpoththa hiking trails to World’s End for some years.

With the Presidential Environment Award 2017

One of their annual programmes includes the Public Relations and Education Day which is held in the first quarter of the year. ‘Kin Wild and Young Eye on Nature’, their annual art and photography exhibition not only showcases their members’ talents to the public but also displays the splendours of exotic wildlife. They also have a Junior Young Zoologists’ Association of members between six to 12 years who meet for group classes on Saturdays every fortnight.

The YZA comprises of five committees: education, research, public relations, publication, and environmental action. They publish the bi-annual ‘Sri Lanka Naturalist’ science journal, ‘Tithmuwa’ nature magazine, and ‘Paniwidaya’ quarterly published a newsletter. The YZA junior section published the ‘Kadiya’ magazine.

The YZA manages a ‘Pet Corner’ at the zoo under the guidance of the zoological garden office where animals are kept out of cages. Visitors are able to get a closer look and obtain information about these creatures free of charge. They are involved in activities regarding animal behaviour and stress management at the zoo too. They carry out Habitat Enrichment activities in the animal captive areas.

“Research is the backbone of our work. It is through research that we achieve our ultimate goal of nature conservation. We send the output of their work to the relevant department so that action can be taken to combat those issues,” YZA General Vice President Hasantha Wijethunga said. YZA Secretary Rishani Silva added that they have some ongoing research projects at the Diyasaru Wetland Park.

“We are also studying captive behaviour in the zoo. One member had gotten approval to study the captive behaviour of the lions,” she said. Soysa says that out of the 103 snakes, there are only five types of deadly venomous snakes on land in Sri Lanka. He also added that the society embodies many myths related to animals.

“For example, people believe that if you kill a python - seven more will come to avenge their kin’s death. These pythons are attracted by the odour which is set by the creature’s pheromone glands being crushed when it dies. We give the scientific base of such theories to the public,” he expressed. Soysa believes that YZA’s greatest strength is its members.

“It is they who take our work forward after we equip them with knowledge. They have many findings and achievements to their name names today. They have taken our message of conservation forward in their work,” he concluded.

Field visit to Hikkaduwa
Members at the Sinharaja Workshop
Mannar workshop






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