Protecting wildlife during a pandemic | Daily News


Protecting wildlife during a pandemic

While the attrition among our human population from the global COVID-19 pandemic remains relatively low compared with many other countries, we now hear that our wildlife population is coming under an ever-increasing threat from us, humans. Earlier last week, a most rare creature anywhere in the world, the black leopard that is a precious feature of our island’s wildlife, was found illegally trapped and then, tragically, died after being rescued.

And, another leopard was found caught in a snare last Friday near Yatiyantota. Both big cats, magnificent creations of Mother Nature and stars of this country’s wild fauna, were victims of callous human greed, and the rarer specimen unfortunately did not survive the suffering of its cruel entrapment.

This unscrupulous greed and wanton exploitation of our natural environment – fauna and flora – is ultimately part of the larger dynamics of Humanity’s poorly managed relationship with Nature. Our overall failure to better protect our Earthly habitat is a major contributory factor to the degradation of that habitat.

The recent centuries of environmental over-exploitation and devastation have been accompanied by a corollary toxicity emerging from our natural environs in the form of plagues, deformities of plant life including food crops and, dangerous biological mutations like Coronaviruses.

Patting ourselves on the back for our relative success in pandemic containment is of no use if we fail in the protection of our larger, already fragile, natural environment. Continued disregard for Nature will only worsen the conditions of our island habitat.

Even before COVID-19 struck, our isle has been besieged both within and without, by environmental degradation and worsening climate change. Sri Lanka’s human population density (among the highest in the world) has resulted in topographical damage that makes landslides and floods an annual, traumatic routine. Overcrowded hillsides are quick to collapse while the natural drainage systems cannot handle the shock of sudden, massive rainfall far in excess of the normal annual precipitation, resulting in the flooding of waterways and inundation of residential areas. Just over a week ago, several lives were lost in such floods.

The rapid and improperly planned and managed human settlement expansion has also resulted in the savaging of our forest cover, reducing it from more than 50 per cent of the island’s land mass a century ago to just 13 per cent today (and dwindling further by the day). Humans may have had success in housing and real estate ‘development’ but, in doing so in an inadequately planned manner, we are rapidly ‘de-housing’ or physically displacing our island’s wildlife from their home habitats. This is the cause of the Human-Elephant conflict and many other such conflicts between man and animal.

As we have repeated many times in these columns, our encroachment of wildlife habitats has caused the increasing invasion of human settlements, plantations, farms and other places by wild creatures – from insects and reptiles to vermin rodents, carnivores and the largest of mammals (elephants).

This island’s wild animals, however, will likely view the whole process in reverse. With their naturally evolved, evenly balanced, proportions of the natural populations, it is the wild animals that are resisting the encroachment of their natural living spaces by the island’s bloated human population.

The Sri Lankan Leopard is the country’s biggest carnivore and with less than a thousand of these magnificent cats in existence in the wild, it has been internationally classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an ‘Endangered’ species. The Black Leopard, which was found ensnared in the Laxapana area on May 27, is far rarer and was thought to be extinct for decades before a few sightings in the high hill country by scientists using motion-sensitive night vision video systems earlier this year.

Equally rare are similar species are found in Taiwan, known as the ‘Formosan Clouded Leopard’ and in Kenya, where it is known as the ‘African Black Leopard’. There are less than ten Black Leopards so far sighted in our hill country, and this animal is classified as a ‘Critically Endangered’ species.

The COVID-19 outbreak and consequent lockdown cannot hinder the careful surveillance of our wildlife as well as valuable indigenous plant life to protect them from illegal commercial exploitation. The respect given to wildlife by our village culture must be upheld while all encouragement and incentives should be extended to volunteer watchdog civic groups who work closely with the Wildlife Conservation Department in the protection of our wild fauna and flora.

The Department itself needs full backing by the law enforcement authorities and also political endorsement by the Government if it is to fulfill its role. Finally, however, it is up to the citizens to fulfill their patriotic duty by treasuring these gifts of Nature that help beautify our island home. Most importantly, it is our flora and fauna that ultimately completes the wholeness of our island natural environment and makes it habitable for us.

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