Wildlife in the departments | Daily News


In Passing…

Wildlife in the departments

Watching elephants at a national park
Watching elephants at a national park

I remember the last time I visited the Dehiwala Zoo. It was a humbling experience. Humbling because a girl less than 10 years old opened eyes that had been closed for more than 40 years. She was visibly disturbed by the spectacle of caged animals. She voiced her displeasure.

Out in the wild it is different. Out in the wild there are different rules. Different issues. Species share habitats. They fight over resources. There’s infighting too. Humans should know this better than any other species. So there are no idyllic landscapes of live-and-let-live. Creatures hunt. Creatures gather. Creatures protect themselves. Creatures attack when feeling threatened.

A leopard in a national park

The animals, one can argue, are less safe out in the wilds than in a zoo. However, safety is just one of many factors. Some semblance of control, the freedom to move, the degree of choice etc., are also important. So we have the ‘out in the wilds’ option.

The problem is simple. We simply don’t ask the animals what they want. We tell ourselves ‘well, they can’t tell us, anyway!’ We haven’t tried to learn the language of our fellow creatures. But then again, human history is one where the powerful don’t bother to learn the languages of peoples they subdue, by deceit or fire-power. So we presume. It's 'white man's burden' at the species level.

I haven’t asked the animals, but the gut says if given the choice, few if any would opt for restriction in unfamiliar surroundings, far from family and habitat.

So we tell ourselves that it’s better to see leopards, bears and elephants in their natural habitat rather than in a zoo. So we visit places like Yala, Wilpattu and Kumana. So we feel good about ourselves.

But a Facebook post by Rukshan Jayewardene made me think.

‘The Department of Wildlife Conservation opened National Parks to visitors today. They are letting in private vehicles without trackers until further notice. Where is the oversight? Who takes responsibility for any incident taking place that can harm a visitor? Who makes sure people stay on designated roads? ( Do not drive off-road) Who takes responsibility for speeding, crowding/ blocking animals, alighting from vehicles and any other activities one may choose to do? The decision to open the parks is premature as the department is ill prepared to manage and monitor parks when they are open to the public in this way. The only result is going to be further mismanagement and degradation of a nation’s natural heritage.’

There have been all kinds of issues in national parks. Management has been found wanting on numerous counts. There have been many cases of unruly and/or ignorant visitors. That’s why there are rules and regulations. That’s why there are enforcing agencies. That’s why there should be checks and balances to minimize mischief and error.

Rukshan’s post reminded me of an observation made by a senior archaeologist: ‘if we can’t protect what we unearth, it is better to leave it buried!’ In this case, if we don’t have the integrity and discipline to observe wildlife in a non-intrusive way, if we can’t stick to rules and regulations, then we don’t deserve the right to visit such places.

What we do as a species to other creatures is despicable, whether it is in a zoo or out in the wilds. Not only have we, in the name of development and progress, destroyed habitats, endangered countless species for the thrill of the hunt, the meat, tusks or horns, we don’t even let them be in some degree of peace in the very zones we’ve declared ‘protected.’

There is wildlife. In the departments. That much can be said.

[email protected]. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

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