By Naveed Rozais
The Sri Lanka Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) will be holding its monthly public lecture on 17 September. Titled “The Guardian of Sri Lanka’s Wildlife: The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC)”, this is the first public lecture to be held as a physical event following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and Sri Lanka’s resulting lockdown.
The WNPS, which happens to be the third oldest nature protection society in the world, works to conserve nature in all its forms – from the country’s rich wildlife, plant life, and all-natural habitats to its landscapes and seascapes.
This month’s public lecture will be conducted by DWC Director – Operations Ranjan Marasinghe.
The DWC and the role they play in protecting Sri Lanka’s ecosystem
The DWC was instituted as a result of the advocacy of the WNPS in 1949, and since its institution, the DWC has been the statutory guardian of the wildlife and wilderness areas of Sri Lanka including all the country’s major water catchments. In addition to advocating the formation of the DWC, the WNPS also played a major role in the creation of Sri Lanka’s Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in 1937 – legislation that protects Sri Lanka’s wildlife and nature to this day.
This covers a vast expanse of land, forest, grassland, mangroves, and wetland covering approximately 14% of Sri Lanka’s landmass. Currently under its jurisdiction are 61 sanctuaries including three strict natural reserves, one elephant corridor, seven nature reserves, and 26 national parks.
As Director – Operations at the DWC, Marasinghe is responsible for planning and information communication technology (ICT). Marasinghe has taken on this mantle to make the public aware of the pressures and challenges that the DWC faces on a daily basis to protect the wildlife of Sri Lanka. The DWC is not only responsible for wild animals within the protected areas, but for any wild animal found anywhere on the island. Managing this wide variety of habitats is no easy task, especially when animals wander in and out of protected areas and come into conflict with humans.
Through this edition of the WNPS Public Lecture, Marasinghe hopes to enlighten audiences on the role of the DWC and what they do. “Basically, we will be discussing what the DWC is doing now in conservation,” Marasinghe shared, adding: “The lecture will look at the role the law has given the DWC, what the DWC is missing out on in the scheme of what we can do, while looking at the unnecessary things and activities the DWC has to get involved in out of necessity.”
In his role, Marasinghe accepts that the DWC is not infallible and while there are areas where they have failed, conservation is the common goal. Through an increased understanding of the work of the DWC and the realities and pressures they are faced with, Marasinghe hopes that the DWC and conservationists can work together to better serve the cause of conservation and pre-empt catastrophe.
Adapting to Covid-19
On WNPS’s activities during Covid-19 and the lockdown, WNPS Honorary General Secretary Jehan Canagaretna shared that while many of the programmes and scientific projects came to a standstill, the lockdown was an opportunity to connect with younger audiences. “We had a lot of programmes that we worked out for the younger generations, switching to online methods wherever we could. We’ve done lots more awareness and engagement programmes with young people than we were able to do before Covid,” he said.
During the lockdown, the WNPS moved its public lectures to take place virtually through Zoom and Facebook Live, opening up the lecture to a wider audience both in terms of age group and location, with people from all over the world with an interest in Sri Lanka’s wildlife being able to tune in and engage with the speakers. This upcoming lecture marks the first physical lecture to be held since the lockdown, though this lecture will also be broadcast live for wider audiences to be part of the experience.
Marasinghe commented on Covid-19’s impact on the DWC explaining that the DWC stayed entirely active during the lockdown. “We worked with the head office and implemented a special system to be able to make decisions effectively. We had at least 80% of our officers out in the field, making sure detection and law enforcement was not compromised.”
“The Guardian of Sri Lanka’s Wildlife: The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC)” Public Lecture will take place at 6 p.m. on 17 September 2020 at the Jasmine Hall, BMICH. The lecture will also be broadcast live on the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka Facebook page.