The third oldest conservation organisation of its kind in the world, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) celebrated its 125th anniversary by not only reflecting its achievements of the past, but also looking forward to the future as well as the measures it is taking now to secure that promise of tomorrow.
There is much that the WNPS can speak about. They were responsible for the setting up and early administration of the first national parks in Sri Lanka – Wilpattu and Yala – and later, in the 1970s, for the canvassing of the demarcation of Udawalawe National Park. It fought for the institution of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and previously, its members were instrumental in the committee that drafted the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO), the primary statute for the protection of wildlife and protected areas in Sri Lanka.
At this gala event held at the Grand Ballroom of Hilton Colombo on 12 November, while paying tribute to those pioneer conservationists and their remarkable achievements to preserve this country’s natural heritage, the focus was on the here and now and the hard work necessary to save what is left for the future.
Despite the efforts of those who came before and the battles they won, the war is steadily being lost, not just here in Sri Lanka, but all over the world.
Climate change is a global threat that respects no geographic boundaries. Uncontrolled fires blaze through the forests of some continents, floods inundate the towns and cities of others, and elsewhere, unprecedented cold spells and snowfall cut off roads and isolate entire communities. This is why conservation is not just about the protection of wild species, but more importantly, for the continued existence of us – humanity!
“The biggest terrorist on Earth is mankind – the biggest terrorist on Earth because its relentless onslaught by man on nature. It’s bigger than any war somebody is declaring. It seems that we have declared a war on nature and you know the horror stories just keep going on and on. It’s a tough losing battle for everyone. Politics, greed, overconsumption, bad planning, commercialisation...you name it. It’s all these kinds of reasons and it is not about the marginalised communities who are striving to seek out a livelihood in those areas...it’s a tough scenario to be in. And that is why I think the role of the WNPS today is a lot more relevant and important than the role of WNPS when our forefathers conceptualised this wonderful society.”
Cementing the future
In his address to those present at the dinner, WNPS President Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne drew attention to the several reforestation and tree-planting projects the society embarked on, most notably the Reforestation of a Rainforest (ROAR) Project in Diyakothakanda, where, with the best experts available, the society took on this ambitious task.
Rainforests are being destroyed daily, thousands of hectares at a time all over the world in the name of development. It is happening here too. Sri Lanka needs development, of that there is no doubt. Yet, it has to be planned and not carried out in the ad hoc manner seen today, with scarce thought for any wild species that inhabit these regions, and of the long-term consequences to both wildlife and people from these ill-conceived projects.
In this vein of planning for the future, perhaps the most important development of the society is the establishment of its Youth Wing. These young people are the future leaders and conservationists of this country. Arming them with the knowledge needed for such roles and, most importantly, by giving them a voice now, they are aiding in the global youth challenge that is calling out to all world leaders to wake up to the reality that change is needed today, or there will be no tomorrow.
The WNPS has long recognised that there are too many conservation issues all over the country for any one organisation to deal with at one time. As a result, it has formed partnerships with other conservationists and groups, most notably in its legal cases to challenge encroachment or illicit development in protected areas.
With the private sector too the WNPS has formed partnerships that help mainly with its work to spread the message of conservation through the Youth Wing, Public Lecture Series, and, most importantly, the publication of its journal Loris – the oldest continued publication of its kind in Sri Lanka – as well as Warana and Vaaranam, its Sinhala and Tamil counterparts, respectively.
Living with wild animals
There was perhaps no better chief guest for the occasion than renowned elephant conservationist and wildlife presenter Saba Douglas-Hamilton.
Famously having lived with elephants since birth, learning from her illustrious father, Iain, and supported by her husband, Frank Pope, also a well-known marine conservationist, she added raw emotion to the facts, figures, and needs of conservation.
Hers was not an ordinary presentation of science and fact on as to why conservation needs to take place; Saba forcefully presented her love not just for elephants, but also for Africa, its other animals, and for its people. Her mission is to extend this love to all others, especially with her ecotourism operations through which she spreads the magic of wildlife, wilderness, and wisdom to many.
She represents the conservation movement of today, with the understanding of the reality that if the movement is to be a success, there has to be more than just science. Those communities that have wildlife as neighbours must derive direct financial and social benefit from this privilege and become partners in conservation, now a source of prosperity.
In other words, just as with Saba’s childhood, and the life and learning she is currently giving her own children, we too need to learn on how to “live with wild animals” for our future and theirs.
In closing, de Silva Wijeyeratne said: “In this journey, there is no endgame. There is no winning line. There is no glory for victory. So it is just going to be series of steps that we take which are soon going to be forgotten.
“Everything we do today will be forgotten in a few months or years, but we still need to do these things and know that we are building these steps with the knowledge that future generations can appreciate and love their environment the way we see it, and that they too will use these as a foundation to build their own journeys and their own action plans in the years ahead.
“So we need to try, because that’s what this fascinating journey of life is all about. I hope all of you will join us and the committee, and continue this journey, and I wish the WNPS another 100 years of great success! And among this audience, hopefully, will be younger more competent talented individuals who will one day get on this stage and take society to even greater heights.”
Safari with Saba
Members of the society were able to join Saba on an exclusive field trip covering three national parks within the span of 48 hours. First was a visit to Udawalawe National Park on 13 November followed by an evening park run at Block 5 of Yala. The next day was spent visiting Block 1 through the Katagamuwa entrance.
A highlight of her visit was the time spent at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) where both Saba and Frank were given a presentation by Dr. Vijitha Perera on the great work being done at the ETH to rehabilitate and reintroduce elephants back to the wild.
past, present, and future
125th Anniversary Dinner of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society
Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne