March 3rd is World Wildlife Day
World wildlife Day 2016 is celebrated around the world on March 3rd under the theme “The future of wildlife is in our hands.” African and Asian elephants will be a main focus of the Day under the theme. On 20th December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) decided to proclaim 3rd March, the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The UNGA resolution also designated the CITES Secretariat as the facilitator for the global observance of this special day for wildlife on the UN calendar.
As stated by the CITES, the world’s wildlife, whether charismatic or lesser known, is facing many challenges. The biggest threats to wildlife are habitat loss as well as overgrazing, farming and development. Poaching and trafficking in wildlife driven by transnational organized crime-groups pose the most immediate threat to many iconic species. Elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, sharks, tigers and precious tree species are among the most critically poached and trafficked species across the world. Further it says, organized crime is impacting the world’s forests and animals. Criminal networks are generating massive illicit profits at the expense of these fauna and flora (animal and plants) and harming the people who depend on them. About 100,000 elephants were estimated to be slaughtered for their ivory between 2010 -2012. If the current rates of killing of elephants continue they will become extinct in less than two decades. In 2015 the UNGA adopted a dedicated resolution on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include specific targets to stop this illicit trafficking.
Sri Lanka destroyed blood ivory
In Sri Lanka, 2016 World Wildlife Day is celebrated with much hope. There is more work to be done including joining the international community on cracking down the international illegal wildlife trade. On January 26th, 2016, on International Customs Day, Sri Lanka had it biggest wildlife-related event in its history and one of the largest events in South Asian region when a blood ivory container (with 359 pieces) was destroyed, which had been forfeited in 2012 by the Sri Lanka Customs. The previous regime tried to steal the container in the guise of distributing the ivory among Buddhist temples. This created widespread international news around the world against Sri Lanka, which was reported in the international and local media. Pressures came locally and internationally against such an act which the previous regime was unable to carry out.
File photo – A deer has been killed, Police seized the gun and the deer’s body – Randenigala, December 14, 2014
When the new government came to power in 2015 it renewed the hope of destroying the blood ivory, and that became a reality on 26th January 2016. It was destroyed at the Galle Face Green with the participation of the local and international community, including John E. Scanlon Secretary-General of the CITES. With the destruction of blood ivory, the black mark which was created by the previous regime was cleared. At the same time, Sri Lanka became the first country in the South Asian region to destroy blood ivory. The international mass media and the social media reported on the blood ivory event, and no doubt, this was perhaps the only event in recent history when Sri Lanka which received massive positive publicity internationally. The entire event was made possible by Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Minister for Sustainable Development and Wildlife, who gave leadership throughout.
Sri Lanka as a biodiversity hotspot
Sri Lanka is considered to be one of the “Biodiversity hotspots in the world.” It is a unique country having high point endemism (species found only in one place in the entire world) and also different ecological regions in a short distance. Sri Lanka is one of 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world although the country is relatively small in land size (65,610km²) it has the highest biodiversity density in Asia. Sri Lanka is home to 2,936 fauna, 3,492 flora and 3,021 marine species according to the National Red List 2012. Sri Lanka harbours the world’s biggest terrestrial and ocean animals i.e. elephants and whales. Sri Lanka’s land wildlife lives in the national parks, forest jungles, inland water bodies, and marshy lands. 14 percent of Sri Lankan land and considerable areas of sea bed belong to the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka.
Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka
In 2014, Sri Lanka declared its flagship on wild animals as “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” and the same year, the first World Wildlife Day was celebrated. “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” includes the Asian-Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Black necked-stork, Saltwater Crocodile, Leatherback Turtle and Blue Whale and it represents both land and sea. Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka are ‘protected’ or ‘strictly protected’ under the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009 of Sri Lanka. Most of the wild animals of Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka are listed as ‘Threatened’, ‘Nearly Threatened’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are also listed in the CITES.
At the blood ivory destruction event a series of stamps on “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” were released that showed to the world the country’s commitment towards conservation of endangered wildlife. The Top Seven concept first looks at their conservation and that benefit to the tourism industry. Africa’s Big Five (African-Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo) is mainly concentrated on the tourism aspect rather conservation. The Big Five animals are facing severe threats of extinction particular of elephant, lion, rhino and leopard.
Wildlife and regime change in Sri Lanka
Change from the previous regime in 2015 in Sri Lanka, renewed hope to save the critically endangered fauna and flora for the future generations in Sri Lanka. In the name of so called development projects there were massive threats on wildlife in Sri Lanka. There is a need to investigate all the mega development projects and others carried out by the previous government which violated the existing laws in the country relating to environment and wildlife and produced bogus Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) on such projects. The government must investigate those bogus EIAs.
During the previous regime some were suspected of violating such laws and committing malpractices. Some of them engaged with the current regime as politicians, advisors and consultants. They should be investigated and brought before the courts irrespective of their affiliation with the current government. Currently the government only investigates human rights violations, financial crimes committed by the previous regime and the illegally captured elephant racket. Communities could reconcile and will live in harmony and recover the economic loss of such financial crimes to a greater extent but not the natural environment. Once the natural environment is destroyed it will never be recovered.
The Sri Lanka Government should work towards getting rid of zoos
Sri Lanka should be an example to the world of not having animal zoos (government and privately owned) and the country is already a high point of endemism and different ecological regions in a short distance. Sri Lanka should not acquire any wild animals from any other country nor should it send their animals to other countries in future. Gradually Sri Lanka should get rid of existing zoos until the remaining animals died naturally or send them back to their country of origin. The world should work towards stopping wild-animal exchange programmes (government to government or any other means) and any such trade in the future. That will safeguard animal rights to live in their own habitats freely. Animals must not live in cages or be chained. No religion will tolerate such practices, particularly Buddhism.
Sri Lanka needs a new Fauna and Flora Protection Act and links with the world
Sri Lanka needs to have a new Fauna and Flora Protection Act without any delay since the present one is out-dated. It was last amended in April 2009. Sri Lanka is currently making progress to introduce national legislation to implement CITES. Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera has already appointed a committee to draft national legislation for CITES. Without such national legislation, Sri Lankan ports are safe havens for international illegal wildlife smugglers. But although Sri Lanka has been a signatory to the Convention since 1979, it has been unable to pass any national legislation.
Minister Perera participated at the 66th Standing Committee Meeting to the CITES in Geneva in January 2016 and currently is attending High Level Ministerial Meeting of “Save Wildlife, Act Now or Game Over” in the Hague in the Netherlands, and he will be participating at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) which will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa later this year. This may be the first time in Sri Lanka’s wildlife history that minister-level participation at such important wildlife related conventions has occurred.
Sri Lanka should become an active partner in cracking down the illegal international wildlife trade and at the same time the country should conserve its owned precious fauna and flora for future generations. The current government must ensure that flora and fauna in the country will not be threatened with any development projects and should not seek short-term political mileage which will lead to the extinction soon of critically endangered fauna and flora in Sri Lanka. If the current government does not safeguard the country’s fauna and flora and is not supportive on cracking down the illegal international wildlife trade, the nation will not save the planet’s fauna and flora for future generations.
Vidya Abhayagunawardena can be reached at email@example.com