A stitch in time saves nine

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Deep in the forests of Sri Lanka animals are shot every day. With serious injuries and no helping hand extended, some of these animals die while others suffer in silence. However, there are some who are lucky enough to be found by environmentalists, wildlife officers or animal welfare activists, just in the nick of time to stand a chance of survival.

Illegal poaching is a common occurrence in the country and is an on-going battle faced by wildlife authorities. In most cases the poachers escape with their catch but there are also instances when the animals are injured and left behind.

News of one such recent incident came to light; a sambhur, which was badly injured after being shot by a poacher, was transferred to the Wildlife Hospital in Attidiya for treatment recently.

“The villagers of Halawalkele Grama Niladhari domain, bordering the Navalakanda Eco Zone under the Walallavita Divisional Secretariat of the Kalutara District, which is a sensitive ecosystem with high biodiversity in the country, found a displaced sambhur with gunshot wounds in the forest area on the morning of 24 June 2022,” Media Coordinator of the Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka, Peshala Pasan Karunarathne said.

He revealed that the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) was informed about the sambhur, but the wildlife officers could not come to treat the animal on the same day. “The villagers brought the displaced sambhur out of the forest area and kept him at the office of the village official in Halawalkele. The villagers gave the animal food and water and attended to the animal’s wounds in the best way they could until the Wildlife Officers arrived. The next day on 25 June 2022, Wildlife Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Pramuditha Devasurendra and his team from the Attidiya Animal Hospital came and took the sambhur to the animal hospital for further treatment,” Karunarathne explained.

This animal which was shot and injured, he said, was found in the Walallavita Divisional Secretariat Division, where there are a large number of forests such as Yagirala, Nawalakanda, Meegahatenna, Halawalkele, Kalugala, Paniyawala, Mookalana, and Haycock where rare wild animals live.

“As there is no wildlife office for the protection of the wild animals living in these forests; currently, the Animal Hospital Attidiya and the Hikkaduwa Wildlife Office cover this area. But due to their large limitation, they are not able to immediately get to the location and therefore, it is difficult for them to treat the displaced wild animals quickly,” Karunarathne said.

He added that due to these threats faced by the animals and due to the continuous requests by the villagers to establish a wildlife office in the Walallavita Divisional Secretariat Division, in March 2022, the DWC approved the operation of a wildlife office in the Walallavita Divisional Secretariat Division, and the local residents found the necessary building for the office.

“However, after receiving approval, further work of implementing the office has been directed to the Western Provincial Office and they have not worked towards the installation of the office so far. If the wildlife office was built it would have been in operation by now and wildlife officers could have treated the injured animal sooner,” Karunarathne explained.

According to the villagers about three months ago, a dead sambhur was found in this area whilst illegal poaching of wild animals is common in the vicinity and the responsible authorities have not paid attention to this so far.

“This is a serious threat to the lives of wild animals. Since there is no wildlife office in this area, this kind of wildlife crime is common and by establishing a wildlife office, it is possible to prevent harm to the animals and create the necessary environment for animals to live freely. We kindly request the relevant authorities to establish the wildlife office approved for Walallavita as soon as possible,” Karunarathne said.

When contacted by Ceylon Today Veterinary Surgeon, Animal Hospital Attidiya, Dr. Suhada Jayawardene said the adult sambhur had gunshot wounds on the elbow and hip joint. “The animal had been in this state for over a week when we were informed about its injuries. Even though we brought the sambhur to the Animal Hospital it died a few days ago,” Dr. Jayawardene said.   

Commenting on the need to establish a wildlife office in Walallavita, Director General DWC, Chandana Sooriyabandara, told Ceylon Today that there are more important issues such as the human-elephant conflict that need priority.

“Just because a request is made we can’t open wildlife offices all over the country because we have a shortage of staff. In this area we have to open a Range Office not a Beat Office. For a Range Office you need at least 10 wildlife officers and a vehicle among other facilities. Poaching is taking place in many parts of the country. However, if the DWC gets a tip off that poaching is taking place in some area a team will be sent to check it out,” Sooriyabandara explained. 

“It is not only the DWC, even the Police can take action if there is poaching in some area and a complaint is made by the villagers. The Government has recently taken a decision to temporary stop recruiting staff to the DWC. So we have to manage in the best way we can,” Wildlife Officials said.   

By Risidra Mendis