Barely Surviving on No Man’s Land

By Risidra Mendis Ceylon Today Features | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 20 2021
Look Barely Surviving on No Man’s Land

By Risidra Mendis Ceylon Today Features

As we all know wetlands are of prime importance not only for controlling floods during the rainy season but also to keep the air moist, control the temperature and act as a food source for many rare and protected animals.

While providing a rich biodiversity for the survival of these species, wetlands are important for the survival of humans as well. Research done over the years has revealed that over 150 bird species have been recorded from the wetlands in and around Colombo. 

According to researchers, 44 reptile species, around 30 freshwater fish species, the De Silva’s blind eel, the Swamp eel and the Green carplet (Horadandiya) rely on these wetlands for their survival. Due to the destroying and filling up of wetlands the De Silva’s blind eel is seriously threatened and the Swamp eel is under threat of extinction.

 They add that out of the 22 mammal species recorded in these wetlands the Fishing cat and the Purple faced langhur are threatened with extinction. A few wetlands in Colombo areas are controlled by the Department of wildlife Conservation (DWC) as they are sanctuaries. All other wetlands are controlled by the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (SLLDC).

 Grave damage 

However, the SLLDC is causing grave damage to the biodiversity in these wetlands. They are digging these wetlands and building reservoirs and destroying the habitats of these rare and protected animals. 

The recent incident at the Karadiyana wetland, where around 15 Purple faced langhurs were found stranded on an island has caused concern among environmentalists, who say the SLLDC should be more concerned about protecting Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity. The Karadiyana wetland with an extent of around 17 acres is a mangrove associated marshland. According to eyewitnesses this wetlandhas been dug by the SLLDC from time to time and made into small islands. “This is a natural wetland with many animal and bird species. 

While only around five acres of wetland remains, a large number of animals that lived in this area have been destroyed. While some monkeys have got stranded on an island due to the Weras Ganga project initiated by the SLLDC others have died. 

The monkeys stranded on the island have no food and no shelter and are exposed to the hot sun,” Environmentalists said. “In 2010 out of the 448 primates (monkey species) 25 species have been named as most endangered primates in the world. 

Within this 25 species the Purple faced-langhur species seen only in Sri Lanka is listed by the International Union for the Conservation for Nature (IUCN) as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. The Purple-faced langur is endemic to Sri Lanka and the endangered status of Sri Lanka’s endemic langur, is due to the fact that it is primarily a tree-dwelling, leafeating monkey,” Environmentalist and former Chief Instructor of the Mammals Group Young Zoologists Association (YZA) Thushan Kapurusinghe said. 

Rapid decline

He says their numbers are reducing at a rate and if we don’t take immediate conservation action, the remaining species may also get extinct. “As part of the Weras Ganga project the SLLDC have used a backhoe to cut right round the marshy land leaving small Islands within the wetland. This has resulted in about 12 Purple faced-langhurs getting stranded on one island. When animals get stuck in the middle of this island they have no way to get out. These monkeys have no food to survive. 

Sri Lanka’s endemic lowland wetland Purple faced langhur is stranded on this island with nowhere to go. A sub species of this endemic species was declared as Critically Endangered by the IUCN as 80 per cent of the population was wiped out,” Kapurusinghe explained. 

He added that the main reason for the rapid decline in the species numbers is habitat loss. “In tropical rain forests the main food of these monkeys are tender leaves from trees. They eat other food like fruits but don’t get enough nourishment from the fruits as they have sugar. Leaves have the nutrition these monkeys need. The SLLDC has cut round the marshland.

There is water all round and the monkeys can’t get out. People are giving fruits and manioc. The monkeys come down to the ground to eat this food,’ Kapurusinghe explained. He goes on to say this is animal cruelty and a violation of the Animal Welfare. “People in the area say all the plants and trees are getting washed away after this area was dug up by the SLLDC officers.

 There are small islands everywhere, on the other side there is a large garbage dumping site. A man working there told me seven monkeys who came from somewhere else were killed by stray dogs at the garbage dump. If these monkeys are taken out of this island they have no trees to live on. They will  have to stay at the garbage dump and may get killed by the dogs,” Kapurusinghe said.

 DWLC assistance 

He says there should be a minimal viable population.“We are asking the DWC to catch these animals and put them to a place where they can survive with food and water. These monkeys are like in a zoo. The only difference is the Dehiwela zoo animals get fed two times a day. But these monkeys have no food. There are vets to look after the animals at the Dehiwela zoo, but there are no vets to check on these monkeys.

 This is not a suitable environment for these monkeys. Earlier when the trees were dying in this area it started raining and the dying trees recovered and helped towards the survival of these monkeys,” Kapurusinghe said. Director Conservation Projects, Justice for Animals and Nature (JAN), Jaliya Perera said they were informed about a group of monkeys stranded on an island in the Borupana area. “There are two islands where there are monkeys. There are no trees on one island. 

There are 15 monkeys on one island with no access to the mainland. They cannot cross the waterway because there are crocodiles. On the other island also there are monkeys and not much food to feed on,” Perera said. The SLLDC has taken drastic measures to destroy the habitat of these Purple faced-langhurs. The SLLDC should take more responsibility and pay more attention to the environment before they decide to go ahead with these projects. The Sri Lankan Government has signed many international treaties to safeguard and protect the environment. 

Sri Lanka has openly said we are protecting our environment. The Sri Lanka government cannot violate these treaties that they have signed. We are asking the SLLDC to take immediate measures to resolve this issue by moving these monkeys to an area where they have sufficient food to survive,” people from the area said.

 Ecological point of view 

People from the area say by converting wetlands into reservoirs around five species of birds have a suitable environment and a large number of bird species lose their habitat. “In 2020 while 337 Purple faced-langhurs were brought to the DWC Wildlife Rehabilitation and Healthcare Centre in Attidiya, 270 monkeys died. The SLLDC are wasting Government funds to destroy the environment. The wetlands are dug with the intention of getting large amounts of money from the government. 

Once the wetlands are dug the SLLDC gets a large sum of money to maintain the dug up areas. An investigation should be done on the SLLDC’S projects that are destroying the environment and rare and protected animals,” Environmentalists said. “As Environmentalists we are questioning why these government officials are not thinking from an ecological point of view. How can snakes get out of this island? Some snakes may be able to swim and get out. 

Birds can fly and get out of the island. The monkeys can’t get out. Why did these SLLDC officials dig this area without consulting any environmental experts or scientists,” Kapurusinghe explained. According to reliable sources, an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) was not done by the SLLDC prior to the project. Commenting on the issue a senior official from the SLLDC said an EIA was done and they did not know that there were monkeys in this area. “My officials told me there were two porcupines prior to the commencing of the project. 

These animals were removed from the area.I have informed the DWC to make arrangements to remove these monkeys from the area. DWC Director General, Chandana Sooriyabandara told Ceylon Today his officers were sent to the area to check out the problem and necessary action would be taken in due course to save the monkeys. 

(Pix by Sarath Kumara) 

By Risidra Mendis Ceylon Today Features | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 20 2021

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