24 June 2020

Wildlife in the departments

Wild life in every sense of the word -- worth conserving, do you think?

I remember the last time I visited the Dehiwala Zoo. It was a humbling experience. Humbling because a girl less than 10 years old opened eyes that had been closed for more than 40 years. She was visibly disturbed by the spectacle of caged animals. She voiced her displeasure.

Out in the wild it is different. Out in the wild there are different rules. Different issues. Species share habitats. They fight over resources. There’s infighting too. Humans should know this better than any other species. So there are no idyllic landscapes of live-and-let-live. Creatures hunt. Creatures gather. Creatures protect themselves. Creatures attack when feeling threatened.

The animals, one can argue, are less safe out in the wilds than in a zoo. However, safety is just one of many factors. Some semblance of control, the freedom to move, the degree of choice etc., are also important. So we have the ‘out in the wilds’ option.

The problem is simple. We simply don’t ask the animals what they want. We tell ourselves ‘well, they can’t tell us, anyway!’ We haven’t tried to learn the language of our fellow creatures. But then again, human history is one where the powerful don’t bother to learn the languages of peoples they subdue, by deceit or fire-power. So we presume. It's 'white man's burden' at the species level.

I haven’t asked the animals, but the gut says if given the choice, few if any would opt for restriction in unfamiliar surroundings, far from family and habitat.

So we tell ourselves that it’s better to see leopards, bears and elephants in their natural habitat rather than in a zoo. So we visit places like Yala, Wilpattu and Kumana. So we feel good about ourselves.

But a Facebook post by Rukshan Jayewardene made me wonder.

‘The Department of Wildlife Conservation opened National Parks to visitors today. They are letting in private vehicles without trackers until further notice. Where is the oversight? Who takes responsibility for any incident taking place that can harm a visitor? Who makes sure people stay on designated roads? ( Do not drive off-road) Who takes responsibility for speeding, crowding/ blocking animals, alighting from vehicles and any other activities one may choose to do? The decision to open the parks is premature as the department is ill prepared to manage and monitor parks when they are open to the public in this way. The only result is going to be further mismanagement and degradation of a nation’s natural heritage.’

There have been all kinds of issues in national parks. Management has been found wanting on numerous counts. There have been many cases of unruly and/or ignorant visitors. That’s why there are rules and regulations. That’s why there are enforcing agencies. That’s why there should be checks and balances to minimize mischief and error.

Rukshan’s post reminded me of an observation made by a senior archaeologist: ‘if we can’t protect what we unearth, it is better to leave it buried!’ In this case, if we don’t have the integrity and discipline to observe wildlife in a non-intrusive way, if we can’t stick to rules and regulations, if indeed rules cannot be enforced, then we don’t deserve the right to keep such places open to anyone.  

What we do as a species to other creatures is despicable, whether it is in a zoo or out in the wilds. Not only have we, in the name of development and progress, destroyed habitats, endangered countless species for the thrill of the hunt, the meat, tusks or horns, we don’t even let them be in some degree of peace in the very zones we’ve declared ‘protected.’

There is wildlife. In the department. And not the 'wild life' that the department is supposed to be about. That much can be said.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
When the Government lowered the bar

The Theory of Three Chillie Plants  
The story of an aththamma and an aththa  
The underside of sequestering  
Potters, named and unnamed 
  Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten 
When the Welikada Prison was razed to the ground 
Looking for the idyllic in dismal times 
Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now  
There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love  
We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus  
We need 'no-charge' humanity 
The unaffordable, as defined by Nihal Fernando
Liyaashya keeps life alive, by living  

  Heroes of our times  
Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer