By Sriyantha Perera & John Wilson - Rainforest Protectors Trust
Destruction of Elephant Corridor in Sinharaja
The past year 2020 has been extremely difficult for all of us. The COVID-19 Pandemic took toll on many people but worse so was the destruction incurred on the Environment. During the various Curfews there was a significant increase in illegal activity within Protected Areas (PAs), including deforestation, encroachment and poaching as Wildlife Officers, Forest Officers and Environmental Officers were not able to conduct field operations. To make matters worse, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) took many harmful decisions leading to the destruction of countless Protected Areas (PAs). In addition the authority over an estimated 500,000 - 700,000 Hectares of Other State Forests (OSFs) and State Forested Lands (SFLs) was transferred from the Department of Forest Conservation (DFC), to District Secretariats (DSs) and Divisional Secretariats (DSDs), to be distributed on a priority basis for agricultural, industrial and other such "development" projects. The Sinharaja National Forest Reserve (UNESCO) in the Lowland Wet Zone and Knuckles Conservation Forest (UNESCO) in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka are both being significantly damaged due to conversion of historical foot paths and small trails into major roads, which are to be used by busses, lorries and heavy construction vehicles.
Even Wild Elephant Corridors were not spared during 2020. The Sinharaja - Walankanda Wild Elephant Corridor is the most scenic Wild Elephant Corridor in the country offering some of the best views to the human eye. Although untouched, many Private Forest Lands (PFLs) exist within the boundaries of this Wild Elephant Corridor. Sadly in 2020 one of the untouched Private Forest Lands was listed to be sold. Despite the best efforts by the Rainforest Protectors Trust (RPT), to protect this vital property situated within the Wild Elephant Corridor, a lack of enough funds prevented purchasing it in time. Due to the scenic location, the land was quickly sold and the new owner wasted no time in cutting down the Sub Montane Forest to grow tea and start construction activities for a hotel (see Photo 1). It is a stark reminder to all of us that we are fighting against time to protect these last remaining Lowland Tropical Rainforests and Sub Montane Forests, against those who only seek wealth in their life.
Despite these major setbacks in 2020, we at Rainforest Protectors Trust believe 2021 will offer hope. Special thanks goes to some of the individual donors who have supported our crowdfunding project thus far as well as our corporate sponsors. We look forward to significantly expand the protected wilderness areas within privately held forest lands (PFLs) in 2021. Seventeen acres of Private Forest Lands (PFLs) have been identified as priority conservation areas and we are currently working to secure these wilderness areas before they are lost forever. We wish to thank all our supporters and hope more donors will join us this new year to help protect Sri Lanka’s last remaining Wet Zone Forests, for our collective future!
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