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Thoughts on Ethical Conservation

by Tom Armstrong

Knuckles Mountains (photo courtesy L Duggleby)

We are delighted to welcome back Sidantha Kumara, one of our specialist nature & adventure guides, as our guest blogger. Here he shares his passionate views on the ethics of conservation. His views are directly influenced by his involvement in the Abode community tourism project in the knuckles mountains and from his general passion for social and environmental protection of Sri Lanka’s incredible natural and cultural wealth. His views are also influenced by his deep commitment to the human side of the conservation debate. Other similarly informed and opinionated people we work with have different views on this complex subject. Visiting Sri Lanka will likely raise many questions and debate about the conservation of such immense heritage and precious natural resources on all levels. For now though, over to Sid:

Ethical conservation and armchair policy advocators
The world today clamours for greenery. A life free of fumes and picture perfect serenity amidst conveniences. It had witnessed within a span of fifty years after the post-war and the baby boon ardent conservationist and environmentalist championed the cause of protection. Yet the question remains have these specialist efforts justified in averting degradation of natural environment and poverty amongst masses.

The following account is based on my personal observations made during the last few years journeying various parts of the island where conservation and way of life lock horns.

The cultural transformation

Traditional Knuckles kitchen

Traditional Knuckles kitchen

Sri Lanka is a villager’s paradise. The island still at large is inhabited by rural folks by two third. Whilst robust economic development has taken place in cosmopolitan areas like Colombo, agriculture is the most dominant sector still powering the economy. The service trade like transport and tourism is yet to bloom to its true potential and face many challenges today. The crippling effects of civil war and two insurrections in the last decade devastated the later to shimmering.

The island today is still handicapped by not identifying its true potential in various fields. Travel and tourism is one such field. For instance, the island’s plethora of culturally and naturally diverse villagers have never been featured in tourism promotions in a proactive way. The sterile form of destination branding and promotion have obscured cultural authenticity modern travellers look for.

This is where grass root level planning is vital. When marketing a destination a sound knowledge of the demographic, geographical and cultural aspects of your subjects and people concern should be considered and absorb into a well integrated conservation plan. Sadly today we see most agendas been pushed down from top to bottom by various bodies who exercise the mandate for protection. In most cases, they are not compatible with the local profile. Eventually, a malady of effects derails the whole process.

Local knowledge and wisdom

Vijay - Wallapolamulla Resident

Vijay – Wallapolamulla Resident

A severe lack of local knowledge by the policymakers often leads to unhealthy and impractical conservation methods. When you consider the mandates of many public bodies there either outdated or does not address the problems. These flaws pose a great threat to pheasants who live off the land. It also a blow to coexistence agriculture epitomize with the natural environment. A good example is the human-elephant conflict where farmers go through untold misery and the pathetic compensations in place for crop raiding and deaths are shameful. Since there is no wildlife management, conservation issues cannot be mitigated. The elitist who lobby for various ambitious protection programs fail to recognize the ground realities. This has heated up clashes between the PR managers and farmers to phenomenal heights. If we fail to realize this the future of biodiversity is at serious risk.

Building bridges
In the light of these findings, there is a dying need for think tanks to act proactively and to adopt a participatory approach. For conservation to take a human stance than rigid military stance is the need of the hour. Gates and guns are no longer effective in containing ill effects. We should look shackle stereotype thinking and address the problems faced by pheasants as a step forward in ethical conservation,

Plummeting rural economies
A policy that discourages forest resource utilization is a death warrant to villagers living in fringe environments. If you consider slash and burn agriculture very vital for creating gene pools for forest regeneration and food source for wildlife is discriminately banned. The village of Walpolamulla (Abode) where I witness picture perfect sustainable village economy saw arable land been axed out of pheasants in the name of conservation. Today the cycle is broken and the forest gets stagnant without the intervention of the man.

Unfortunately, these lifestyles are no longer in existence. Today many of these people who lived off the land are trapped in a structured economy without any means to live. They are independence have turned to dependence on a state welfare package. And ironically add hoc conservation plans are responsible for this plight.

The above account is a testimony itself that we should take to grass root level before coming to boardroom decision making. If we are to save the planet and live better lives we need to think globally and act locally.

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