Despair of wild animals in Sri Lanka

  • Dilemmas of Sri Lanka Department of Wild Life Conservation (SLDWLC)
  • Conducts of SLDWLC high-end officials, hidden from the general public
  • The latest state of the Ailing Trincomalee Deer
| by Sunalie Ratnayake
The deer reflected via email
(February 16, Los Angeles , Sri Lanka Guardian) A recent email that landed in my inbox (last week) from E-Mail SriLanka E-Mail Group (http://groups.google.com/group/emailsrilanka) impelled me to sprint-forward the same, to one of the Sri Lanka government settings, in which I still anticipated for a ray of hope to exist, especially in terms of the stipulation as per the contents of the email. It was about an afflicted “deer”, living in poor condition near the Sangamitta Buddhist Pilgrims Rest near Samudragama in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. The location happens to be a State backed settlement in the area.
The pictures that included in the email indicated a Spotted Deer (a.k.a. Sri Lankan Axis Deer – Axis axis ceylonensis) that was in poor health with a significantly huge golf ball sized cyst in the mouth, which left the animal incapable of shutting it’s own mouth. The tongue seemed to be hanging towards the right side of the animal’s mouth, which made it evident that the poor creature was either having a difficult time to intake food, or was completely incapable of doing so. Whichever the likelihood, the animal seemed to need abrupt aid.
These animals usually depend mainly on grass, but also may consume other fruits and leaves. Near pilgrims rests (where this particular animal is currently living), more often than not, the disciples feed these animals with nearly anything and everything, out of unreserved compassion, which nonetheless does not end up in constructive results at all given times. Nevertheless, hitherto, the human compassion towards animals lingers on in certain fractions of Sri Lankan culture.
The aforesaid email on the deer, forwarded in Sinhala language, further reported that the pictures of the deer, as well as the map with the directions of it’s location were courtesy of an individual who had visited the area lately, and had encountered the animal in the aforesaid poor condition.
The circulated email further went on to state, with reference to a monkey that was rescued by Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation (SLDWLC) physicians on a previous occasion (another prolific result of a circulating email that reached the accurate target on a timely manner), which indeed was a remarkable story of dedication of the members of staff that truly served with their heart and soul, when it came to these innocent and priceless fauna, even though not much exposure was given to same via the local media.
Stepmother’s treatment for wildlife
In present day Sri Lanka where humans undergo many an overlooked intricacy in arenas of concern, some may even consider the underscore on animals as a mere slapstick. Yet, then again, there are more than adequate ‘shaggy dog stories’ involving the Lankan regime, as well as the inane conducts of it’s eminent members, that the wildlife stories truly evaporate into thin air. Such disgusting conducts of the “say-so” in fact leaves the “truly concerned lot” serving the SLDWLC in a pathetic situation, where they are unable to carry forward the necessary work that in reality should be done.
This is the reality in Sri Lanka concerning the media hype on animal stories, as well as the frequent objections from those holding higher benches of the said authority, towards the remaining staff serving same.
Moreover, it should be noted that certain dense conducts of the authorities ends up causing harm to the fathomless wildlife by and large, and at an intolerable rate. One such gruesome incident was the death of the majestic Siyambalangamuwa Tusker in late 2010, who’s tusks alone were the height of an average human. Speculations concerning this colossal tusker’s death still happen to aim in the direction of the SLDWLC minor staff. Yet, the authentic intentions and attempts of the SLDWLC employees including the physicians involved at that grave moment, as well as the realities that caused the elephant to be transported in such poor conditions remain a story that is poles apart.
The article’s aforementioned monkey that was rescued and treated by the SLDWLC personnel almost lost not only it‘s leg, which had been in a decaying condition at the time the physicians located the animal, but it‘s life as well. Sadly, it was a result of another pitiless or ignorant human act, as someone had fiercely tied the monkey with a wire, which made the leg intensely fester with time.
Day # 1 News pertaining to the Trincomalee Deer – “Employees on strike”
Getting back to the deer that is currently in a heartrending state, the latest remains an assortment of positive and negative information and feedback that I have been receiving during the past week, from pertinent sectors concerning same. The initial news that bounced back to me was rather “frustrating”, the second time it became rather “gratifying”, yet the third time it once again pushed me to a “dismal” state. All occurred within the matter of four to five days per my recollection.
The very first day that the news concerning the deer managed to reach the Sri Lanka Wildlife authorities, I learnt that there was an ongoing protest been carried out by the minor staff of the SLDWLC. They had strongly declared that their operating hours will be strictly confined to the hours between 8.00 a.m. and 4.45 p.m. and not a single supplementary minute.
Due to this reason, one of the foremost members of staff that could have otherwise treated the deer, in fact could not go in search of the animal, as there was no driver or vehicle to assist the individual with same. Moreover, per my learning, no matter how passionate the member of staff may have been, in terms of treating the animal, protocol had to be followed at the same time. SLDWLC did not permit it’s employees to utilize their own vehicle as means of transportation, in cases of locating wild animals, nor did the authority permit it’s employees to seek other means of transportation, even in an urgent situation, such as obtaining a ride from a known party. It had to always be done via a vehicle that belonged to the authority.
Though in many an instance, rules have no meaning when it comes to the high-ranking VIPs in the country, in this case, rules had to be strictly obeyed, or else the only other option was for the related employee to leave the profession he represented within the department. Therefore, the staff member obviously chose to stay behind.
Sri Lanka Wildlife Department vehicle utilization abused
Be that as it may, forlornly, in most instances than not, most of the vehicles belonging to the SLDWLC are reported to be utilized for personal chores of personnel occupying higher benches within the department. Amongst such common and habitual chores are reported to be dropping and picking the wives to and from shopping spree settings, dropping and picking their children to and from places of edification (schools), and both parties been taken for sight-seeing rides, and so on and so forth. Non of them are related to chores that truly and ethically fall within the means of SLDWLC operations.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has lost momentous numbers of it’s fauna. This is a the plight of Sri Lanka’s wildlife department as of today. And sadly, not only the wild animals that cannot speak for their dear lives, but the groups of employees with less or no authority, yet those who truly care for the chores involving their occupation too cannot speak for ‘fair dealing’, as the moment they may do so, they are prone to be sacked from employment by higher personnel, therefore excluding them from their only means of living.
This is the reality behind the common conducts, that result in the loss of our treasures from nature – the wild animals of Sri Lanka.
All kinds of animals under the sun, including endangered wild elephants have lost their lives in the past, as the employees that were supposed to treat them could not reach them for treatment or rescue purposes on time, as vehicles were not released from personal chores of higher authorities.
In the most recent past, a massive wild elephant that was in a critical condition in the Kaudulla National Park died as it was lying in a pitiable state for a few days, as vehicles were not released for the staff to get to that particular location, in which the elephant was on its last legs.
Had the animal been reached on time, it’s life could have been easily saved. Prolonged days in the burning sun had caused severe dehydration, in addition to the wounds that the animal suffered from. It was an instance where two elephants had a brawl, and the one which lost it’s life was severely injured on it’s vertebrae as a result of same. Imagine the pain alone that the animal may have endured for days and days without a drop of water, prior to breathing it’s last. Nevertheless, had the SLDWLC authorities have acted precisely, that mammal’s life could have been easily saved. Just like many other daily occurrences within the isle, this too now remains too late to talk about.
Sensible demands from minor staff
Instead of blindly blaming the staff for not stepping forward to treat imperative wild animals due to strikes been carried out by them, it is of utmost importance to unearth the root of the cause. In this case, the grounds of the recent protest in progress.
SLDWLC chronological testimonies indicate the fact that throughout the past 65 years, most often than not, the minor staff had voluntarily served 24 hours, completely ignoring their ‘hours of official duty’, when it came to both the department, and all activities within it’s scaffold.
Many an element gathered from such minor staff (as well as certain higher authorities in charge that did not wish to reveal names via a publication, due to the fear of being sacked from their profession, by the SLDWLC decision making body) proves that they have done so, out of their genuine concern for the wild animals. And not for the reason that they were treated with additional pay-offs of any sort.
In reality, they had not been remunerated for a single additional minute of work, through the years of significance. Furthermore, these blameless employees work under the least amount of facilities, thus frequently stepping out of their comfort zones.
According to SLDWLC employees, the nearly 2100 minor staff members, each individual receives a wage of that is close to Rs.15,000 per month (US $ 150), and this too fluctuates according to the ranks specified as Secondary Grade – MN3, Primary Grade – PL, and so and so forth, regardless of the amount of work put in by each individual on any given process.
In 2006, the workforce had called for a slight wage increase, yet even when the request had been approved by the Sri Lanka Salaries and Cadre Commission, two of the SLDWLC high ranking officials had held back the commission’s endorsement pertaining to the salaries, hence not providing the minor staff with the salary increment for indefinite reasons.
Now, another six years has elapsed since then. As accustomed, nothing has happened. Nothing encouraging for the employees who can speak, yet their voices unheard – Nothing affirmative towards the wild animals that cannot speak, and has to face the consequences of been born as animals in a place that couldn’t care less about their existence.
Even though the salaries of the minor staff had not been increased adequately for thirty long years, the stipulation for increase had been made only since 2006. Nevertheless, since it still has not been answered by the authorities, the minor staff had no other choice than to retort by confining their work hours to that of the actual perimeters of the bureaucracy (8.00 a.m. to 4.45 p.m.). Even in this instance, the minor staff has not done anything erroneous to their employer, which is the SLDWLC. Instead, they have only averted from working a voluntary 24-hour shift.
Time to look at the authentic picture
The moment something goes wrong with regards to the animals, it’s more than easy to point fingers at these blameless employees (and those who do not think twice, indeed are absolutely swift in doing so), but how many amongst the general public truly seek out the truth behind the scenes, or at least wish to stand by the reality, once it is exposed ?

The truth is, a majority are average workers, probably with a deprived knowledge about the world, and may not be the ‘know-all’ and ‘be-all’ of everything, yet the majority of them does encompass a big heart and a sincere dedication given their stance in society. With the proper operating tools been provided (including a decent take-home pay) by the authorities (without withholding same for personal advantage), these blameless employees (especially the ‘minor staff‘) could have undoubtedly served the fauna in an enhanced mode, with the assistance of others in charge, such as the physicians and other prominent staff of the SLDWLC. Just think about it. If things were in place, and high-ranking officials did not manipulate the system, wouldn’t that be a possibility ?

As a journalist, I would humbly state the fact that I have had the rare, yet blessed opportunity to witness the tremendous sacrifices made by customary employees, as well as those in charge of certain arenas of the SLDWLC, and this certainly includes the physicians, a vital segment in the field indeed.
Then again, I shall forlornly disclose, and ‘underscore’ the fact that the entire SLDWLC consists of only five physicians to serve the entire country’s fauna. Out of that five, one has been already sacked due to ‘leave’ issues, leaving the department left with only four veterinary physicians. If one does an effortless mental reckoning, it shall be quite evident, as if to, whether four veterinarians are sufficient to handle tasks pertaining to the entire island’s fauna.
Sacrifices taken for granted ?
The sacrifices made by the minor staff, as well as the physicians of the SLDWLC are no regular ones that you and I could make. It’s hard to believe that you and I would even consider same. These individuals try their level best to save lives of dear animals by risking their own lives in thick treacherous jungles, day in and day out, and for prolonged days at a time, when necessity may arrive.
Knowing the gravity of life threatening infections, even the mosquito bites alone is an uninviting menace. To live to tell the tale, following snake teeth sinking into their skin, is yet another parable.
What is more, when the higher authorities within air-conditioned rooms hold on to the official vehicles, and other related entities that should otherwise be utilized for matters concerning the SLDWLC (and not personal household chores of high-end members of staff), quite often than not, the doctors serving the SLDWLC have to jump into a random truck, or dangle from a lorry, as means of transportation.
Regardless of the pure intention of serving wild animals, how many individuals, after all those years of sacrificed intricate study time would want to end up in such a quandary ? In that case, isn’t the overall state of affairs rather pitiable not only for the minor staff, but the erudite cluster as well ? Pathetically, this is the veracity concerning daily occurrences within the SLDWLC.
Day # 2 News pertaining to the Trincomalee Deer – “Deyata Kirula”
Now, getting back to the state of the ailing deer in Trincomalee, as the department vehicles were miraculously been available at the time for ‘actual’ duty (instead of ‘personal’ duty), and the relevant parties of the SLDWLC were just about to depart from their current location, in search of the deer, they had received a phone call, stating that the Wildlife and Agrarian Services Minister S.M. Chandrasena was to arrive at the ongoing “Deyata Kirula” exhibition, thus no SLDWLC employee was to leave the premises under any given circumstances.
Alas, it was yet another unfortunate day for the ailing deer that needed treatment of some sort.
Deyata Kirula is the largest annual public exhibition held in the country with the patronage of the Government of Sri Lanka, which began along with Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa’s (a.k.a. Mahinda Rajapaksa) appointment as president. This year (2012) it was held at Tantirimale Oyamaduwa in Anuradhapura West, near the boundary of the Wilpattu National Park, for the sixth consecutive year, from February 4th to 12th from 8.00 a.m. to 12.00 midnight. Oyamaduwa is a village in which the main livelihood of it’s inhabitants remain ‘farming’.
As the 600 acre land operated over 1000 stalls that were run by a combination of private and public sector organizations, a range of stalls also maintained wild animals in confinement, including three baby elephants. Two of the baby elephants had been brought over from Udawalawe, and the third one happened to be an elephant calf that had been rescued from a smuggling attempt that had taken place in Atawarahena, Dambulla.
These caged wild animals were held at the premises throughout the entire subsistence of the exhibition, in order to please the spectators, government say-so’s, coordinators, and perhaps several booth operators, yet with lack of accurate care, in terms of feeding, sanitation procedures, and so on and so forth. On a lighter note, the wild animals had to bear the suffering to make outlandish concepts a reality.

Elephants kick the bucket
It was also reported that a number of elephants that required abrupt treatment at the time, had been overlooked, as the relevant staff members, including physicians were not supposed to leave the Deyata Kirula premises to treat those animals under any given circumstances. Consequently, the said elephants had paid the ultimate price of death, due to deliberate neglect.
Having the relevant staff members confined to the Deyata Kirula premises (especially when the said minister was the prince of the hour) seemed to be of more importance to the high-ranked government officials, than releasing the required staff members, in order to save the lives of the said elephants that had been in critical condition. Once again, this is the actual and customary situation pertaining to activities of the SLDWLC. Sad, but true.
Elephant calf smuggling scheme
The “elephant calf smuggling” is reported to be an ongoing scheme that had various government correlation. The smugglers utilized a similar method in each instance, and the calves were usually removed from the forest territories by force. This illegitimate operation had been occurring in the Atawarahena, Dambulla area until recently been exposed by a SLDWLC Range Officer who served in the Ritigala office.
This story too was exposed to us by SLDWLC employees, that also hesitated for their names to be revealed, due to obvious reasons in the so-called liberated land. For that reason, respecting the means of a livelihood of these SLDWLC employees, we avert from publishing names. However, all information gathered remain firsthand by all means, and cannot be proven off beam.

The utilized method had been to chase the calf elephants from within the jungle by riding a TATA cab behind the animal, and once the calf would reach the roadside, it would be tied and a black tinted Defender brand motor vehicle would arrive at the roadside and load the calf into it, and merrily drive off towards Colombo. As the vehicle remained tinted, no one would recognize the fact that an elephant calf is been stolen and transported in it. This had been a successful and enduring method, until exposed recently by SLDWLC officials.

Day # 3 News on the Trincomalee Deer – “Diagnosed with cancer”
Finally, on the third instance in which two of the SLDWLC physicians had been able to actually visit the ailing deer in Trincomalee, it was reported that the animal’s noteworthy golf ball sized cyst was a ‘cancer’ that had grown and spread throughout a significant period of time. As per the wildlife department doctors, the animal’s life may not able to be saved, yet the cyst could be removed via a distinctive operation, which would at the least make the animal’s life contented during it’s remaining time of existence, which is yet to be detected.
Furthermore, it was reported that the SLDWLC physicians will have to revisit the ailing deer, as the required medicines and operating apparatus were required at the location itself, as the animal could not be moved / transported once the operation was conducted. Furthermore, according to the physicians, it was not advisable for the deer to be moved to another location prior to the operation either.
The deer had to be treated on location, and a cage or some form of shelter had to be built in the location itself for the animal to recover for an ongoing period, following an anticipated operation in the near future. However, the good news is that the physicians have decided to revisit the animal and take all necessary action to make the animal’s life better-off.
Where there is a will there is a way
Meanwhile, as the two SLDWLC physicians had been visiting the deer with the diagnosed cancer in Trincomalee, they had also had the opportunity to treat a number of other deer in the vicinity, that had various ailments.
Therefore, I wish to thank the E-Mail SriLanka E-Mail Group (http://groups.google.com/group/emailsrilanka), the party that had initially forwarded the email to me, and to make them aware of the fact that their genuine attempt had not gone on waste. Moreover, I wish to also thank the individual (unknown to me), who had taken the initiative in taking pictures of the deer in poor health, and had decided to forward it to the aforesaid E-Mail Group, along with relevant information.
Furthermore, as per the deer located with the cyst, I wish to thank all individuals who personally helped me by devoting their valuable time and effort, to make certain that the accurate individuals within the department were contacted as per it‘s treatment procedures, and many a follow-up were conducted until we settled down with this latest information pertaining to same.
A closer peek into the grades, salaries and requests within the SLDWLC
The salaries are divided into grades such as Zonal (Circuit or Staff) Grade, Secondary Grade (MN3) and Primary Grade (PL) and so on. According to the 2006/06 curricular, the wage grades of over one hundred that were in existence throughout history had been reduced to 36.
This process that was carried out by the National Salaries and Cadre Commission resulted in the SLDWLC employees who served as ‘Guards’ and ‘Forest Assistants’ to end-up in the PL or Primary wage grade. That is a wage grade of an average ‘labourer’.
According the Government Service’s categorization of these grades, and the 2006/06 curricular, the employees who conduct ‘multiple duties’ within a given work scope should be entitled to the MN3 or Secondary wage grade, which is considered an ‘assistant management’ wage grade. As per the minor staff demands, if that is not possible, employees belonging to that category should be at least entitled to the ‘rs’ wage grade, which is the usual wage grade of guard, guide or coordinator belonging to the government service.
Instead of being reasonable, the government only pays a minimal wage of a labourer (PL wage grade) to those who indulge in multiple diverse chores in the SLDWLC such as minimizing the human-elephant conflict, chasing of wild elephants from human boundaries, rescuing of orphaned wild animals, assistance provided during the treatment of such animals, day and night guard-circuit duty, circuit duty within all national parks, educating the public, assisting in multiple duties associated within the department, and much more.
The pay remains : Rs. 12, 210.00
Internal Allowance paid to all government servants ( which varies upon the grade) : Rs. 5000.00
Critical Allowance (which had been the same amount for the past 20 years) : Rs. 500.00 (Requested to increase this up to Rs. 5000.00)
Total Remuneration : Rs. 17,710.00
The current wages of the SLDWLC minor staff does not include overtime pay, government holiday pay etc., to which other government servants are entitled to. However, as noted earlier, the SLDWLC minor staff indulges in 24 hour service on a voluntary basis, but without any form of reward for such services.
According to the SLDWLC staff members, if the government pays them accurately, with a basic salary of Rs. 17,250.00 of the Secondary (MN3) pay grade, and with the entitlement to all accurate allowances, the actual salary to be received by an employee should be close to Rs. 25,000.00
Even though, the minor staff had been pleading the SLDWLC high-rank officials ever since 2006, to consider their plight with regards to their wages, and their genuine stipulations, up until today, no action has been taken by the authorities regarding same. Moreover, according to the ideologies of the SLDWLC minor staff, the current PL or Primary Grade employees should be promoted to the MN3 or Secondary Grade.
Taking facts, figures and bona fide assertions into consideration, the plight of the workers, animals as well as the unmerited conducts of the SLDWLC dominants are intolerable to the core. It’s about time that the humans as well as animals both be given the accurate treatment in the phase of the earth. Their rights to be endowed with, in the least.
Yet, on the other hand, this is only one podium of bountiful misconduct in correlation with the Government of Sri Lanka and it‘s high-end representatives. And this is one of the most unheard and unseen arenas in the island, the most overlooked as well. That is, the “Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation.” 

SUNALIE RATNAYAKE can be reached at :
sunalie.secretandbeyond@yahoo.com / sue@srilankaguardian.org

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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