The Sacred Elephant of Asia
​SavingGanesh.org

Leveraging Sri Lanka’s Hosting of CITES 2018 for the Benefit of Elephants


CITES convention for endangered species is the most visible and recognized event of its kind in the world. 108 countries are signatories to the convention, which is held every three years. It is the most highly anticipated and impactful event for the protection of the world’s wildlife. Endangered species protections and other designations originate here - trade embargoes and world trade policies are written in consensus with world authorities. Sri Lanka will be hosting the event in 2018, which will bring world attention to the country and potentially positive recognition for the island, its culture and wildlife. This is a special, once in a generation, opportunity to present Sri Lanka as ‘Island of the Elephants’ and as a mecca for wildlife tourists from around the world.

Goal: To put on a ‘Good Show.’

The President, the Ministries, and others will be highly motivated to put on a ’good show.' This is an opportunity for the President’s legacy to live on for generations. We will demonstrate to this President why sustainable stewardship of Sri Lanka’s biological diversity — one of the highest in the world, should be the highest priority for his presidency. SavingGanesh.org is uniquely networked to bring the necessary expertise to the task, as detailed below. Our comprehensive plan culminates with a feature film, highlighting the President’s achievements, to be premiered at the CITES 2018 event.

Current Challenges

Inarguably, the trajectory of wildlife populations indicates the extinction of many species from the wild and of particular worldwide concern is the elephant. Rapid economic growth since the end of war time has resulted in dramatic habitat loss, and human/elephant conflict (HEC) is at an all time high and is increasing. This doesn’t even account for the new massive projects in the Hambantota region and the new dam at Morganakanda. The dam and its ‘canal and irrigation’ plan will result in the loss of “The Gathering” at Mineriya, as this reservoir tank is repurposed for use in a new irrigation scheme. This will have a direct impact upon 400 elephants, which is approximately 10% of the island’s entire wild population. The regional economy will also be hit hard due to loss of tourism related jobs and revenue. Economic analysis indicates that the regional economy benefits up to $1.5 billion per year from ‘The Gathering,’ and related elephant tourism. This is compared to less than $10 million per year in benefits from the Morganakanda Dam and irrigation projects. The relative merits of the dam, verses that of The Gathering, is embarrassingly unconvincing, yet it is proceeding as a pet project of this president, as he originated the plan while head of the irrigation ministry.

Embarrassment at Doing Nothing

The wisdom, or lack thereof, of losing ‘The Gathering,’ which has been called ‘one of the ten natural wonders of the world,’ by Outside Magazine, will not be lost on those gathered at the CITES convention of 2018. This convention coincidentally is scheduled to occur at about the same time that the Morganakanda Dam project will be in peak development - the reservoir already having been filled and the impacts to Mineriya only beginning — unless new action is taken. This will be an embarrassment to the leadership of Sri Lanka, because with no mitigation, it is expected that up to 300 additional human-caused elephant deaths will occur each of the next there years, reducing the population from the current 4,000, to only 3,100 elephants. This does not account for natural deaths and births. The mitigation plan proposed under the existing environmental impact statement is wholly inadequate, even if implemented to its fullest, which has NEVER happened in Sri Lanka.

Enhancing Long Established ‘Tank and Irrigation’ Systems

It must be noted that Sri Lanka has one of the worlds oldest and respected tank and irrigation systems. The system is National Geographic worthy, and it is under threat of being undone by the Moragankanda dam and associated infrastructure. While we are proposing actions to lesson the dam’s impact — we also strongly recommending that the dam’s management serves to reinforce and enhance long established irrigation systems. Otherwise, the world will wonder why one of the longest established and successful ‘tank and irrigation’ systems is being undone and re-plumbed based upon the designs of Chinese engineers, while also being built by Chinese laborers!

Action Plan

We recommend reversing this outcome and presenting to the world an aggressive plan for creating sustainable habitats and wildlife in coexistence with Sri Lanka’s world renown culture. This will include identifying long abandoned forest reservoir tanks, which will be rehabilitated for the exclusive use by elephants, and other wildlife, and filled by the re-routing of 10% of Morganakanda dam’s discharge water. This effort will draw the elephants back toward the inner forest areas, reducing HEC as they are less dependent upon village tanks. With no action…an already stressed forest and its dependent wildlife will be greatly impacted as cross-watershed diversions are implemented as currently planned. ‘The Gathering’ must also be maintained as it is…and as it has been for nearly 2,000 years. If any changes are made to its hydrologic regime, it should be with the intent of enhancement, as verses converting it for use as a water spigot for other tanks.  Other recommended actions include accelerating the use of temporary fencing, as Dr. Pruthu has proven, which helps provide protect farmers doing growing season, but allowing the chaff to be foraged upon during the dry season, all the while HEC is reduced. Lastly, forest quality is suffering due to secondary or successional growth, much of the lands of which used to be elephant-friendly chena-lands.  Overgrazing by domestic livestock is also a huge problem in these forests and must be addressed. To stem the problem of HEC, forests must be rehabilitated with an emphasis upon forage and water availability. In India, bamboo has been proven to be a beneficial forage, and has been planted accordingly. Water from the Morganakanda Dam can be utilized to establish and maintain these bamboo clusters.

Showcasing the “Actions”

The above actions will help to create a sustainable elephant population which will be showcased to the world via a full length documentary film produced by SavingGanesh.org, in collaboration with CameraQ of Sweden. CameraQ, with help from SavingGanesh Executive Director Philip Price has produced several films about Sri Lanka since the highly acclaimed “Elephants of Paradise” (1998 and 2006). SavingGanesh.org is a very popular Asian elephant conservation group with the largest following in social media of any such group.

To emphasize: Current projections show substantial diminishment of wildlife between now and 2018. Doing nothing, while hosting the world’s most important conservation event, will be an embarrassment to Sri Lanka. We have proposed a path forward which includes reversing the losses of habitat and wildlife, while documenting these actions via a feature film. Documentary film has proven over and over to be the most effective way of projecting a preferred image or identity. This film can emphasize the hands-on approach of this president, giving him an enduring legacy. Taking progressive actions to save wildlife, while simultaneously honoring Sri Lanka’s unique culture, and growing its economy is most honorable.

We propose the following:

In collaboration with Sri Lanka’s leading conservationists, and wildlife officials:

  • Identify prime, but dormant, reservoir tanks that are most appropriate for restoration. Working with university students, we will map them and identify canal routes for connecting them to Morganhakanda dam canals.
  • Identify wet zones and riparian corridors near these restored tanks for forage enhancement purposes.
  • Identify seasonal cultivations nearest to #1 above, for inclusion in a “temporary fencing” program. This is a whole-landscape perspective.
  • Identify existing reservoir tanks which can better serve wildlife, perhaps to the exclusion of human uses.
  • Create a Mineriya water management plan, to sustain, and perhaps enhance ‘The Gathering.’
  • Produce a major documentary film based on the above actions, premiering it concurrently with CITES 2018.