Set Up, Secure, Manage and Protect the Proposed Managed Elephant Reserve in Hambantota
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The Hambantota Proposed Managed Elephant Reserve (referred to in this petition as the MER), is a yet-to-be implemented protected area (the first of its kind), which is supposed to be located in the Hambantota District, itself located in Sri Lanka's "deep south". Demarcated as an MER in 2009, in order to protect the Sri Lankan Elephant population (an estimated 400 - 450 individuals) of the Hambantota District the MER still remains (as of October 2017), un-gazetted and unimplemented. Since then, thousands of acres of semi-arid scrubland and dry-zone dry evergreen forest have been cleared for so-called development projects (initiated under the previous government), including Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, the Sooriyawewa International Cricket Stadium, the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port and the Magam Ruhunupura International Conference Hall (amongst others), all of which are considered to be loss - making, unnecessary "white elephant" projects. As a result of all this "development", there has been a sharp increase in the number of "Human - Elephant" related conflicts in the Hambantota District. All the while, the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka (hereafter referred to as the DWC), the government department which is meant to be in charge of the proposed MER, has been constricted by rogue political elements within the present and previous governments, and unable to conserve and protect all this unprotected wilderness.
It should also be noted that the wildernesses included within the boundaries of the proposed MER contain a significant number of different terrestrial habitats, as well as a significant portion of the island's floral and faunal diversity. Countless unknown and possibly endemic species could be driven to extinction, before they are even discovered, documented, recorded and photographed. The MER also serves as the largest remaining alternative (as far as protected areas in the Hambantota District are concerned), to Bundala National Park, which itself has suffered as a result of "development activities" and continued human-induced encroachment. Without the immediate implementation of the MER, both resident and migratory elephant and avifaunal populations will suffer from loss of habitat and destruction of crucial forest systems (which are crucial to supporting such populations). Furthermore, without the MER, several critical elephant corridors between Lunugamvehera National Park and Udawalawe National Park will be lost to on-going "development projects". The elephant corridors in question include the Koholankala - Keliyapura Elephant Corridor, the Unathuveva Elephant Corridor and the Thanamalwila Elephant Corridor, all of which are under the purview of the Department of Forest Conservation of Sri Lanka (hereafter referred to as the DFC). As it stands, various independent estimates suggest that, of the 14,000 hectares (or 54.05 square miles) of unprotected wilderness, set aside for the proposed MER, 40% of it has already been handed over to other government agencies/departments/institutions/boards and "developed" through deforestation and "necessary construction". With the signing of the recent leasing agreement, between the Sri Lankan Government and the China Merchants Port Holdings Company, an estimated 15,000 hectares of state land will be handed over to the aforementioned company, in order to facilitate a Chinese run "industrial zone". More disturbing, is the lack of information regarding this "industrial zone" and how much additional land could be confiscated from the proposed MER, as a result of it (the entire area demarcated could be confiscated).
Currently, a coalition of environmental NGOs (local and international) are working to save what remains of the proposed MER's wildernesses, and are attempting to try and push the issue with the various ministries and departments that are involved in this on-going, and extremely prevalent issue. Please sign this petition, and spread it as far and as widely as possible, so as to save the remaining Sri Lankan Elephants living in the Hambantota District, as well as the flora and fauna which are very much depending on the implementation of the MER, for their survival. Even as of today, (October the 29th), the deforestation and construction of "development projects", continues to happen at an alarming rate, and if immediate action is not taken, the proposed MER could be lost before it is even gazetted and properly implemented.
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