WNPS: 126 years of wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka

Now in its 126th year, we look back at the Society’s immense contribution towards Sri Lanka’s wildlife and nature conservation, with insights from WNPS General Secretary Jehan CanagaRetna.

First established in 1894 as the Ceylon Game Protection Society with the sole purpose of reporting on laws relating to the protection of game, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) is the world’s 3rd oldest functioning civil society.

Kulu Safaris has had a long and supportive relationship with the WNPS and its initiatives in wildlife conservation over the years – we had the honor of hosting Kenyan wildlife conservationist and television presenter Saba Douglas Hamilton, her partner Frank and WNPS members at our camp late last year, as part of the Society’s 125th year anniversary. Now in its 126th year, we look back at the Society’s immense contribution to Sri Lanka’s wildlife and nature conservation, with insights from WNPS General Secretary Jehan CanagaRetna.

Saba & Frank at Kulu Safaris3
Saba Douglas-Hamilton with her partner Frank (center) pose with WNPS members during their stay with Kulu Safaris Yala

Game and Wildlife Protection: The Early Days

Between 1894 and the 1970s, the society was the only civil organization promoting fauna and flora protection – it played a critical role in the enactment of Sri Lanka’s wildlife protection legislation.

During the early days of its history, the realization dawned that it was not just ‘game’ but all other species and the wild places of the island needed protection, and the name of the society evolved to reflect this new thinking. In 1930, the organization’s name changed to Ceylon Game and Fauna Protection Society; in 1955 to the Wildlife Protection Society of Ceylon; and finally in 1970, to the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), a name it retains today.

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It wasn’t until the late 1800s that elephants were first given some form of protection by Law in Sri Lanka. The Government introduced an ‘ordinance to prevent wanton destruction of elephants, buffaloes and other game,’ based on the recommendations of the Society. This meant that a license was now required to shoot or capture an elephant, and night shooting became prohibited. Soon after an ordinance “to prevent wanton destruction of birds, beasts and fishes” not indigenous to Sri Lanka was passed – it had been originally introduced much earlier to protect imported bird species, such as pheasants which were released in the jungles by the British, and quickly hunted by locals.

The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated – Mahatma Gandhi 

According to Mr. CanagaRetna, the conservation laws of Sri Lanka were eventually drawn up and called the “Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO)” in 1964. Mr. CanagaRetna explained, “This is the bible of laws for wildlife crimes in Sri Lanka and currently used in our court of law. No shooting of any wild animal is legal in our country, night or day.”

He went on to state that at the time, it was not well received but people began to get accustomed to the laws and hunting slowly started to diminish – that is, until poaching of game meat increased.

Mr. CanagaRetna continued, “I believe indiscriminate shooting of animals, especially elephants, was banned in 1909 and to shoot an elephant the Government Agent (GA) had to declare the elephant ‘rogue’. At this stage, licenses were obtained and the elephant was hunted by former game hunters. When the FFPO came into effect, all hunting was banned in the country.”

Establishment of National Parks & Wildlife Sanctuaries

The Society also played a key role in establishing national parks – they succeeded in both Yala and Wilpattu, which were declared national parks in February 1938. The Society managed these parks until handing it over to the Department of Wildlife Conservation, which was established a decade later.

Present Day Functions & Projects

Today, the Society currently has in the region of 1,925 members. Its primary role is as policy advocate and an environmental educator. It publishes two bi-annual journals in English and Sinhala and maintains three park lodges for its members in Wilpattu, Yala and Udawalawe National Park. The Society is active in publicizing the importance of wildlife and nature conservation among school children and continues to maintain close links with the Departments of Wildlife Conservation & Forest Department, especially in highlighting conservation issues.

Vol 27 – Issue 5 & 6
Vol 28 – Issue 6
Vol 27 – Issue 1 & 2

It is involved with Human Elephant Conflict mitigation and awareness, marine sub-committee awareness, Wild Cat Sub-Committee (awareness and field work), Youth Wing programs throughout the country, a district representative system where the organization works with individuals in awareness program and various habitat restoration projects.

The society is a living testament to the incredible feats that ordinary citizens accomplish when they come together for just causes. Kulu Safaris is grateful for the Society’s work over the last 126 years in fighting the good fight to protect our islands’ wildlife and natural heritage. We are proud to be associated with an organization of its stature. Here’s to the next 100 years!

If you’d like to become a member of the Society, visit https://www.wnpssl.org and register online.


Author: kulusafaris

Tented Safari Pioneers in Sri Lanka :)

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