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Primate Research and Conservation, Sri Lanka
Human-monkey conflicts became a serious problem in Sri Lanka due to extensive deforestation during and after the country's 26-year ethnic war that ended in 2009. By 2015, these conflicts had affected most of the country's administrative districts, and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) was under severe public and political pressure to resolve the problem. To help the underfunded and understaffed DWC to address this issue, SPEARS Foundation, a local non-governmental organization, reviewed the complaint letters the agency had received from different districts. Next, it adopted an ethno-primatological approach to deal with the problem and conducted field surveys in several districts to interview residents and document their experiences with human-monkey conflicts. Those who lived in most of these districts followed Buddhism, which is steeped in the philosophy of compassion towards all living beings. In two districts, however, the interviewees were predominantly Hindus, whose religion also promoted reverence and respect for animals. Nevertheless, during the field surveys these people were dealing with problems of reclaiming the homes and croplands they had abandoned several years before, when they fled the war zone. Their hardships included clearing the jungle and defending their crops against monkeys and other wildlife that had invaded their abandoned properties during the war. While experiencing such threats to their survival, they seemed to have ignored their ancient religious doctrine of reverence and respect for living things. Ignoring these noble traditions of peaceful coexistence could have been avoided if a comprehensive plan was available to mitigate people's conflict with monkeys. This article presents such a plan, rooted in the country's cultural attributes and strengthened by the views expressed by those interviewed during the surveys.
In 2006, the western purple-faced langur (Semnopithecus vetulus nestor) was listed as among the world's 25 most endangered primates. A field survey conducted the following year indicated that its population was threatened by human activities , especially deforestation. To address this threat, meetings were held with the community leaders of Waga, a village in the species' range. They revealed that communities in the area were poor, and that they were not interested in helping to prevent the langur's decline unless they were relieved of their difficulties due to conflicts with the monkeys. Consequently, the SPEARS Foundation, a non-governmental organization committed to wildlife conservation, sponsored a program to enhance people's livelihoods; and thereby alleviate their stress and overcome their lack of interest in protecting the imperiled langur. The benefits people derived from the activities had a remarkable effect on their attitudes towards the langur and the "outsiders," who were conducting the program. We provide details of the program's activities and describe the long-term commitment of the SPEARS Foundation to help fulfil an official responsibility of the understaffed and underfunded Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). This commitment was useful, but was not without problems. The most valuable lesson learned from it was that the partnership between the SPEARS Foundation and Waga residents could help conserve the langur and other wildlife by enhancing people's livelihoods and promoting environmental awareness. Furthermore, such partnerships could compensate for the difficulties faced by Sri Lanka's government agencies to promote wildlife conservation. We, therefore, urge international agencies to support conservation partnerships between people and private organizations in Sri Lanka. Such partnerships have already shown their effectiveness in promoting wildlife conservation in many other countries.
The majority of Sri Lanka’s endemic and Critically Endangered western purple-faced langurs, Semnopithecus vetulus nestor, inhabit fragmented and densely populated areas. Habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from agriculture and development may have an impact on the purple-faced langur’s social organization and create challenges to their survival. To evaluate this question we collected data on group size and age-sex composition of these langurs in two human-modified (non-forest) landscapes (in Pannipitiya and Malabe) and one forest landscape (in Dombagaskanda Forest Reserve), using the total count method. A total of 30 groups were counted, of which 15 and seven were from Pannipitiya and Malabe, respectively, and eight were from Domabagaskanda Forest Reserve. Groups occupying non-forest areas had a greater variation in group size relative to the mean than groups in the forest. The largest of the non-forest groups may have been an aggregation of langurs that were displaced from their territories due to habitat destruction or it may have resulted from male turnover. The dispersal of langurs may be limited by lack of canopy connection in non-forest habitats. More systematic investigation of density and distribution at the landscape level is needed for the proper management of the remaining populations of these Critically Endangered langurs.
Human-monkey conflicts reached crisis proportions in Sri Lanka over the last 10 years due to extensive deforestation to promote rapid economic growth and agricultural expansion. This resulted in complaints from the public with demands for Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) to solve the problem without delay. Caught between political pressure and public outcry, the DWC’s efforts to deal with the crisis gradually fell into disarray. To overcome this, the SPEARS Foundation--, offered to help the DWC to develop a strategic plan to deal with human-monkey conflicts. This plan was developed through a series of workshops and submitted to the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife in March 2016 for approval. During and after the development of the strategy, some of its key elements were implemented by the SPEARS Foundation. One of these elements was documenting details of human-monkey conflict from letters of complaint received by DWC. This information was used to initiate a series of field surveys to identify sites suitable for long-term protection of monkeys and other wildlife. When these areas are identified they would be designated as community conservation areas (CCAs), and managed by local stakeholders on a sustainable basis under the supervision of DWC. Establishing CCAs is a new paradigm for Sri Lanka to conserve wildlife while benefitting local communities. Its details were presented in the strategic plan submitted to the government. In this paper, we present the information obtained from the letters of complaint received by DWC and discuss its details. In subsequent reports, we will discuss the results of our field surveys to identify areas suitable for the establishment of CCAs.