Friday, March 30, 2012

Sri Lankan conservationists battle national park highway

Nicholas Milton in the Guardian (UK): As Sri Lankans prepare to celebrate the Sinhala or Buddhist New Year in April, conservationists will be quietly praying that a proposed major road through Wilpattu national park will finally be ruled illegal. Controversially funded by the Chinese government, the road has been the centre of a case sitting with the Sri Lankan supreme court for nearly two years. During that time it has become a legal cause celebre for those who believe the island's postwar tourist boom, which has seen it recently marketed as an eco-tourism destination, is now threatening its unique wildlife.

Wilpattu, on the west coast of the island, was a rebel stronghold during the long 26-year civil war against the Tamil Tigers. Today it is better known as Sri Lanka's largest park and home to leopards, Asian elephants and sloth bears. Development is prohibited in national parks but after peace was declared in May 2009, the government began work on a road right through Wilpattu, known as the New Mannar Road.

A 30-metre-wide swath was cut through the undergrowth, room enough for six lanes of traffic and a helipad was created to bring in workers. Over 22 miles had been cleared when on 5 May 2010 Environmental Foundation Limited filed a group legal action on behalf of Sri Lanka's four biggest environment groups in the supreme court to stop the construction. However, EFL believe there has still not been a verdict because the government is desperately trying to find a way around its own conservation laws...

Kudiramalai in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka, shot by Freelk, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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