By DJ & SdS
Decision making in wildlife management is always challenging; some may bias towards wildlife and others towards human needs. This conflict can be resolved only by making decisions based on facts or scientific data, which constitute a form of “evidence.” Thus, evidence-based decision making is considered the best approach to managing wildlife and habitats around the world. The opposite of this is management based on emotion, political agendas, or even expert opinion (which can often be wrong).
We conducted a two-day workshop at the National Wildlife Training Centre on “Evidence-Based Management and Conservation” last month for senior Officers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Seven local and international resource persons representing various organizations and institutions participated along with thirteen officers.
The visioning exercise led by Nilanga Jayasinghe of WWF had the officers in small groups to draw a roadmap to progress, exemplifying adaptive-management practices under their chosen topic. National Park Wardens and Regional Directors reviewed their assigned duties, challenges and strengths and identified their conservation goals for the next five years. Main discussion themes were park management, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and elephant conservation. Discussions were followed by presentations by a group spokesperson, who explained their future plans to improve wildlife management approaches based on the roadmap.
For example, one group which worked on the topic of invasive species, primarily thinking of Uda Walawe National Park, thought that the biodiversity, tourist attraction, current habitat enrichment programs and trained staff were strengths while lack of enough funding and unnecessary political influence as challenges. Advancing biodiversity conservation measures inside the park while controlling illegal activities there and minimizing human-elephant conflict was identified as their major goals for the next few years. Following the workshop content, they thought using new resources such as SMART will strengthen their ability to reach their goals.
Some of the presentations were technical, such as by Varun Goswami of WCS India, who reviewed the different census methods available for monitoring animal populations. Others were quite moving, such as video clips shown by Ananda Kumar of the Nature Conservation Foundation, who demonstrated ways for people and elephants to share the landscape without harming one another. Tony Lynam of WCS Thailand demonstrated the SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Recording Tool) system, in which there was much interest especially from park wardens. Nihal Pushpakumara of the DWC and Oswin Perera from the University of Peradeniya and the Sri Lanka Wildlife Health Center discussed the threats posed by zoonotic disease and the need for better assessments. Shermin de Silva, representing both the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project and Trunks & Leaves, illustrated the concept of meta-populations and various forms of spatial data. Nilanga Jayasinghe, from WWF USA was pleased to be able to return and do something to help her native home, not only giving two presentations but also facilitating the visioning and team building exercises which the officers greatly enjoyed. When the electricity unexpectedly went out towards the end of the first day, the group discussed their varied experiences in dealing with human-elephant conflict seated outdoors by the picturesque Girithale tank.
Participants were satisfied with their experience and even requested follow-up workshops in the time to come. A few participants thought more attention should be paid to wildlife forensics and law enforcement themes in the next workshop. Afterwards the organizers enjoyed a peaceful afternoon touring Minneriya National Park, accompanied by the deputy warden. EFECT and the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project sincerely wish to strengthen the capacity of these officers throughout following years. We greatly appreciate this opportunity facilitated by the DWC to have this learning experience for both their staff and EFECT. We likewise are grateful to the staff of the NWTC and others who worked behind the scenes. Let us work on our future plans now.