Impact on wild life, fauna and flora | Sunday Observer

Impact on wild life, fauna and flora

The impending drought has given signals to the people to prepare to face it in an oragnized manner. But, it is a common phenomenon to see the fauna and flora, the invaluable natural asset the country inherits also being affected by drought conditions.

Forest fires, wild animals creeping into human settlements in search of water are part of the drought situation, whenever the country has to face a severe drought.Therefore, preparation to protect the fauna and flora of the country should also be part of this program, which lies with the responsible agencies of the government and society.

Conservator General of the Forest Department, Anura Sathurusinghe, explaining the impact of the impending drought on the fauna and flora said, the lack of sufficient rainfall during the year causes much damage to forest conserves in the country.

Although forest fires are not so common in Sri Lanka, during the last few years unusual forest fires were reported in some parts, including the drier parts of the Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura, Badulla, Kandy, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura districts, and that such forest fires can be expected in severe drought conditions.

“They are all human influenced activities and damage the entire ecosystem – both, the flora and fauna, including, soil microflora and fauna. The soil also gets exposed to the erosion”, he added.

Apart form this, all young industrial plantations are affected by the drought. Young plantations below three years of age are under threat due to the impending drought.

“Even the growth rate of other plantations are affected making major economic losses to the country,” Sathurusinghe added.

Another important loss, according to Sathurusinghe, is the susceptibility of mature Teak plantations damaged by wild elephants as they feed on the bark of teak, as a source of water.

“This happens in the dry zone, again, causing a large economical damage to the timber species, mostly in demand in Sri Lanka”, he added.

In the long term, drought may cause changes in edaphic factors, which relate to the structure and composition of soil that influence the existence of flora and fauna species.

“If this happens, many endemic species in Sri Lanka would be under threat of extinction. As we know, 25% of our flowering plants are endemic to the country. Endemism among fauna species is very high, e.g. in areas of unexplored food, medicine and other genetically important characteristics. Since we cannot find these species anywhere else in the world, it would be a real threat”, Sathurusinghe added.

Sri Lankan forests also balance water distribution, especially, during the dry season. The water they store during the rainy season is released to the rivers during the dry spell.

“Therefore, a decreased quality of forests will have an impact on future water balance in the country, direct impacts on agriculture and hydropower generation”, he added.

Droughts in the tropics generally, decrease the growth rate of large trees and increase their mortality. At the same time, phenology patterns or flowering patterns, too are affected due to the lack of rainfall, resulting in a reduction in the production of wild fruits for human and animal consumption.

“This would affect the income of rural communities on a small scale, but may have an impact on their crops, as animals and birds tend to move out looking for alternate food sources”, Sathurusinghe added.

The threat of spreading invasive species is another important aspect to be considered, as there are a number of invasive plant and animal species encroaching on our natural forests, as changes in the climate is the best opportunity for such invasive plants to spread, since these species are adaptive to changing climatic conditions”, he said.

Finally, rural communities living in the peripheries of natural forests would face the problems of drought, losing their income from various sources.

“For them, due to poverty and social problems, the forest may be a source of income and may get involved in various illegal activities, such as, tree fellings, etc”, he said.

Considering all impending impacts on the forest cover of the country, the Forest Department is planning to conduct awareness building among local communities, especially, on forest fires and appeal to them not to set unsafe fire, be vigilant, and assist the FD officials to control fire.

“Special teams will be deployed in forest fire prone areas to work with the Police, the Tri Forces and the coordinating committees, at District Secretary level district disaster management offices”, he added.

“We will also take steps to ensure the protection of teak plantations in selected localities and take action to control the spread of invasive alien species”, Sathurusinghe said.

He said, special attention will be paid on young forest plantation management, especially, when carrying out maintenance activities.

As a long term solution, the Department will conduct research on drought resistant varieties and other tree species for economic purposes.

Wild Life Director General, W.S.K. Pathirathne said, all Wild Life National Parks have already been hit by the prevailing drought as they have not experienced a proper rainfall since September, 2016.

The Wild Life Department has already commenced operations in the National Parks to pump water to water holes using bowsers, as many of the water sources in these parks have already run dry.

“We have been conducting these activities in almost all National Parks in the country, including, Yala, Vilpattu, Kumana, Gal Oya, etc, since August last year”, he added.

He said, wild life has not been severely affected so far. “But if the situation continues up to March or April, wild life in these parks will be affected.

At present, we have enough resources, in the form of water bowsers and backhoes, to supply water to the water holes. “But, we would have to face difficulties if all reservoirs and rivers supplying water run dry in the coming months. Then, we would be compelled to restrict the supply of water, because that would affect not only wild animals, but also human lives,” Pathirathne added.

He said, in such a scenario, the Department will be in need of more resources, and has already requested the Government for resources to strengthen their services.

Wild Life and Nature Protection Society President, Rukshan Jayawardana, said, the dry spell experienced by the National Parks due to the disruption of the North East monsoon for the 2016 / 2017 period, due to cyclonic storms experienced in the country, has already affected wild life, and the drought will set early this year as the the rainfall that is expected in the months of March and April would not be adequate to fill the rivers and reservoirs.

“When there isn’t enough water for agriculture or for human consumption, the animals get low priority. So, all that we could hope for and pray is, that there will be the seasonal rains”, he added.

“We have nothing to buffer something that we expect on a yearly basis, so we need to look at alternatives such as, rain water harvesting or other means to face such situations”, he added.