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Sri Lanka could lose the bid for the Commonwealth Games if strong environmental activists’ concerns for about 200 elephants becoming endangered go unheard by the government, an expert said.

Sri Lanka could lose the bid for the Commonwealth Games if strong environmental activists’ concerns for about 200 elephants becoming endangered go unheard by the government, an expert said.

SWITCH-Asia Project Director Srilal Miththapala said the government needs to manage these elephant ranges well that could then allow for development projects such as the Mattala Airport to get underway without any hindrance to wildlife in its environs. He was speaking at the two-day Sustainable Biodiversity conference organized by John Keells Holdings at the Cinnamon Lakeside on the topic of “Sustainable Biodiversity and its Economic Value.”

With nature tourism being market driven, he noted today many hotels have jumped onto the eco bandwagon not knowing exactly what it is all about. World Bank South Asia Region Sustainable Development Unit Lead Environment Specialist Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya said during his presentation on “Sustainable Biodiversity and its Economic Value,” though the government’s commitment is “commendable,” they were not taking the right path with their focus mainly on the number of visitors and not the quality of the experience. Further, ring fencing must be carried out not around the project as in the case of the Mattala Airport, but around the elephant range, otherwise it could result in elephants trespassing onto human habituated lands, the expert pointed out.

Dr. Pilapitiya also said that the buffer zones of the wildlife parks were not for human activity questioning whether this is actually conservation or sustainable tourism. In this respect, he noted that a paradigm shift is required for projects in conservation or in elephant landscapes that result in the reduction of their ranges. A high value-added and low-impact tourism needs to be carried out as free individual travelers spend more than double when visiting, compared to those arriving in the island on package tours.

Sri Lanka is lacking in a policy on the human elephant conflict that requires immediate attention. Today the situation is such that the ad-hoc and politically driven demands are met in view of these occurrences.

Dr. Pilapitiya observed the government needed to ensure the developers should undertake to mitigate the human elephant conflict.

In this respect, he pointed out that these two (political) parties need to take a long-term view of economic development and its sustainability in conservation of landscapes.