The Wanni is one of the areas which was most affected by the 30 years of civil war in Sri Lanka. As it was under LTTE control for almost all of the war era, access was not possible and so there is a deficit on information from here, both wildlife and other.
In august 2010 we received a message from the wildlife department officer in the area about some possible conflict situation with leopards and villages living in areas around Vavuniya; 2 reports of leopard killings by snares were reported. WWCT decided to follow this up and I went on the first recce to locate the actual places where the leopards had been trapped.
These Incidents had happened in July of 2010 in Kalmadu, Vavuniya and Mallavi. 2 Male leopards and 1 female leopard had been snared. Following this WWCT decided to launch a survey in selected areas where access was possible and de-mining had already occurred, to try and better understand the distribution of wildlife with a focus on leopards in and around these jungle/homestead areas of the Wanni jungles. And so the WWCT post war baseline survey work in the North Sri Lanka was begun.
I started work in these areas in the middle of the year (2010); the whole area was very dry because only the north- east monsoon brings the rain to the region. The bushes, trees and brownish under grasses of the jungle areas were all eagerly awaiting the first drops of rain which come in the first half of October. The area seemed barren and dry; inhospitable to a stranger like me coming into the area for the first time.
It was hard to get used to these barren conditions which also clearly highlighted the passing of war with many bombed out and cleared areas, abandoned. The villagers however who had spent most of their lives here amidst the years of fighting and who had co- existed with the difficult environment seemed still much at home. During on of our excursions we went to Mallavi through a by- road, diverted from Omanthai. It was thick jungle but time to time we came across small villages nestled within.
I have continued surveys and have been able to cover more areas of the wanni during the course of the last two years (2010- 2011). We have done some social surveys in Madhu road sanctuary, Madhu road, Palamottai, Palampitty, Vavunikulam, Giant’s tank, Mankulam, Mallavi and now Padawiya. All of these areas are in the dry zone eco system and have been ravaged by war in varying degrees. It is still amazing however to see how resilient the villagers are, moving back into their lands from which they were both forcefully and circumstantially evicted/displaced. Life goes on for them and I feel lucky to be able to get a glimpse into these areas and lives that seem to live in harmony at most times within these jungle environs.
The forest present, the vegetation and irrigation systems are considerable and the wildlife richness seems better than some southern parts of the country. I think the reason for this is that the jungles were un- touched for the most part during the past 25 years of war and as such the great Wanni jungles of which we were only able to hear of and not visit till these recent two years are still so vibrant and present.
Unfortunately however I am now witnessing much clearing of forested lands via felling of large trees in several places like in the Madhu road sanctuary, Pandivirichchan village areas and by the forest side of the Giants tank area. We wonder why no one cares about this huge destruction and why no officials are taking action against this. All of these lands are under the Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation protection.
Are we to see these great northern jungles of our country disappear before we even know what they hold; are we the generation that are to loose out by having these forests cut down before we can even visit them.
In the mean time we are happy to see that people’s livelihoods are being restored with things slowly coming back to normal in the post war situation. But with the big development projects occurring with no regard for the natural environment, it is difficult to predict the future of these areas and of the continued harmonious human- wildlife co- existence of the Wanni.