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Colombo asks India to send six bisons to reintroduce them in Lanka after 3 centuries

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As wildlife diplomacy takes wing, government considers Lankan proposal for translocating gaurs

By Suhasini Haidar
and Jacob Koshy

New Delhi October 15, 2022: Close on the heels of the project that translocated cheetahs from Namibia, the Indian government is considering a proposal from Colombo to export a number of gaurs, or Indian bisons, to Sri Lanka to revive the population of gavaras that have been extinct in the island since the end of the 17th century. If the project is cleared, it would be the first such agreement between India and Sri Lanka, and part of a global trend of “wildlife or zoological diplomacy”, say experts.

Sources said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which received the request in August, has now forwarded it to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), “seeking comments” on the proposal to transport at least six specimens, including a bull and three to five cows. According to the written proposal, the Sri Lankan Department of Zoological Gardens would then carry out “captive breeding a herd of about a dozen specimens over a five-year period before trial reintroduction to the wild could take place in accordance with [internationally mandated] guidelines for reintroductions”.

S.P. Yadav, Director, National Tiger Conservation Authority, said the proposal was being studied. “We’ll have to evaluate if the conditions for translocation are right, such that the animal can sustainably thrive over there,” he told The Hindu, estimating the evaluation could take a few months.The suggestion for the proposal came from world-renowned Sri Lankan conservationist Rohan Pethiyagoda, who was awarded the Linnean medal 2022 (U.K. -based equivalent of the Nobel prize for zoology) for his work on restoring fresh water and forest biodiversity.

“As a scientific and cultural collaboration between our two countries, I felt this could be an immensely valuable initiative. But I know it is fraught with difficulties,” said Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Milinda Moragoda who handed over the preliminary request on the basis of Mr. Pethiyagoda’s suggestion. “India is without a doubt Sri Lanka’s closest friend, supporter and trading partner. We have a shared history, shared cultural identity, and shared gene. We even got Buddhism, on whose traditions we derive our national values, from India,” he added.

Experts say that while “zoological diplomacy” had been practised worldwide, they draw a distinction between “gifts or loans” of animals in captivity to translocation and reintroduction of a species, particularly between neighbouring countries with similar eco-systems. For example, American bison herds were supplemented with animals from Canada after the U.S. herds were almost all wiped out, The U.K. has recently introduced the European bison (Wisent) after an estimated 10,000 years in June 2022(its extinct relative the Steppe Bison was believed to have lived there many centuries ago).

Israel has for decades pursued reintroductions, including of Persian fallow deer. Arabian oryx and other species have been released into the Negev desert, and South Africa has recently used the export of cheetahs to other African countries as a diplomatic tool during the post-apartheid era. More recently, Cambodia has requested translocating tigers from India, which is under consideration.

“Much depends on whether the conditions that caused the extinction have been removed, but reintroduction is known and has frequently been taken up between countries where the range is contiguous,” explained Mahesh Rangaran, Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University who has studied conservation history, including such attempts. “In that sense, the animal plays a role as a zoological ambassador between nation states,” he added.

Sri Lankan officials say the gaur, called the gavara in Sinhala, was once widespread and archaeological remains in ancient caves in the island included the remains of the animal. By the end of the 17th century, however, the species appears to have been extirpated in Sri Lanka, although they remain prominent in iconography and mythological stories.The Indian gaur, a reclusive beast that lives in the wild, is the largest wild bovine that is a protected species and included in Schedule I of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and listed as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. There are about 13,000 to 30,000 gaurs in the world with approximately 85% of the population present in India. It is also found in Burma and Thailand.

The first-ever population estimation exercise of the Indian gaur carried out in the Nilgiris Forest Division in February 2020 estimated around 2,000 Indian gaurs to be inhabiting the division. This came after instances of people being attacked or injured by the bison primarily in and around plantations came to light. In 2019, for which the most recent numbers are available, three people were killed and seven injured in attacks by gaurs.

(The Hindu)



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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention

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Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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CEB says suspension of power cuts not possible

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) says it is not in a position to discontinue power cuts despite an assurance from some quarters that there will be no power cuts till the end of the G C E Advanced Level examination on 17 February.

CEB Chairman Nalinda Illangakoon, contacted for comment, told The Island that they had not taken any decision to halt power cuts, especially at night. He however stressed that during the examination hours there would be no power cuts.

“We have not agreed with anyone to do away with power cuts,” he said, adding that they had clearly pointed out that Rs. 4.1 billion was required to continue power supply without power cuts until 17 February.

He also said that the CEB could not do business on credit. “I am responsible for my institution. Anybody can say anything but I have to run it,” he added.The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday said that the power sector stakeholders had agreed not to impose power cuts from yesterday until the end of the GCE A/L examination.

The HRCSL said in a statement that there will be no power cuts until February 17.They also said that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had come to an agreement with the PUCSL to provide continuous fuel supply for electricity generation during the A/L examination.

Covering the cost required for power generation must be identified as a priority in the proposed tariff revision, PUCSL instructed the CEB. Accordingly, the two parties agreed to pay the relevant expenses incurred within 60 days, the statement said.

The HRCSL also said the Power and Energy Ministry should intervene to provide coordination facilities for the agreement.Accordingly, an agreement was made not to continue with power cuts during the exam period starting today.This agreement will be included as a recommendation of the HRCSL, and the PUCSL agreed to implement the recommendations.

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PM’s Office: IMF impressed with progress made by govt.

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Director Dr. Krishnamurthy Subramanian has said the political will displayed by the Sri Lankan leadership to speed up reforms and implement difficult tax increases in order to revive the economy is highly appreciable, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s Office yesterday (26)

Dr Subramanian, who called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the PM’s Office in Colombo yesterday (26) was quoted as having said almost all the requirements for the IMF relief package for Sri Lanka have been completed and the moment the final assurances from major lending countries is completed, the process would be finalised.

“We will bat for you,” IMF Executive Director said using cricket jargon. “We play forward with a straight drive for you and whenever necessary, we play cover drives too,” said Dr Subramanian who was the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India from 2018 to 2021.

The Prime Minister briefed the IMF delegation about steps taken by the government to face the unprecedented economic challenges faced by the country and to enhance agricultural produce to meet local demand and also for export.

While elaborating the measures taken to reduce non-essential imports and increase export production, he stressed the need for welfare for the poorest segments of the society. Dr Subramanian said that as the Prime Minister pointed out a safety net for economically vulnerable groups is an essential requirement when plans are formulated to restructure debt and revive the economy.

However, he emphasised that the public sector should be ready to make sacrifices as they are at least assured of salaries, while many others have lost their avenues of income.

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Anura Dissanayake, Deputy Governor of Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, who is IMF Alternate Executive Director, Dr. P.K.G. Harischandra, Director and Dr. V D Wickramarachchi, Deputy Director of Economic Research Department of Central Bank also took part in the discussion.

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