Udawalawe National Park, SRI LANKA — Earlier this month, more than 300 people gathered near the borders of the Dahaiyagala Wildlife  Sanctuary in Sri Lanka’s Uva province armed with axes, long knives, ropes and handheld hoes called mamoties. Their apparent intention: Take control of sanctuary lands and expand their farms. Triggered by a rumor that the protected status of Dahaiyagala would soon be stripped as part of a countrywide drive to increase agricultural productivity in the Indian Ocean island nation, the farmers entered the forest area aiming to clear the forest and cultivate the land. Shortly after the incursion, officers from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) managed to get the situation under control, but by that time, several patches within Dahaiyagala had already been deforested. Now, the sanctuary remains under serious threat. Patches of Dahaiyagala’s forest were burned by a mob on Feb. 7, 2021. Image courtesy of Sameera Weerathunga. Dahaiyagala is a 2,685-hectare (6,635-acre) section of forest that lies between Udawalawe National Park and Bogahapattiya, a proposed forest reserve rich in wildlife, with abundant water and vegetation that make it a refuge during times of drought. Dahaiyagala was declared a sanctuary in 2002 in a nod to its importance as a corridor for elephants and other wildlife. Sri Lankan law restricts human activities in wildlife sanctuaries, disallowing deforestation and the expansion of farmland. Several farmers had been tending crops before the latest incursion, but today the threat of further encroachment from nearby communities looms larger. And more than…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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