The plant and animal specimens taken into custody during the recent bio theft attempt at the Sinharaja rainforest indicate they were collected from locations around the country, and the theft was not confined to Sinharaja, a well-placed source from the Forest Department told the Sunday Observer.
“This was discovered during the identification of the plant and animal specimens. There were only few plants from Sinharaja, the rest were from other regions. The collected animals comprised butterflies and insects from other parts of the country,” he said.
The initial analysis reveal over 700 families of butterflies and insects, in addition to the plant specimens, of which some are indigenous. These are yet to be identified and classified into individual species.
The exact purpose of the collection remains to be established, although sources reveal that the collection is suspected to be for a museum, or for a scientific study, due to the methodical manner used in storing the specimens.
The five Slovakian nationals arrested last Wednesday (13) for collecting the specimens were subjected to a fine of Rs. 10.84 million after found guilty for 37 offences under Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance of 1937, Forest Conservation Ordinance and the National Heritage Areas Act.
Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Environmentalist and Attorney at Law, Jagath Gunawardana said that this was an important step in the efforts to protect local biodiversity.
“This is the largest fine imposed on an offence related to wildlife in Sri Lanka, befitting the largest ever collection of illegally killed animals and collected plants found in their possession. These people have committed a crime against Sri Lanka – bio theft, which is illegal collection and exportation of animals and plants,” he said.
Gunawardana further added that those who engage in bio-theft are well educated, knowledgeable about the specific subject areas, holds responsible positions in their respective countries and are aware of laws that are in operation in the countries they go in for illegal collection and know the consequences of their actions. He said the only way a country can combat bio-theft is through constant vigilance.
“Foreign nationals involved in bio-theft are assisted by locals who needs to be dealt severly,” he added.
Forest Department sources say that they are in the process of conducting village level programs to educate the locals of the importance of being vigilant and informing officials when foreign nationals enter protected areas in the night.