No ‘Parking’ for Lantana at Udawalawe
Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) recently launched a well
coordinated programme to remove the invasive Lantana camara from the
Udawalawe National Park. In the midst of this endeavour, however, a
leading Sunday Newspaper, last week, published a story delivering false
information, under the title “Udawalawe set on fire; Project flops”.
Here, the writer who was a volunteer in the campaign analyses the
project based on her personal experience, data and facts. The writer
asserts that the fire had no connection to the project and the project
itself was not a flop.
Text and pix by Nimashi Amaleeta
Lantana camara, locally referred to as Gandapana and Baloliya, is a well
known, smelly weed with pretty flowers. The plant is a rugged evergreen
shrub, common in the tropics. The species generally grows to 6 ft (1.8
m) in height and may spread to 8 ft in width.
Lantana in Udawalawe
The Global Invasive Species Programme (1999) defines ‘invasive alien
species’ as “non native organisms that cause or, have the potential to
cause, harm to the environment, economies or, human health.”
Lantana camara is, essentially, an invasive species in Sri Lanka, for it
impacts agriculture and park management. It proliferates in disturbed
native forests, becomes the dominant under storey species and disrupts
succession patterns and decreases biodiversity. Lantana camara is
considered one among the worst 57 invasive plants worldwide. It is
believed to have been introduced to Sri Lanka from South America, as an
The Udawalawe National Park (UNP) lies between the Sabaragamuwa and Uva
Provinces, of the dry zone in Sri Lanka. Udawalawe was declared as a NP
on the 30th of June 1972, in order to protect the Udawalwe reservoir
catchments area and to protect our flagship species, the elephant. The
park presently spans an area of approximately 320 square kilometers. The
park has the capability of accommodating an elephant population of 500 –
Prior to the declaration of the NP, the Udawalawe area was heavily
utilised by people engaged in chena cultivation. Thus the habitats
essentially consisted of disturbed native forests, secondary forests,
fallow lands and grasslands. Grasses like mana, illuk and ginigrass were
common, while mana remains to be the most abundant to date. Such
disturbed habitats proved ideal for elephants. Thus following the
declaration, the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) launched many
rehabilitation and restoration programmes to upgrade the NP.
Unfortunately however, the disturbed habitats – the very factor that was
advantageous initially – unexpectedly doubled up as a ruining factor,
affecting the park adversely. The invasive Lantana camara, proliferates
rapidly in disturbed habitats. And the UNP in turn, proved to be an
ideal habitat to facilitate the unabated spread of this plant. The case
has been so for the past twenty to thirty years or so. Presently, the
plant has spread in a total of 10,000 hectares.
Dense spreads of Lantana often dislodge indigenous vegetation, exposing
bare soil and increasing erosion. They also overtop the indigenous
vegetation, depriving the plants of sunlight and thus causing them to
decline. The decline of indigenous vegetation, in turn, renders changes
in associated plant and animal life.
Lantana has also interfered with agricultural activities in Sri Lanka by
encroaching upon arable land. Besides, Lantana flowers and berries are
toxic to elephants as well as humans. The fine thorns on the plant and
the hairs on the leaves, render the entire plant inedible to most native
Means to improve
The organisers should launch a comprehensive public awareness
programme, well in advance. Distributing leaflets on the site alone does
not suffice. Improving on providing information, education, and public
awareness of alien invasive issues by all sectors of society, is
fundamental in such campaigns, for, control and eradication of alien
invasive species. Such campaigns are more likely to be successful if
supported by enlightened and cooperating communities.
There should be proper selection criteria in selecting potential
The villagers around the park know the place better than those who come
from far away. Therefore, these programmes should essentially focus on
harnessing the best of these village communities. However, it is
unlikely that they would contribute to such a programme ‘for charity’.
But the DWC could encourage them to contribute in exchange for
Finally, publicity is necessary, for the message needs to reach the
masses. Publicity should be brought about in an ethically acceptable
manner. On the other hand, media organizations should refrain from
delivering false information, as highlighted earlier in the article.
The Nation expresses its sincere gratitude to the park personnel of the
UNP, Dr, Nihal Dayawansa, the 3rd and 4th year zoology batches of the
Colombo Campus and students of the Science Faculty who participated in
the cleaning campaign, as well as to the GMSL.
This programme was a first of its kind in Sri Lanka, with most
aspects well organized and the situation well handled. The DWC provided
transport, food, accommodation and equipment for the cleaning campaign.
All these matters, to the best of my knowledge were well organised. Yet,
however, The Nation noted some absurd situations, which could have been
Hanging earrings and high heels!
In one instance, on the morning of August 10, we were quite surprised to
see a group of ladies step out of a four-wheel, all overdressed, to
participate in the campaign. Perhaps, people are expected to have more
commonsense. Dressed in such a way, is not at all suited to contribute
to a feat of this sort. On the other hand, the organisers should have
politely explained matters to such groups, instead of rushing forward to
provide them with food and beverages, which otherwise could have been
given to other genuine participants.
Certain schools, particularly from Colombo, arrived at the site
totally unprepared. They had no idea what Lantana was, let alone why it
should be removed. The little girls and boys, in fact, suffered
abrasions in the process, trying to remove the plants with their bare
hands. The boys of a leading public school in Maradana, had even removed
Kohomba and Palu, along with Lantana. The girls were no better. Unable
to withstand the harsh conditions, they were retreating to the buses
from time to time, to apply creams and the like. Employing such
unsuitable workforces, certainly, has repercussions. Perhaps the
organisers should have had a better criteria to select potential
No matter how well intentioned this programme was, yet one cannot
expect it to have a zero political propaganda. , in fact, came across
many instances, which appeared to be deliberately staged to gain
In one such instance, there was a man patrolling our plot with a video
camera. He was from a State owned television institute. He roamed freely
videoing us, while his wife and son leisurely looked on. This behaviour
was condemned by many. On the one hand, it was ethically wrong to video
us without our informed consent.
The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the DWC,
approached the problem from a different facet. They organised a massive
shramadhana campaign to harness the efforts of the general public,
university students, environmental organisations and school children, to
remove the invasive. This cleaning campaign was held on from the 5th –
11th of August.
The Nation spoke to the Sub Warden, UNP, Prasanna Wimaladasa, with
regard to the programme. “This is the first time we organised a campaign
to garner public support,” he explained. When asked how successful the
programme was Wimaladasa said, “The outcome of the project is very
commendable. We chose the boundary of the park as the site of the
project and subdivided it into 31 plots of 1 ha each. The plots were
characterised according to their canopy cover. Plots with a canopy cover
of more than 70 % were designated ‘high density’, 30% – 50 % were
designated ‘medium density while plots less than 30 % were designated
‘low density’. This was a shramadhana campaign. Therefore, we were
entirely dependent on the service offered by the people voluntarily.
But, we are happy to note that the majority of the participants did a
great job despite the harsh climatic conditions. 17 plots have been
completely cleared up to now. (August 10) In fact, their endaevours are
very much appreciated. We are very thankful!”
When queried whether the programme was a success he said, “Of course.
The programme was exemplary. The fallen Lantana seeds would soon
germinate. This is Wimaladasa’s opinion on tacking this situation.
“Removing the tender plants, obviously, would not be as difficult as
removing the big bushes. We hope to extend this programme, while also
hoping that the volunteers would return to tend to the plots they
cleared this season.”
When asked what his comments were on the degree of participation he
said, “Up to date, (Aug 10), 22 schools 14 NGOs and 2 Universities
All 31 plots were demarcated along the boundary of the park. When asked
what the criteria was for this selection he said, “After all, the park
boundaries are of little use to wildlife.
They hardly inhabit this area. Thus wouldn’t it have been more
beneficial for wildlife, if the authorities chose to clear the interior
instead of the boundaries?. “This programme was the first of its kind.
Therefore we chose the boundaries, so that on the one hand even if
something went wrong the impact to the interior would be minimal. On the
other hand, we cannot keep track on large crowds once they enter the
They could get lost, or worse, they could be even threatened by
wildlife. Apart from these there’s another reason. The Udawalawe
reservoir is located immediately next to the boundary. Therefore we
chose to clear this area, so that elephants could have easy access to
the reservoir, which was otherwise obstructed by dense growths of
Lantana.” explained Wimaladasa.