Habitat Restoration and Support of Livelihoods impacted by COVID-19, through Removal of IAS (Invasive Alien Species) in the Lunugamvehera National Park

Federation of Environmental Organisations (FEO)
Published: 02 September 2021
Last edited: 02 September 2021
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FEO partnered with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) for a habitat restoration project by clearing around 500 ha of the Invasive Alien Species (IAS), Agada (Xanthium indicum) in Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks in 2020. Based on the success of this project, DWC has authorized FEO to undertake a similar project at Lunugamvehera and Uda Walawe National Parks, where a large percentage of the parks are currently impacted by the uncontrolled spread of the IAS, Lantana camara (S. Gandapana) and Eupatorium odoratum (S. Podi singho maran). This project involves clearing over 900ha of these invasives in the Park which is surrounded by communities who have been engaged in tourism involving the national park for a long time & whose livelihoods have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The invasives are cleared using manual labour, allowing native vegetation to be protected and restore grazing grounds for herbivores like Elephants which could de-escalate conflicts between humans and wildlife.


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Access and benefit sharing
Forest Management
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Invasive alien species
Local actors
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable livelihoods
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 9: Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations


Lunugamwehera, Hambantota, Sri Lanka | Kaudulla National Park (past), Minneriya National Park (past), Udu Walawe National Park (future)
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Extensive loss of habitat and grazing grounds in the Lunugamvehera National Park pose a serious threat to the elephants and other herbivore populations. The park is also surrounded by several villages, whose communities depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Lack of food often prompts animals to raid agricultural areas outside the park causing human - animal conflicts, especially the Human-Elephant conflict. This is further escalated by incidents of poaching of wildlife due to lack of income which is widely recorded in the area. This project will financially support the livelihoods of the local communities dependent on the income generated by visitation to the park and those who are daily wage earners who have lost income due to the pandemic.


  • Local communities surrounding the Park
  • Department of Wildlife Conservation - a new partnership between the local communities & the DWC for future protection of the Park.
  • The plant and wildlife species that are native to Lunugamvehera.

How do the building blocks interact?

In order to conduct the manual removal of the invasive species effectively, research analysing the effectiveness for long-term control of the regrowth of invasive species would be required. The interaction of block one (partnerships with both the government department and local communities) and block two (manual removal of invasives with collaboration with Sabaragamuwa University researchers) was therefore essential in ensuring the best method was used, as well as for future monitoring in order to eliminate invasives in the area and restoration of the habitat for the wildlife that live in the Park.


Habitat management and invasive removal has positive impacts on both the wildlife and the surrounding community. Rapid response in preventing seed dispersal is critical in controlling the spread of any invasive alien plant species and reduces long-term costs for controlling the spread in national parks in Sri Lanka. Removal of invasive plants allows the regrowth of native plant species and thereby restoring the  habitat and grazing grounds for herbivores in the Lunugamvehera National Park. These areas are the primary feeding grounds for herbivore populations (including elephants - an endangered species) that are resident or visit the Park, and thus impact their interconnected ecological food webs. This Project intends to make a positive impact by employing local communities engaged in tourism, agriculture, and others who are daily wage earners who have lost income due to the pandemic. Hence this project would provide them with a steady source of income by employing villagers for the manual removal of the invasive plants. The creation of an alternative livelihood for the local community who became unemployed due to the pandemic through protecting the Park fosters an attitudinal shift from one of conflict to benefiting financially from and being involved in the protection of the Park.


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, daily wage workers across Sri Lanka experienced a drastic fall in income due to the inability to travel to work due to imposed lockdowns. Those working in the tourist industry were faced with the halting of tourists, both local and foreign, and many struggled to make ends meet due to the loss of their livelihood. The Federation of Environmental Organisations (FEO) recognised this and with approval from the Department of Wildlife Conservation, launched this project - currently employing 30 members of the local community who lost livelihoods due to the pandemic (this number will be increased to 80 members with additional funding).


With the income generated from this project, workers are now able to support not only their families, but families of others in their community by contributing to the payment of internet connections for online learning to aiding tuition payments for children of parents who have no income currently. Moreover, due to the pandemic, the costs of living have increased, therefore provision of income through this new livelihood has had a positive multiplier effect for the local communities as well.


This project is a 'win-win' for both the environment and people and is one of the few instances where both parties are able to benefit, instead of being in conflict. Due to the insufficient income, some members of local communities surrounding these Parks have been noted to engage in poaching of wildlife as well. Currently, more than 10% of available grassland and scrub jungle is occupied with invasives and if left uncleared, this number will increase drastically over the years - significantly reducing food available for herbivores. Many of the local community who live close to the Park also depend on agricultural livelihoods and therefore when animals like Elephants search for food in agricultural lands, the potential for conflict increases. Our aim is to virtually eradicate invasive plants in the park and bring it back to it's natural habitat within 3-5 years, restoring grazing grounds for herbivores that can potentially contribute to the reduction of conflict between humans and wildlife in the future.

Contributed by

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Yohan Weerasuriya Federation of Environmental Organisations