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 Post subject: Dutch tourists remanded for poaching
 Post Posted: Sat May 20, 2006 3:26 am 
Dutch tourists remanded for poaching

by Dasun Edirisinghe
The island / 20May2006

Two Dutch tourists were remanded by the Nuwara Eliya Magistrate yesterday on charges of possessing protected plant species.

They were identified as Pascal Bruggeman and Antoon Lijonard Clement.

They were arrested by Forest Department officials in possession of the plants poached from a forest reservation at the Dunsinane Plantation.

Officials said they had pulled out an Elephant Foot (Kidaram) plant with its yam which they were trying to take out of the reserve along with other protected plant species when members of an environmental conservation group, Nature Protection Society, of the locality had observed their movements and complained to the Forest Department.

The two tourists had claimed they were botanists, scientist or photographers to different people they had met in the area but they had no documentary evidence to prove their claim, officials said.

One of the plants, they had poached, Elephant Foot, is a herbal plant and also is used in food preparation in some countries officials said.

 Post subject:
 Post Posted: Wed Aug 09, 2006 4:03 am 

Joined: Wed Aug 09, 2006 3:10 am
Posts: 1
To be honest I was rather surprised to read this article which apparantly has appeared in the local newspaper back in May. The reason is that I was one of the tourists involved and the story was rather different to what the author suggests. As such I want to clear our name a bit.

I am indeed a nature photographer and amateur botanist and we indeed were looking for flowers. Because we couldn't find many in the area we asked our driver to bring us to a forest we could enter and photograph flowers. He brought us to this forest above a tea plantation after asking the locals. Because we were foreigners and were unaware of the local regulations we trusted our driver. The forest itself was not fenced and no signs could be found stating it was a protected forest. As such we could never have known it was protected. We entered the forest through a path that was used by local people to cut firewood and material to feed their live stock with. Because the forest was dark I was unable to photograph a particular flower I was interested in. The mistake was to cut this flower and take it out of the forest to photograph it in better light. By no means did we take out any plants from this forest! I will not deny that I could better have left the flower in the forest but taking entire plants out of the forest is simply not true, a fact the local conservation group could confirm, I simply took one flower, NOT an entire plant.

What I regret is that the local conservation group did not warn us to enter the forest or simply forbid us. If they actively try to conserve this forest they should have done so! I also am amazed that cutting undergrowth by locals is allowed in a protected forest.

We were arrested and the head of the forestry department confiscated our passports. While checking our passports he made some remarks about money not falling out of our passports. This would suggest a bribe, something we were not willing to do as we were convinced we had not done anything seriously wrong. We eventually appeared for court and were fined without being able to defend ourselves or having a lawyer. Because our flight was leaving the next day we thought it better to accept the fine rather than trying to get justice. This by no means is admitting we were wrong!.

The plant in question is not a rare plant and appears along roadsides as well as among shrubs, something we showed to the Forestry Department while driving back to Newara Eliya. It is a member of the genus Arisaema and grows rather widespread through the mountains of Sri Lanka and S India. It is a medicinal herb and the leaves are eaten by locals. I am not using this as an excuse but the claim that it is a rare plant is simply not true. The local name is indeed Kidaran but I had to tell this to the Forestry Department as they had no botanical knowledge and claimed there are 15 species of this genus in Sri Lanka whereas there are only 3. Elephant Foot (yam) is a commercially cultivated crop from lower elevations and belongs to a different genus (Amorphophallus) and has nothing to do with the flower from the forest.

It has never been our intention to do any harm to the local flora and hope that people will understand that newspostings are always one side of the story. Despite this rather unfortunate incident I still like Sri Lanka. It has some stunning nature that deserves to be protected and I have enjoyed the kindness of the local people and hope to one day return. I will however not make the same mistake again as this was an experience I would rather forget. I still have enjoyed our trip and have seen and photographed some very nice flowers. I also saw considerable threats to the local flora and hope the local conservationists make sure protected areas are better signposted so tourists will not make the same mistake we made.

P. Bruggeman
The Netherlands

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