This article argues that the interests of coffee and tea planters in colonial Sri Lanka shaped the foundations of wildlife conservation policies, in which the state only played a secondary role. By destroying the forests of the highlands, they were the principal architects of ecological change on the island in the nineteenth century. Their principal mode of recreation, hunting, also shaped their engagement with natural history. Some were naturalists in their own right; others funneled specimens and observational data to other students of natural history. They lobbied for the first game laws, not through remorse for their own role in the destruction of wildlife (the “penitent butchers” thesis) but to keep the peasantry from competing for the species that they sought, which had been decimated by the actions of both groups. The way planters engaged with nature, through hunting and the pursuit of natural history, motivated them to preserve what was left of the island's wild fauna.

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