Visitors with bad habits spoil Yala image

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Local tourists are not helping Yala to sustain its reputation as a desirable safari destination, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Patanangala beach is a popular picnic spot for visitors to the Yala Wildlife National Park. It is also one of a few designated places in the park where visitors are permitted to get out of their vehicles. The beach is especially crowded during long weekends, festive seasons, and school vacation time.

These pictures capture the charge of the lone elephant

Most picnicking visitors take their garbage back with them for disposal outside the park, but many leave behind half-eaten rice packets and other leftovers. A wild elephant is in the habit of coming to the beach to forage for leftovers. Recently this elephant charged at a group of visitors.

On Monday, April 23, tour operator Lars Sorensen was photographing the elephant when a stream of vehicles arrived at the beach. It was about 11 am. Mr. Sorensen noticed that the animal was showing signs of restlessness. Suddenly, it charged in the direction of the spot where the Patanangala beach bungalow, which was flattened by the 2004 tsunami, once stood. There was a group of 10 tourists present. A young tracker from the Wildlife Department shouted at the charging animal and chased it away.

“I was behind a tree, about 25 metres from the elephant, taking photos,” Mr. Sorensen said. “I had to dash for cover.”

One of the photographs taken by Mr. Sorensen shows the elephant on its knees at the ruins of the wildlife bungalow. There is a depression in the ground where there was once a water tank. Visitors throw leftovers into the pit. Another photograph shows the elephant holding a polythene bag in its trunk. The Patanangala elephant is believed to be a relocated animal, and shows no fear of humans.
“Up-market nature tourists do not come all the way from Europe to see elephants eating out of plastic containers and polythene bags,” said Mr. Sorensen.

In fact, foreign tourists express growing dissatisfaction with the Yala experience, and compare the park unfavourably with other safari destinations.

Last year, a toque monkey attracted to food leftovers bit a French tourist. The incident occurred on the bank of a river, another designated spot where visitors are allowed to get off their vehicles. According to Yala jeep-driver Mr. Chandrasiri, the tusker that used to visit the Sithulpawwa Temple for food has been seen in the Patanangala beach area.

Negligent and insensitive visitors are putting Yala’s reputation and the wildlife there at risk. Visitors continue to race cars and jeeps and leave behind litter. Dirty toilets and a lack of decent toilet facilities are another frequent complaint.

Last week the BBC highlighted Yala’s deficiencies. Bad publicity will only put people off visiting Yala.
Wildlife officers are appealing to visitors to dispose of their garbage outside the national park.

Published on SundayTimes on 06.05.2012 www.sundaytimes.lk/120506/News/nws_48.html

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