Archive for the ‘Tourism’ Category

Can Sri Lanka drive conservation through its ‘Sexy Beasts’…?

September 27, 2019
  • Though a global biodiversity hotspot with high endemism, Sri Lanka’s wildlife tourism is driven by a select group of “charismatic” species, including the Asian elephant, leopard, sloth bear, blue whale and sperm whale, none of which are endemic to the island.
  • Sri Lanka still relies on conservation paradigms set decades ago, aimed at protecting these high-profile animals, but experts call for the adoption of new conservation strategies to protect the island’s biodiversity, moving beyond the charismatic species.
  • A group of tropical biologists have called for the establishment of ecological corridors linking fragmented biodiversity-rich habitats in Sri Lanka’s wet zone to ensure the protection of unique endemic species not included among the charismatic species.
  • Often lost in the shadow cast by the charismatic species are a wealth of amphibians and reptiles, found nowhere else on Earth, with new species continuing to be discovered on an almost regular basis.

https://news.mongabay.com/2019/09/sri-lanka-eyes-lucrative-charismatic-species-to-save-lesser-known-ones/ Published on Mongabay on 23 September 2019

Sri Lanka has the highest density of Asian elephants. Around 300 can be seen at the annual “gathering,” when they congregate at a manmade reservoir in Minneriya National Park. Banner image courtesy of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

COLOMBO — Wildlife conservation managers have long known that to protect a species, it helps if the animal is what’s known as charismatic: rare, endangered, beautiful, impressive, dangerous, or a combination of these traits.

This focus on charismatic species continues to drive conservation efforts and how they’re funded (think of Africa’s “Big Five”: elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo).

For a country like Sri Lanka, though, the spotlight being shone on flagship species such as elephants and leopards is leaving the myriad more obscure species, found nowhere else on the planet, out in the dark.

That was the conclusion of a recent meeting of the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation’s Asia-Pacific chapter (ATBC-AP) in Sri Lanka: that there’s a high reliance on “marketing” the island’s “sexy beasts” to drive wildlife tourism, with little attention paid to the not-so-charismatic endemic species.

A leopard in Wilpattu National Park, courtesy of Rajiv Welikala.

“Charismatic animals often attract disproportionate amounts of research and conservation funding, commercial interest and public attention compared with other species,” said Ruchira Somaweera a Sri Lankan herpetologist and National Geographic Explorer. “As a result, they often play a significant role as surrogates for boarder biodiversity conservation aims We are all animals ourselves and follow these ‘sexiness’ traits. As it is an inherent, we should use it as an opportunity for conservation, using them as flagship species.”

Charismatics drive wildlife tourism

A glance at Sri Lanka’s wildlife tourism industry gives an idea of the island’s charismatic species. The country is often promoted as being the best for big game safaris outside Africa, and the Ministry of Tourism has come up with its own version of the big five: the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) and sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus).

According to Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, a pioneer in branding and promoting Sri Lanka’s wildlife to the world, the island ranks first in the world in term of ease of viewing the first four of those species — an annual gathering of around 300 elephants in Minneriya National Park has been rated one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth — and is among the top 10 global destinations for sperm whale watching.

A sloth bear at Yala National Park in southern Sri Lanka. The species is one of the largest bears in the tropics, and among the most elusive of the charismatic species. Image courtesy of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne.

When it named Sri Lanka its top destination for 2019, travel guide publisher Lonely Planet emphasized the island’s rich fauna and flora. Statistics from the Department of Wildlife Conservation for 2018 show that Yala National Park in the country’s deep south ranked first in leopard-watching possibilities, recording nearly 630,000 visitors, more than half of them from overseas. This was followed by Horton Plains National Park, also home to leopards and visited by more than 410,000 people (nearly 120,000 foreign), and Udawalawe National Park, considered the best spot for observing elephants through the year.

Those species have in turn generated significant revenue for the parks. Yala topped the list last year with $5.7 million in receipts, followed by Horton Plains ($4.1 million) and Udawalawe ($2.4 million). Nearly half of all foreign tourists to Sri Lanka engage in wildlife tourism and visit at least one national park, according to Srilal Miththapala, a tourism industry specialist and promoter of nature-based tourism.

Sri Lanka offers some of the best opportunities in the world to watch a superpod of sperm whales, consisting of about 50 individuals. Image courtesy of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne.

Opportunity vs. burden

But this level of popularity gives rise to various problems both for the wildlife and the managers of these national parks, who have to grapple with too many visitors. The whale watching industry, created without proper regulations, also prompted concerns in the early stages when boats were allowed to get close to the whales to give paying visitors a “better view.”

But the appeal of charismatic species should be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden, said Sampath Seneviratne from the University of Colombo. “We do live in a world where bigger environmental crises such as deforestation and climate change are threatening life on Earth. People have their own concerns and the need to preserve our ecosystems does not attract the expected political bite,” he said, adding that charismatic species and the love for them helps mainstream the need for species conservation.

In the case of Sri Lanka, however, conservation efforts have focused on the protection of the larger charismatic game animals found only in the island’s dry zone. But the island’s wealth of biodiversity lies in rather small endemic creatures — amphibians and reptiles, of which new species are discovered on an almost regular basis — mostly restricted to the wet zone and the central massif, said Eric Wikramanayake a conservation biologist who leads the wildlife and wetlands program of WWF- Hong Kong.

Wikramanayake compared Sri Lanka’s biodiversity to the workings of an airplane. “This airplane’s engine could be elephants. The flight computer could be the leopards. But what about the ants, bees, butterflies, earthworms and birds? Where do they fit in? We should not overlook the significant behind-the-scene contributions of the smaller species. They really are the nuts and bolts of the airplane. When they fail, we see a plane crash.”

Besides wintering migratory birds, there are many native species that can be seen in their natural settings here, such as this juvenile Serendib scops owl from deep within Sinharaja, Sri Lanka’s only rainforest. Image courtesy of Rajiv Welikala.

Adapting to dynamic ecosystems

While there’s been great emphasis laid on species-specific protection activities, prioritizing wildlife habitats with high ecosystem value is the need of the hour, according to conservation biologist Manori Gunawardena. What the former approach has meant is the designation of a sizable share of protected areas to conserving mega fauna. This has led to the disparate distribution of protected sites, with more of the dry lowland habitats covered than the highly threatened and biodiversity-rich wet-zone ecosystems.

The ATBC-AP meeting called for the establishment of biodiversity corridors in Sri Lanka’s wet zone to link the fragmented rainforest patches in a bid to scale up the conservation of endemic species. The conservationists’ recommendations are included in the outcome document, the Thulhiriya Declaration.

Wikramanayake called for new strategies to conserve Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, looking beyond the charismatic species.

“Our conservation priorities, approaches and strategies belong to the 20th century,” he said. “We still rely on conservation paradigms, thought processes and ideas from the 1940s and ’50s. In the meantime, the world is changing and passing us by. Ecosystems are dynamic, and conservation has to adapt.”

Sri Lanka has the highest density of Asian elephants. Around 300 can be seen at the annual “gathering,” when they congregate at a manmade reservoir in Minneriya National Park. Banner image courtesy of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Yala elephant gulps tourist’s bag with money and travel docs

December 26, 2016

December 2012: Gemunu looking for food

Gemunu, Yala National park’s iconic tusker has a bad habit of stealing food from visitors. What initially started off as begging for food, with time Gemunu became more aggressive– standing in the path of safari jeeps until it was given some food or sticking his trunk inside the jeeps and stealing food.

However, things went wrong this week for Gemunu when it put its trunk into a jeep in which a German couple was riding in and picked up a bag, thinking there would be a bagful of food. But instead the couple watched in horror and disbelief as Gemunu downed the bag containing cash and the travel documents.

It is reported that the tourists reported the incident to Wildlife officers so that they could obtain a letter as proof to claim insurance and get their travel documents renewed.

As Gemunu gets bolder wildlife experts worry that a fate far worse than gulping a bagful of of money and documents awaits the elephant. In addition to Gemunu there are other elephants being fed in Yala and other forest reserves of Sri Lanka. Sithulpawwa – a famous Buddhist temple located in Yala is also frequented by a tusker in search of food.

While feeding wild animals started with good intentions, people should understand it would ultimately have a negative impact on wild life – even resulting in possible fatalities, points out Prof.David Newsome of Murdoch University of Australia who studied nature-based tourism and its impact on wildlife in many different parts of the world. “Every case of feeding wild animals is different, so each needs to be carefully analysed to provide a lasting solution,” Prof. Newsome said.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Prof. Newsome gave the example of  Fraser Island in Australia where tourists closely interact with the dingo – a wild dog found in Australia. Things changed drastically when a boy was killed by dingos. Wildlife officers had to kill a number of dingos in Fraser Island following this incident.

An army soldier shoot to air to make Gemunu let go a jeep in 2013 stirred controversy in 2013.

An army soldier shoot to air to make Gemunu let go a jeep in 2013 stirred controversy in 2013.

Prof. Newsome who was in Sri Lanka recently commented on the Yala incident when he delivered the key-note address at the 21st International Forestry Symposium organised by the University of Sri Jayawardanepura annually.

“I’m not going to visit Yala as a tourist again,” prof. Newsome said. “Every wilderness has its limits in tolerating visitors and Yala being Sri Lanka’s most popular National Park needs an action plan immediately. Quality of the visitor experience is more important and just don’t forget ‘word-of-mouth’ is quicker in this era of social media – so in future tourists may avoid Yala” prof.Newsome,” said reiterating what local experts have been saying for sometime.

“Take a step back, review the situation properly, take informed decisions leading to sustainability of Yala to make sure its status as both a haven for animals as well as a tourist destination,” the expert on ecotourism advised.

This video shows Gemunu’s bold behavior in search of food and signs that a worse disaster is in the making – 2013.

Close encounter: Gemunu looking for food inside a jeep in 2013 - A thrilling, but scary view from inside Pic by Riaz Carder

Close encounter: Gemunu looking for food inside a jeep in 2013 – A thrilling, but scary view from inside Pic by Riaz Carder 

Published on SundayTimes on 25.12.2016 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161225/news/aussie-expert-calls-for-action-plan-for-yala-following-gemunus-money-gobbling-incident-221783.html 

 

Yala – closes for drought break from today

September 1, 2013

The Yala National Park will be closed for one month from today (01st of September) onward.

Yala EntranceClosing of the Yala National Park at the height of the drought has been the usual practice, however it was not followed during the last few years. In 2007 when the park was closed for the drought, the LTTE attacked the park and it didn’t reopen till the war was over in 2009. Since then Yala has never closed , till now.
The custom of closing Yala for the drought started at the period Yala operated as a game reserve where hunting was allowed. During the drought, animals approach the remaining water holes; so hunting was deemed as inhumane to initiate this tradition. Even finding water for popular bungalows in Yala has become difficult during the drought, so the closing tradition has continued also with the aim of providing some relief to the park’s animals.
Environmentalists have welcomed this move following claims of over visitation. Manori Gunawardena; a biologist who frequents the park calls  all stakeholders to think afresh on how to tackle the issues faced by the park for the betterment not only for the animals, but also for the tourism industry.
While Yala generates the highest income for a national park with  higher earnings generated by foreign tourists, over visitation and indiscipline inside the park has lead to a poorer park experience for true wildlife lovers. Manori proposes to have a habitat management plan that will specifically target dispersing the visitors rather than concentrating them in particular areas and introduce a regulated road network that divides the park into sections where only one area at a time can be visited, giving all visitors an equal opportunity of observing animals in each section.
visit https://window2nature.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/shouldnt-yala-animals-get-drought-break/  for more about Yala drought breaks..!!
Published on 01.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/latest/37092-yala-closed-for-drought-break-from-today.html 

Feeding wild elephants make Yala’s iconic tusker a nuisance

January 19, 2013

Yala’s iconic tusker Gemunu has developed bad habits after being encouraged by visitors who tempt the animal with food and other tidbits. Gemunu comes to the road, stops Safari Jeeps and dips his trunk into the vehicles jeep in search of snacks –  by Malaka Rodrgo�

Disaster waiting to happen: Visitors to Sithulpawwa feed an elephant. Pic courtesy Aruna Seneviratne

Wildlife lover Riaz Cader had a closer encounter with Gemunu on December 29, when the tusker went from jeep to jeep, sticking his trunk into vehicles looking for food and biscuits. It was an exciting up-close encounter, the closest Riaz has ever been to an elephant in the wild. But this is a potentially lethal situation, and an accident is waiting to happen, Riaz warns.

“Gemunu seemed harmless, but many guests and Jeep drivers looked nervous,” Riaz said. “Tourists who pat the tusker on the back as he walks past don’t realise the danger.”�

Gemunu. who is about 20 years old, has moved closely with humans from his adolescent jumbo days. It is claimed that the elephant would frequent a hotel at the edge of Yala to forage for food leftovers. In the early days, visitors and staff would give it snacks. The elephant even broke into the kitchen when the hotel management changed and no one was throwing it snacks.

Gemunu stopped visiting after strict no-feeding rules were laid down. Frequent Yala guests say Gemunu started approaching safari Jeeps about a year ago.

Wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardane, a regular at Yala, also had a close encounter with Gemunu. She was there last Tuesday when the tusker came up to their Jeep and started pushing bags around with his trunk. Empty biscuit cartons might have caught his attention. Manori slapped Gemunu on the trunk while the others shouted to scare the animal away.

Yala : Gemunu snifs at some food in Riaz Cader’s jeep. Pic courtesy Riaz Cader

“The best thing you can do is avoid the elephant,” advised elephant biologist Dr. Prithviraj Fernando. “If you see him in the distance, turn around and drive off. Also, seal or tie up any boxes or bags containing food. The elephant gets interested the moment it gets a whiff of food. Elephants are intelligent. In Udawalawe, you see jumbos lining up along the fence by the road. They are waiting for food, but they don’t invade the Jeeps.”�

Another tusker visits the Sithulpawwa Temple inside the Yala game reserve. Visitor Aruna Seneviratne has taken photographs of pilgrims feeding the tusker, despite warnings not to. The tusker, named Anuradha, has attacked Jeeps.

“The Jeep drivers should be blamed for this,” says Tharindu Jayasinghe, secretary of the Yala Safari Jeep Owners’ Association. “The drivers encourage the elephants by going close so that visitors can feed them,” he told the Sunday Times.�

Feeding wild animals is considered a meritorious act in this country, but there is a risk. At least two Yala elephants were killed last year when they came too close to humans.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.01.13 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130113/news/feeding-wild-elephants-is-high-risk-entertainment-28494.html  

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Gemunu searching Safari Jeeps (c) Riaz Cader

Gemunu searching Safari Jeeps (c) Riaz Cader

President Orders the camp sites to be out of National Parks

October 21, 2012

Private campsites at national parks are to be dismantled and removed, on an order from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The order came at a special Hambanthota District Development Committee meeting held last week, at which a report was tabled that claimed these campsites had become permanent and were polluting the environment.

Environment lawyer Jagath Gunasekara said he welcomed the news, as the private campsites were illegal. Under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance, only the Department of Wildlife Conservation may provide facilities inside a park. The lawyer said private parties had no right to clear vegetation, build roads or put up structures inside a national park.

These private campsites have been maintained for years inside national parks with permission from Department of Wildlife Conservation. It was only when a dispute arose between campsite operators and Yala Jeep drivers that the illegality of these structures has come to the spotlight. In August, a gang of Jeep drivers assaulted employees of campsite operators, saying they were taking away their business. Campsite operators denied the allegation, saying their services were pre-booked several months ahead, while Jeep drivers conducted safaris on a daily basis. Reports also say that over 100 jeep drivers gathered at Palatupana near Yala entrance with aim of beating the leaving campsite operators and there is lack of Police Protection. However, jeep drivers too break law and discipline inside the park driving vehicles on high speed. 

[Full text: It is reported that the President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered private campsites to be removed from the National Parks. As state mediate reported, he made this directive addressing a special Hambanthota District Development Committee meeting last week. According to the report, President Rajapaksa said these camp sites have now become permanent camp sites and the environment of the National Park has been polluted in alarming proportions according to information he gathered.

Environmentalists commend the move of the Rajapaksa also pointing out that the private camp sites are also a violation of law. The Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunasekara says that he welcomes this move as the private campsites are clear violation of law. He points out that according to the Fauna and Flora Ordinance (FFPO) only Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) can provide facilities inside the park. Furthermore no person can engage in having business in National Parks. The veteran lawyer point out it is also illegal to clear any vegetation, construct roads or erect any structures inside a National Park by private parties.

However, these campsites are been operated for many years and only a raw between the campsite operators and Yala Jeep Drivers had taken this issue to the arena. In august, several employees of camp site operators have been beaten savagely by the Jeep drivers saying that they are grabbing the jeep drivers business in unfair manner. But the campsite operators denied these allegations saying that their services were pre-booked several months ahead while Jeep Drivers are getting their safaris on daily basis.

This raw has been later settled down, but followed a DWC team to inspect the sites. They had given green light for 2 of the camp sites, but the one operated by the EcoTeam was temporary closed down as the conditions were found unsatisfactory. The head of the Leopard Safar; Noel Rodrigo said their operation is clean and done on Environmental Friendly manner with limited environmental footprint.

However, organizing a press conference on the issue; Sajeewa Chamikara of Environmental Conservation Trust alleged that 4 more private companies are given campsites in Yala. It is also revealed that those private campsites are going to be allowed in other National Parks too which could be a dangerous precedence.

Rukshan Jayawardane who is another activist who follows the Yala issue also welcome the president’s decision. However he pointed out that there should be a thorough investigation on how these private campsites have got permission through DWC and allowed to be running for many years ignoring the FFPO. Rukshan also point out that the visitor misbehavior and Tissa Jeep Drivers activities too should be regulated and monitored properly in Yala National park. The Jeep Drivers are speeding in the national park and on busy long weekends the Yala National park is getting lots of vehicles that all in search of leopards which ends up speeding.]

Published on SundayTimes on 21.10.2012 0n page 04

Visitors with bad habits spoil Yala image

June 11, 2012

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