Archive for the ‘Nature-based Tourism’ Category

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

Hit and run vehicle kills a leopard in Yala

November 6, 2011

The carcass of a young leopard was found near Patanangala on October 22, around 6.a.m. by a group of wildlife enthusiasts who had set out early to get a glimpse of the morning wildlife.

The body had not been touched by predators and was still warm at the time it was found with a wound visible on its side, raising suspicion that it could have been killed by a wild boar attack. However, the carcass was sent to Udawalawe for a post-mortem and it was revealed that the leopard in fact had been killed by a speeding vehicle inside the park.

The veterinary team that conducted the post-mortem found that the leopard’s ribs were smashed and its lungs damaged. Dr.Vijitha Perera who headed the team said that kind of injury could only be caused due to a collision with a speeding vehicle.

Leopards are the key attraction at Yala and sometimes it is overcrowded by tourists who visit the park mainly to get a glimpse of the elusive big cat. The tourists often spend long hours in the park to maximize the opportunity of leapord sightings. However, since there is a rule that vehicles should leave the park at 6.30 p.m., some vehicles make a last minute dash speeding towards the exit just in time. Wildlife officials believe that one such vehicle could have been the culprit behind this hit and run tragedy.

Leopard carcass photographed few minutes after it was found (c) Spencer Manuelpillai

But the fact that the leopard was found in the morning with its body still warm and untouched by predators such as mongoose and not even covered by ants, has many wildlife activists believe that the fatal accident would have happened just a couple of hours before it was discovered in the morning. “If it happened in the morning it won’t be difficult to trace those responsible as only a few vehicles are usually found in the park that early,” Rukshan Jayawardene of the Leopard Trust said.

Pointing out that the leopard was a young female around six months old, Mr. Jayawardene said losing a female in Yala endangered the species more than when losing a male. A male leopard mates with several females so the death of a female means losing about several cubs for Yala.

He said the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) should launch an investigation to find the culprits and to impose strict regulations about speed limits to curb such tragedies in the future.
It is well known that over-visitation is a huge problem at the Yala Park, especially since the end of the war. On some long weekends, there are over 150 vehicles driving visitors into the park. However due to the limited number of trained wildlife trackers it is difficult to assign a tracker for every jeep thus leaving room for reckless behaviour by visitors, wildlife activists point out.

Most of the visitors’ main aim is to see as many wildlife as possible and sometimes at their insistence the trackers are forced to comply resulting in speeding vehicles and traffic jams.

The increase in the number of enthusiasts whose main hobby is to click a leopard has also aggravated the situation. This hobby has its downside especially with the popularity of Facebook where photographs are shared encouraging others to take their own leopard shots. This has has already driven away genuine wildlife photographers. “We no longer visit Yala,” said wildlife photographer Namal Kamalgoda who was a fan of Yala about a decade ago. He said many wildlife lovers like him have stopped visiting Yala and are looking at other prospects.

Yala is also being promoted as a tourist destination by the Tourism Promotion Bureau. But wildlife lovers say that even foreign tourists would stop going to Yala if there isn’t a check on the unruly behaviour, mainly of local tourists.

Wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardane says the tourism industry should impose self regulation to control the situation in national parks like Yala. Simple measures such as not to employ a jeep driver who misbehaves too can make an impact say conservationists.

She said many jeep drivers and tour operators have not understood the real meaning of a wildlife experience and believe that it only boils down to taking a photograph of one wildlife sighting and then rushing to another. She also said targeting some parks as safari sites for one species or another has also endangered the tranquility of these nature reserves.

Commenting on over-visitation, DWC Director General H.D.Ratnayake said that they are opening other wildlife spots to ease the pressure on the popular sites. He said measures have been taken to strengthen the existing rules regarding speeding vehicles with moves to cancel the licences of those who do not adhere to the speed limits. He also said investigations are being carried out on the death of the leopard.

published on SundayTimes on 06/11/2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/111106/News/nws_20.html

‘Spectacular’ coverage for The Gathering

July 17, 2011

International travel guide puts Minneriya wildlife phenomenon among the world’s top wildlife treats.Malaka Rodrigo reports. 

Sri Lanka’s image as a nature-based tourist destination has been given a boost by the internationally acclaimed travel guide Lonely Planet, which has named the “elephant gathering” of Minneriya as one of the world’s “10 greatest wildlife spectaculars.”

‘The Gathering’ is the name given to the elephants that assemble on the banks of the Minneriya Reservoir during the dry season. Every evening, between 150 and 200 elephants arrive at the reservoir, mainly to graze the grasses growing on the tank bed. During the drought, the water level drops, revealing a tank bed that allows the grass to grow. The elephants turn to these much needed fodder at a time when foliage in other areas dry up. The Minneriya reservoir also becomes a playground where the elephants can satisfy their water needs.

The Gathering peaks in August and September, at the height of the drought. According to wildlife authorities, the Minneriya gathering is the largest grouping of wild Asian elephants at any given time.
This congregation of elephants probably goes back centuries, but it was only recently that the phenomenon was considered a potential tourist attraction, thanks to Srilal Miththapala and Gehan de Silva Wijerathne, who promote wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka. Five years ago they branded the wildlife event as The Gathering, and it has been drawing a growing number of visitors since.

The sad news, however, is that The Gathering may be threatened. If a plan to retain the Minneriya waters in the dry season is carried out, the temporary grasslands on the bed of the Minneriya tank would disappear, and the number of elephant visitors would decline. This would affect the area’s elephant population, which depends on the temporary grassland as fodder in the dry season. The baby elephants would be especially seriously affected.

That The Gathering has gained international recognition as a nature “spectacular” may help in lobbying for keep the Minneriya tank for the elephants.

The popularity of the wildlife event has also created problems for itself. During the months of The Gathering, the Minneriya park is crowded with safari jeeps, which often block the elephants’ way to the tank. Wildlife activists say there is a need to monitor the safari jeep traffic and manage visitor behaviour to minimize inconvenience to the elephants.

The Gathering ranks sixth on the Lonely Planet wildlife spectaculars list. The list includes famous nature events such as the great wildebeest migration in Serengeti; brown bears feasting in Alaska; the penguin rookery in the Atlantic, the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico; orca feeding in Argentina, starling roosting in England, and the salmon run in South Africa.

Lanka herded with world’s best nature treats

Lonely Planet’s 10 Greatest Wildlife Spectacles
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/sri-lanka/travel-tips-and-articles/76694  

1. Látrabjarg bird cliffs, Iceland
2. Monarch butterfly roosts, Mexico
3. King Penguin rookery, South Atlantic
4. Great migration, Serengeti, Tanzania
5. Brown bears feasting, Alaska, USA
6. Elephant gathering, Sri Lanka
7. Bats of Dear Cave, Sarawak, Malaysia
8. Orca feeding, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina
9. Starlings roosting, Somerset, England
10. Sardine run, South Africa

Published on SundayTimes on 17.07.2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110717/News/nws_13.html