Posts Tagged ‘over visitation’

Lanka’s leopard poster wins international award

November 22, 2011
But tourists are less than satisfied with the overall safari experience – By Malaka Rodrigo
A poster showing a pair of Sri Lanka leopards has been named Best Poster for the South Asia Region in an international competition. The poster was created and submitted by Sri Lanka Tourism for the Vettor Giusti Tourism Poster Competition, which is held once in two years to mark the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly sessions.

The winning posters will be on display in the entrance hall of the UNWTO building in Madrid, Spain. Sri Lanka Tourism has launched a campaign under the banner, “Refreshingly Sri Lanka”, leveraging on the country’s natural wealth and beauty. The content of the campaign falls into eight categories, based on the eight letters that spell “Sri Lanka.” As a tourism destination, the country can boast of a wide range of wildlife – from the leopard and the sloth bear to the elephant and the blue whale – all encompassed in a relatively small geographical area, the campaign points out.

Sri Lanka has the potential to become the “Wildlife Wonder of Asia” as long as the country’s tourism potential is properly tapped, say conservationists. Feedback from visitors suggest that this is not happening.

Answering a recent survey questionnaire, tourists said they were “satisfied” with the wildlife experience in game reserves in general, but not with the “overall experience.” They cited setbacks such as a lack of knowledgeable guides, congestion in parks, and negative behaviour by jeep drivers who disturbed animals. They also mentioned park infrastructure deficiencies, such as inadequate visitor centres and unclean toilets. All these factors, they said, prevented them from describing their visit to Sri Lanka as “memorable.”

Tourists mentioned popular national parks in other countries where visitor numbers and conduct within parks are monitored.

In India, many of the tiger reserves have a daily quota for vehicles permitted inside, and strict rules on the number of vehicles allowed per route. In game reserves in South Africa, only a limited number of safari jeeps are allowed for each wildlife sighting, and only one vehicle at a time is permitted at an observation point. In Ruwanda, a maximum eight visitors at a time are allowed to observe the rare Mountain Gorillas.

The fact that all these tours are always fully booked attests to visitor satisfaction with the arrangements. The “sustainable tourism” lobby in Sri Lanka would like to see Sri Lanka pitched as a high-end conservation tourism destination, while avoiding the pitfalls of mass tourism. This would be economically beneficial and protective of the wildlife within the wildlife parks, they say. The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau is working closely with conservationists to promote regulated, well-conducted wildlife tourism.

Vipula Wanigasekera, acting director-general of Sri Lanka Tourism, told the Sunday Times that research was being done to determine visitor capacity for Yala National Park, and that an action plan was being drawn up.

As a first step, Sri Lanka Tourism and other animal welfare groups are training Yala trackers in game reserve best practices, as observed in other tourism-dedicated countries. Activists say the Department of Wildlife Conservation needs to boost its resources and beef up its numbers in order to manage visitors. More trained guides are urgently needed, they say.

Published on SundayTimes on 20.11.2011

Hit-and-run leopard killing enrages animal lovers

November 22, 2011
Mobile phones and speeding vehicles are the latest enemies to invade animal territory.
Malaka Rodrigo reports
Visitors to wildlife parks have a responsibility to protect the wildlife they are so eager to see. Excessive eagerness, compounded with callous disregard for basic road safety rules and consideration for others, can result in the kind of hit and run tragedy that occurred recently when a speeding vehicle killed a leopard within the Yala wildlife sanctuary. Images of the roadkill shocked and enraged the public, and animal lovers in particular.The latest enemy to invade protected wildlife terrain is the mobile phone – a piece of technology visitors are increasingly using to alert other visitors when they have sighted a rare animal, usually a leopard.
Whenever a leopard is seen, mobile phones are plucked out and messages sent, and minutes or seconds later, convoys of speeding safari trucks and cars rush to the scene – a spectacle that belongs to crowded urban areas, not to a wildlife sanctuary.

The leopard that was found dead in Yala recently. Pic by Spencer Manuelpillai

Irresponsible vehicle owners who disturb animals and threaten their existence is a growing problem, and one that is tarnishing the genuine wildlife experience, animal lovers say.

On a “good day,” hundreds of vehicles can be seen heading into Yala, and they usually keep to routes known for leopard sightings. The instant a leopard is seen, mobile phones are plucked out, messages are conveyed, and the race is on.

Animal lovers are calling for a total ban on mobile phones within wildlife premises, or at least an order prohibiting mobile phone use by visitors. Activists have also called for the shutting off of mobile phone transmission towers in the neighbourhood of a sanctuary. They suggest that the transmission towers be switched off during sight-seeing peak hours, from 6:00 am to 9:00 am and from 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm.

Vimukthi Weeratunge of Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) is on the team that is working on an action plan for Yala.

He said even trackers were calling for regulation of the Yala transmission tower. Mobile phone operators have no problem with switching off transmission towers at designated times, he said, as long as the Telecommunication Regulation Commission (TRC) gives its approval. It is up to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and Sri Lanka Tourism to follow up and see the matter through.

Vipula Wanigasekera, acting director-general of Sri Lanka Tourism, told the Sunday Times that mobile phone connectivity was vital inside a wildlife reserve in case of emergencies, and that awareness-raising and the promotion of proper “road” behaviour, was the answer.

Meanwhile, no action has so far been taken regarding the hit-and-run killing of the Yala leopard.

Tharindu Jayasinghe, secretary of the Yala Jeep Drivers’ Association, said it was unlikely that a driver of a safari vehicle registered with the organisation, was responsible. He believed the death was likely caused by visitors who had booked a Yala bungalow or set up camp inside the game reserve.

Others interviewed by the newspaper said the death could have been caused by vehicles arriving early that morning from Yala Block II.

Published on SundayTimes on 20.11.2011