Posts Tagged ‘Yala National Park’

Yala was no sanctuary for this leopard

August 30, 2015
More animals die so that we can ride in comfort 

In more sad news from Yala, the body of a female leopard was found on Friday inside Yala National Park itself, on the verge of the Jamburagala road. The body had no apparent scars but the postmortem revealed the leopard died due to a broken neck (spinal code). There was evidence that some elephants had passed through the area in which the leopard was lying but it was unlikely that the death could have been due to an attack by elephants as adult leopards never confront elephants.

It is probable that the leopard died after being hit by a speeding vehicle, Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake said. No culprit has been nabbed yet but there will be an investigation about the death of this leopard, he said.

The female leopard killed by Hit and Run vehicle inside Yala National Park

Female leopard killed by Hit and Run vehicle inside Yala (c) Janakafb Janu

Yala is the busiest national park in Sri Lanka with its key attraction being the leopards. The safari jeep drivers and other visitors always want to see a leopard so any leopard sighting is swiftly communicated through mobile phones to other jeeps that then flock to the area for a glimpse of the prized big cat.

The park is closed every day at 6 p.m., so jeeps that go deep into the jungle without a sense of the time, speed their way toward the exit at closing time, and this could lead to accidents like this. This is not the first leopard killed by speeding vehicles inside Yala National Park. In 2011, a leopard was killed by a speeding vehicle and since then, several animals too has been reported killed by speeding vehicles.

Mobile phones are a big factor in these Mad Max-type situations in Yala as they are used to pass on the message of leopard sightings. Heeding requests from conservationists, the DWC, in collaboration with mobile phone operators, in experimenting with cutting off service inside the park, Mr. Ratnayake revealed.

The network was switched off on alternate weeks this month. The leopard death occurred during a time when phones were active, according to local sources, indicating that a total blackout could improve the situation to some extent. It is, however, the responsibility of visitors not to allow the jeep to speed up for the sighting of a leopard. Jeep drivers speed in order to give tourists a better sighting, which will mean a bigger tip, so ask them not to speed up, conservationists say.

Local sources say that as many as five leopards have died this year in Yala due to various causes. A leopard was killed a few months ago in the buffer zone in Dambewa after being caught in a wire trap. The remains of another leopard was found near Rathmalwewa in Yala about a month ago.

Earlier this week a tourist bus hit a herd of deer on the Kirinda-Yala road, reinforcing concerns that the road has become a death-trap for wildlife as its newly-carpeted surface allows motorists to speed. No carcasses or wounded deer could be seen on the road after Wednesday’s accident but blood on the road indicated that several animals could be badly injured.

It was dark at the time of the accident and the wounded animals sought refuge in the jungle. Conservationists worry that even if these deer do not die as a direct result of their injuries the wounds could become infected and make the animals less mobile,making them easy prey for predators.

Last drop of water - trying to quench thirst of dying deer hit on Kirinda - Palatupana - Yala road on 21st of Aug

Last drop of water – trying to quench thirst of dying deer hit on Kirinda – Palatupana – Yala road on 21st of Aug (c) Sampath Galappaththi

On August 21, a deer was hit and killed by a motorist who sped off without waiting to be identified, leaving the animal suffering by the side of the road. It was the ninth deer known to have been killed in the past three months since that stretch was resurfaced to provide a comfortable ride for park visitors, local resident Sampath Galappaththi said.

The fact that large animals like deer are being killed on the road indicates smaller animals and birds are being killed in larger numbers, unnoticed.

Mr. Galappaththi revealed that carcasses of nightjars, a nocturnal bird, have become a common sight on the road.
Mr. Ratnayake said he was aware of the problem. He said that as the road comes under the Road Development Authority, the DWC would hold talks with the authority to find a solution. In the meantime, he urged motorists to be careful when driving on roads bordering on or passing through through wilderness areas.

Drought break for wildlife
The Yala National Park will be closed for one month from September 7. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) announced this week that Yala, the country’s mostly visited national park, is closing during the height of the drought to ease the pressure on the animals from visitors. The break also gives an opportunity to repair infrastructure in the park. The tradition of closing the park at this time started in colonial days when the park was a game reserve providing hunting opportunities. 

Speeding jeep kills jungle cat

July 22, 2012

A jungle cat was killed by a hit-and-run Jeep in the Yala National Park early morning on June 26. The incident occurred near Gonalabba and Madapara. Attempts to save the wild cat proved futile. Pic by Hansa Premakumara

Eyewitness Hansa Premakumara, who sent in the photograph of the dead animal, said the safari jeep was being driven at high speed. He recognized a tracker among the passengers in the Jeep, which did not even stop after hitting the jungle cat. Mr. Premakumara and others with him made a desperate but futile attempt to save the animal, which was writhing in agony.

Another Jeep that was following the hit-and-run Jeep stopped, and the driver got out and pleaded with Mr. Premakumar not to tell authorities, saying the drivers and trackers in both Jeeps would lose their jobs. However, the incident was reported to the park warden, and park officials have taken the driver of the first Jeep into custody.

The driver is to appear in court on a charge of irresponsible driving inside the park.
Independent Jeep Drivers’ Association secretary Tharindu Jayasinghe denied that the Jeep belonged to the association. In association with the Lakdasun Conservation Forum, the organisation recently conducted a workshop on responsible driving for Jeep drivers.
Sri Lanka’s safari drivers and trackers do not have a shining track record, and are frequently blamed for tarnishing the country’s wildlife tourism image.

The Jeep driver in custody already has a reputation for undesirable behaviour. According to sources, a few weeks back he was seen throwing a stone at a sleeping leopard in order create photo opportunities for the party of tourists he was accompanying.

Published on SundayTimes on 08.07.2012

Jeep Drivers meet Environmentalists to find a solution to Yala Madness

April 15, 2012
A group of drivers who were present at last week’s forum

As the situation worsens in Yala  regarding Visitor and Jeep Driver misbehavior and Leopard-chasing, a short workshop titled “Visit Yala, Don’t Invade” was organized by Lakdasun, an internet-based conservation group (,  providing a platform for jeep drivers and activists to interact.  This workshop was unique in that it was initiated as a result of an invitation from the Jeep drivers of the Independent Yala Safari Jeep Drivers Association, who have now realized the need for change.

Dr. Rishani Gunasinghe who was actively involved in organizing the workshop said that  Lakdasun wanted to use the opportunity to the fullest to get the Driver’s corporation, so therefore, a “Business-oriented” approach rather than a “conservation-oriented” approach was employed when organizing this workshop. Rishani said that they tried to show the Drivers that they were there not to point fingers at them, but to show them what the current situation is doing to their business, what tourism operators expect in terms of service and visitor experience offered, how their service and hence their business can be improved, and thereby how they wanted to arrive at sustainable solutions for Yala TOGETHER WITH the Jeep Drivers.

In addition to the Lakdasun team, resource persons present were Rukshan Jayawardena, Vimukthi Weeratunga, and Nishad Wijetunga, who is the director of a leading travel agent. Giving the Key speech, Nishad told the Jeep Drivers, “Your business will soon be affected if the situation is not improved”. He explained that tourists indeed know what is going on inside the park due to the internet, that they are very vigilant on driver/tracker behavior, and as a result, close to 20% of tourists now ask NOT TO nclude Yala in their itineraries.

With data, Nishad stressed that tour companies don’t expect Drivers to somehow show leopards. Drivers commented that some Guides pressurize them to find leopards, but Nishad explained that it is not the Guides who bring them business but the tour companies, and Jeep Drivers have their own right to tell visitors and guides that they are not supposed to chase leopards, and that they have to adhere to speed limits.

Nishad also added that there might be a misconception that one can get bigger tips if one shows leopards, but this is not often the case because most tourists come on a budget and have already decided how much they will give as a tip. Thus most of the time, a leopard sighting will not change the tip, and besides, they will not blame the driver even if a leopard is not spotted because foreign tourists take sightings or non-sightings as their own luck.

Nishaad also said that tour companies give 70% of the visitors to Yala and also have an optional 2nd visit. This 2nd visit is now not been taken by the majority of the tourists and this has already impacted Jeep drivers.  He mentioned that this lost crowd is a blow to our tourism and will not come back unless they see a genuine change.

Rukshan Jayawardena and Vimukthi Weeratunga addressing the workshop said that the real wildlife experience is to track the animals and not by driving upon sighting tips received by mobile phones. Rukshan emphasized that it is the wildlife that should get the priority to live in a national park and all the other tourists activities should be secondary mentioning that leopards’ behavior in Yala is changing.  Rukshan and Vimukthi also led an active discussion with the Drivers in which they were given a chance a express their own views openly.  Drivers expressed their willingness to change, even have a cell phone ban, if they get an official order from the Authorities.They also requested uniforms, fair punishments for all when violations are found, and expressed hope that all the Drivers at Yala will join the association so that the service can be standardized. At present there are many Drivers who do not yet belong to the Association.

Mithila Somasiri who spearheaded the Lakdasun group said that Lakdasun also wanted to stress that the jeep drivers, trackers and visitors alike should play an important role in protecting what essentially brings direct benefits to all.  Mithila said visitors, inlcuding themselves, should  share an equal part of the blame for the current problems. Lakdasun is also trying to raise visitor awareness by an email campaign, and distributing posters to be placed in each Jeep for visitors to read before entering the park -this is to urge visitors not to chase leopards but to see other animals as well, with an aim enhancing visitor experience, provide better shutter chances, disperse traffic and ease pressure on Drivers and Trackers.   Larger versions of this poster have now been placed in and around the visitors center, ticket office, washrooms and bungalows, with the fullest corporation of the Wildlife Department. Visitors are urged to read these posters and see the variety Yala has to offer, and, most importantly, make a conscious effort to improve the situation inside Yala by NOT contributing to leopard chasing and speeding. “Let us visit Yala, not invade” , urges Lakdasun to all visitors of Yala.

Lakdasun says that this is merely a start and that they are planning to take the momentum ahead together with jeep drivers and others who are interested at providing a sustainable and lasting solution for Yala.

The unedited version of article published on 08.04.2012