Problem faced by Yala national park

Yala is a national park that has long captivated and attracted visitors from all over the world. However, in what form will Yala Park exist in the future?

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Former Director-General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation and environmentalist Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya recently spoke at the WNPS monthly lecture, urging Sri Lankans to act quickly to prevent the destruction of Yala.

General Wildlife Tourism Potential in Sri Lanka

Pilapitiya has speculated that wildlife tourism could be the single most important factor in Sri Lanka’s increasing tourist numbers.

He named other nations, including South Africa, whose annual direct tourism impact exceeds ten billion dollars. He elaborated on the gap between wanting to and being able to encourage wildlife tourism. He referenced research that placed Sri Lanka at the top of a list for “observability” among Asian countries.

In other words, we can start seeing animals within a few minutes of entering a Sri Lankan national park, and doing so is a breeze. According to Pilapitiya, who recognised various unique resources that we can brand and exploit, Sri Lanka also ranks #1 in wildlife tourist potential.

Going to Yala National Park as part of a trip to Sri Lanka

A lot of local and foreign travellers, including people from the nearby area, have been to Yala National Park. A safari in Yala National Park is part of most of the tour packages you can buy in Sri Lanka. For Sri Lankan south coast tours, adventure tours, and nature tour packages, the Yala safari is often a part of the plans. Many people in the southern part of Sri Lanka think it’s one of the best places to visit.

Visits to Yala National Park

From Colobmo and most beach towns on Sri Lanka’s west and south coasts, you can take a day trip to Yala National Park. There are tours that go to Yala National Park from Colombo that last one day. One example is Seerendipity Tours. You can take a Sri Lanka 2-day tour or a Sri Lanka 3-day tour to the south of the country if you have a lot of time to see the sights. With these tour itineraries, you can see Yala National Park and a lot of other interesting places in Sri Lanka.

Yala, the leopards’ homeland

He claims that the finest spots to spot leopards are in Yala and Wilpattu. More than 40 species of mammals and 215 species of birds, including six endemics, are found in Yala National Park, he added. Furthermore, he cited the words of the renowned photographer Angie Scott: “If God created a patch of land for leopards on Earth, then it must be Yala.”

Similarly, Pilapitiya noted that an albino elephant roams free in Yala National Park, making it the first national park in the world to do so.

Where has Yala National Park gone in the present day?

According to Pilapitiya, the number of tourists has surged by more than 1,000% between 2008 and 2017, and the Department of Wildlife Conservation is not prepared for this influx.

As a result, he said, the department had no choice but to let the Safari Jeeps bring visitors into the park without a tracker. According to Pilapitiya, “before 2008, every Safari jeep had a tracker accompanying them.” But things have changed due to excessive tourism and an absence of skilled trackers.

Overcrowding has had negative effects at Yala National Park, and Pilapitiya detailed some of them, including road kills.

He expressed regret that cars had killed leopards in the National Park. “Never take photographs at the expense of the animals,” Pilapitiya stressed.
Some other effects he mentioned were the harassing of wildlife upon sightings, the feeding of wildlife, and the resulting changes in animal behaviour. Moreover, preservation and management of the park have been neglected, leading to a drop in wildlife populations and major habitat difficulties in Yala.

Animal suffering at Yala National Park

Elephants eat less when vehicles are nearby because they are constantly in a protective mode and feel threatened, according to research by Uda Walawe, which Pilapitiya cited. He also referenced a study that found that just being in close proximity to humans has negative consequences for the health, fertility, and survival of leopards. “I’m not saying we should stop visitation; all I’m saying is to give some space for the animals,” he emphasised.
Pilapitiya doubted that a natural ecosystem could withstand such mistreatment and yet achieve its goals.
Which problems necessitate immediate attention?
Pilapitiya raised a number of critical issues that need to be addressed to avert this catastrophe. Some of the most pressing problems facing the Department of Wildlife Conservation include the lack of adequate staff and facilities like patrol vehicles and poor nature interpretation services offered to visitors, in addition to the disciplinary issues of safari drivers and passengers, high speed and reckless driving, vehicular congestion, and over-marketing Yala as a leopard-sighting destination. According to Pilapitiya, one of the most pressing concerns is the continuing political involvement that has left DWC without the autonomy it needs to govern tourism in Yala.

Does this pattern have an endpoint?

Given that Yala National Park employs more than 700 jeep drivers, restricting vehicle access is easier said than done, as Pilapitiya explained. If we impose restrictions, we’ll face pushback from the hotel sector and politicians concerned about the jeep drivers’ ability to make a living.

As a former wildlife manager, Pilapitiya added that he knows from experience that imposing such restrictions can cause many problems. Instead of imposing restrictions on the vehicles right away, he emphasised the need to instill discipline among private and safari jeep drivers and their passengers.
He added that before every park in the country becomes like Yala, it is crucial to implement access limits quickly.

The importance of quality over quantity was also emphasised by Pilapitiya. He stated that the majority of visitors to parks feel they are not educated throughout their stay and demand an accurate interpretation of the natural world.
The drivers and the tourists can both benefit from more discipline as part of a well-thought-out strategy to transform Yala into a top-tier wildlife tourism destination.

Pilapitiya used a remark from Aldo Leopold, suggesting that although it is too late to prevent human occupation, we may be able to conserve Yala by developing a new ethic for its administration.

According to Pilapitiya, “most visitors want to learn something while they’re here, but all we do is show them the animals.” He suggested that we make Sri Lanka a place where people and the environment thrive in order to protect our natural resources.

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