Yala: possible solutions to stem the damage

By Srilal Miththapala

I have been writing regularly in various journals, since of late, highlighting the plight that is befalling the Yala National Park. I am very thankful to all the editors of the popular newspapers who have given adequate publicity to my ‘crusade’.

There has been good supportive feedback from many sources, but there have been a few criticisms also, that there is no solution suggested by me in some of my more recent articles. On the contrary, I have clearly outlined some of the possible solutions that can be speedily implemented in some of my earlier articles

(‘Yala – ruined by its own popularity’?)

Hence, due to the interest level shown, and the topical nature of the subject, I have collated some of the earlier writings related to the possible solutions, herein.

Fundamentally, all the problems really boil down from three issues, which are in some way inter-related.

1. Over-visitation and increased demand

2. Inability to enforce park rules by the DWC

3. Increased level of tourism activity in the area

Over visitation

Fuelled by the post war tourism boom, visitor numbers to Yala has been growing rapidly. In 2011, Yala had close upon 99,000 foreign visitors and 217,000 local visitors. (ref. Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority –SLTDA). The 2012 figures are not yet available, but the total visitation is said to have exceeded 500,000 in 2012. In fact, it was reported recently that on the 13th of February this year, there was an all-time record at Yala, with 1000 foreign and 500 local visitors, bringing in revenue of Rs. 2.6 m for the day.

The safari vehicles and guides/trackers vie for business from visitors for safari rides. It is estimated that there are over 250 jeep drivers operating in the Yala area, most of whom have no experience nor interest in wildlife, but have gone into the business to make a ‘quick buck’. Profit margins are high, with a single safari driver earning Rs. 4,000-Rs. 5,000 per safari, of approximately three hours, together with ‘handsome tips’ for a unique sighting, particularly leopards.

Inability to enforce park rules

Ensuring that drivers and visitors obey the rules strictly within the National Park comes under the purview of the DWC. However, they are unable to implement most of these rules due to various reasons, such as lack of interest and motivation of staff, political interference, poor management, lack of resources etc.

Without the DWC being given a free hand to strictly enforce these rules, it is quite impossible to safeguard the sanctity and environment of the park.

Recently, a DWC official was on record appealing for help, to save a large tusker in the Sigiriya-Minneriya area from a gang of poachers who were stalking him for some time. The official said that he had no resources available with him, including fuel, to mount a search operation for the poachers!

Given the recent findings of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), about the gross mismanagement in public enterprises, it is no surprise that the DWC operates at this level.

As Jayantha Jayawardene, who has authored several books on Sri Lankan Elephants, so aptly puts it, the DWC has ceased to be an organisation which is there to protect animals. Its function now is to protect the people and politicians!


With the rapid growth of tourism in the past three years, and wildlife tourism also gaining popularity in Sri Lanka, the number of tourists to the area has also increased, together with new hotel developments. SLTDA statistics reveal that of the 855,975 tourist arrivals to the country in 2011, 198,536 visited national parks (23%.). The numbers for 2012 are still not available officially, but given that arrivals to the country rose to 1 M, total Yala park visitation should be in the order of 500,000.

Hence, while it is clear that while Sri Lanka is not, and never will be, another Kenya, wild life tourism is certainly playing an increasingly important role in Sri Lanka’s tourism offering.

Over the years, the leopard population in Yala has grown, and today it numbers close to 50 leopards habituating a very small area of the park. This fairly healthy population, a large number of whom have grown up accustomed to human and jeeps, now enable visitors to have a very good chance of a leopard sighting during a game drive in the park. This single aspect has been the main cause for the drastic increase in visitation, leading to the current situation. Sri Lanka is beginning to be called a leopard haven, due to these relatively easy sightings of leopards.


Yala is a call for meditation

Photo by Ranil Amarasuriya

Yala is about wildlife. That’s the story. It is not incorrect. I first went to Yala in 1971. Family trip. I remember seeing peacock and jungle fowl, deer and wild buffalo. And of course elephants. The next trip was in the late eighties. Friends. All of the above and leopard too. Sure, there were birds and butterflies, trees and flowers and the odd wild boar and crocodile, but it’s mostly elephant, deer and peacock. I had different eyes then and possibly better vision too. This time it was different and not just because of changed ecological, social, political, cultural and economic contexts.

I have the deepest respect for the natural world; just don’t claim to know much about it. I like photographs, but I am neither photographer nor photo-critic. I like to watch animals, but neither have the means nor the knowledge to appreciate them the way I am sure a wildlife enthusiast would. So this is not an essay about wildlife in Yala.

Continue reading...


Sri Lanka’s Yala ideal for leopard spotting

"My four days in Sri Lanka's premier national park produce five excellent sightings – a success rate that competes with anywhere in Africa!"

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Leopard at Yala


A leopard in front of me a tusker behind me!

CJ over at The Oxymoron Chronicles has written an interesting blog post about his visit to Yala. Read it here, below I have attached an image an a quote from him.

No this is not like being caught between a rock and a hard place or being between the devil and the deep blue sea. But a wonderful heavenly moment I enjoyed when I was in Yala over the weekend. This time we were stayin out side the park in the wild life and nature protection society bungalow. It is situated in a faraway corner of the Palatupana salt erns. Infact you would not be wrong if you woke up and thought you were inside the park. The facilities are basic but if you are used to what's available in the wild life bungalows it is more or less the same and helps you make believe that you are actually in the park.


Yala has the highest concentration of Mugger Crocodiles in the world

by Ifham Nizam

A recent survey has revealed that the Yala Block One of the Ruhuna National Park has the biggest mugger crocodile population in the world.

The survey led by local herpetologist Anslem De Silva with the assistance of Wild Life Department officials has concluded that there are over 500 mugger crocodiles in the area which covers around 140 square kilometres.

De Silva told The Island that it must be the largest wild mugger population in the world.

De Silva, who is also the Vice Chairman of the Crocodile Species Group for World Conservation Union–IUCN and Species Specialist Group for South Asia and Iran, is conducting an islandwide two-year survey to assess the status of the two species of crocodiles – mugger and salt water crocodile in Sri Lanka.

He said that to date he had gathered data on 300 cases of crocodile attacks on humans in the recent past. His findings are based on the entire island with special emphasis on the area from the Nilwala Ganga.

His investigation has revealed that crocodile attacks occur mainly due to mistakes of humans who often bath in places not protected by crocodile fences. "The Crocodile is a very intelligent animal; it observes its prey for days, even months before attacking," says de Silva.

De Silva was the first to do a comprehensive study on snake bites in 1978. He requests the public to provide information on crocodile attacks and deaths. He could be contacted on 071 2748411.

(The Island)


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