Yala, one of Sri Lanka’s wildlife parks but for better or for worse the most popular national park of the country and perhaps the world. Panthara padus kotiya also know as leopard, is a part of the cat family and whether you like domestic cats or wild cats, everybody wants to ‘see the leopard’!
The situation would have been fine if at least 75% of those who go to Yala, actually care about wildlife let alone have any knowledge go there in a responsible manner with responsible jeeps that are affiliated to responsible hotels and bungalows in the area. Sad reality is only a handful reputed hoteliers in Yala are doing the treks for both local and foreign tourists in the correct manner with the right people. When it comes to tourism, everybody wants to make a buck. Which is understandable. But at what cost are they going to do it? Most of you reading this would have an idea thanks to the recent social media uproar on Cecil the lion.
Thanks to social media yet again, the death of a hit and run leopard in August 2015 inside the Yala national park, emerged as a picture of her body being lifted by 2 men in ‘traffic’ inside Yala went viral on social media in Sri Lanka. A local tourist shared the sad news on his Facebook page and many people had their hands up in the air. This was relatively soon after a deer and her foe were killed in yet another hit and run.
According to local sources 5 leopards have died this year due to various reasons and this is without taking into account the other animals that die in a ‘sanctuary’.
Even though Sri Lanka has the highest number of leopards, does this mean its ‘ok’ to inundate Yala with so much traffic ? What happens when the sightings reach desperately low levels as speeding vehicles and hunters kill them off ? The demand will reduce and the jeep drivers and small hoteliers and guest houses owners in Yala will start to lose business. Also, the sole purpose of visiting a national park will be lost due to the loss of wildlife.
Every single person who goes to a national park has a responsibility including the jeeps. From not polluting to not putting pressure on jeep drivers to speed for the ‘sighting’ and for the jeep drivers themselves having strict discipline to not crumble for the tourist’s pressure.
But some, feel much more needs to be done to save Yala. Within a matter of days of the latest leopard death by a vehicle, an online petition was setup to gather signatures for a petition calling on President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe to stop wild animals being killed by vehicles in Yala. The petition gathered more than 5000 signatures from Sri Lanka and around the world.
The issue has come under the attention of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, even prompting a very supportive status from his official Facebook page which was applauded by all.
The petition matured into a proposal to be given to the respective authorities with several changes that have been drawn up to address the crisis in Yala along with solutions on how to achieve them.
A Facebook page has also been set up, ‘ Yala National Park- Lets Make a Change’ with over 2000 likes.
- Entrance to the park is limited to two sessions – morning and afternoon. Enforcement of opening and closing times to the park and penalties for those overstaying their time.
- Vehicle Speed limits within the national park roads.
- The pre-booking system should ensure that all jeeps operate at full capacity. I.e. if a family of 4 pre-books a jeep that could accommodate 6-people, 2 additional people will be selected from the online data-base. A premium will be charged if the guest requests for a personalised jeep allocation.
- The allocation of a jeep to the Yala Park Office as a patrol jeep, which will be used to check traffic conditions.
- Regular patrol of the park by officials to ensure rules and regulations are being adhered to within the park
The ultimate mission of the proposal : Improve the governance of the tourism industry in Yala National Park through education and awareness and instil the concept of sustainable tourism in the community.
Those working behind this proposal have a full understanding that to implement this is going to require time, money and manpower!
While no date has been set on when the proposal will be handed over to the authorities or when they should come into effect, the scope of work is increasing.
Those who wish to join this initiative or support it in way possible, including suggestions could write to [email protected].