Wildlife activists, tourism industry, authorities brace to save elephants
Showcasing to the world elephants in the wild at the various wildlife nature parks in the country has now been taken seriously where the visitors brought in by guides and drivers have been given exposure on doing their job right.Local jeep drivers and guides were brought together to have a clear understanding of carrying out their work while at the same time ensuring that the elephants roaming in the wild were left alone.
By Sunimalee Dias
The first of such discussions took place on Friday at the Minneriya National Park auditorium organised by Born Free, the UK based animal conservation group and Jetwing Sri Lanka.
Born Free Country Representative Sri Lanka Dr. Deepani Jayantha addressing the media observed that in the wake of the concerns expressed regarding the treatment of elephants in nature parks the situation was “pretty serious.”
She noted that continuous irritation towards these animals was evident, for the kind of species that are very sensitive and react immediately.
Minneriya National Park alone has earned revenue of Rs.31 million upto end August this year in a country identified as one of the hotspots for elephant conservation.
It was observed that driving going off track in a bid to please the visitors wanting to get a better photograph or view was encroaching on the wild side that could turn dangerous as well.
If such incidents were reported, Wildlife Department officials observed that they were capable of restraining drivers from entering the park. However, drivers use much political backing to their advantage due to which they are not able to work in a cordial manner.
In this respect the Hikkaduwa National Park has come in for much dissention by the authorities and activists in the wake of accelerated tourism promotion campaigns at the cost of conservation.
Dr. Jayantha pointed out that such promotional campaigns have created much discomfort within the wildlife national parks. These animals require a break from the noise and people that visit them regularly.
In this respect, she called on the authorities to engage in detailed discussions with the drivers, guides and other stakeholders including creating more awareness among the visitors in a bid to reduce this menace that is creating problems in the lives of those in the wild.
Wildlife Department Training and Research Deputy Director G.V. Samarakoone said they are currently engaged in opening up new areas namely the Kumana National Park, Pigeon Island, new entrance to Yala from Block 3, Galge, and already opened from Galge on the Kataragama – Buttala road and the Lunugamwehera Park.
It was pointed out that there was much problems connected with the operating of boats in Hikkaduwa which has literally affected the natural landscape in the area.
Jetwing Naturalist Asitha Jayaratne observed that they would be presenting a documentary aimed at showcasing the work carried out at the national parks.
He pointed out that in respect of taking to task the drivers it was possible to be firm by saying that “if you behave well then we will give more business.”
Entry fee to the national parks are Rs.60 for local visitors while the department charges US$40 from foreign tourists. Dr. Jayantha has noted that they would be getting together with these stakeholders in a bid to print a flashy brochure so as the people would be more aware of the guidelines.