21 April, 2024


Our Wild Spaces Cry Out For Protection

By Christopher Rezel

Christopher Rezel

Sri Lanka’s wildlife parks have recently been in the news for the wrong reasons.

In mid-October a helicopter of a private airline flew at low altitude over the Kaudulla National Park spooking elephants and visitors.

It seems the pilot was doing so for the amusement of fee-paying passengers.

It is claimed the helicopter has been visiting the park regularly, probably flying low and stampeding elephants on every occasion.

More recently, safari jeep drivers called a boycott of the Yala National Park because the Wildlife Department decided to restrict jeep numbers to 300 vehicles daily.

The boycott meant a refusal to take tourists on excursions into the park, the most visited and second largest wildlife park in Sri Lanka.

Following the boycott and a recent round of talks, the Wildlife Department agreed to permit an additional 150 jeeps a day.

This means 400 through the main Palatupana entrance and 50 from the Kataragama-Katagamuwa entrance.

That has angered wildlife enthusiasts who say ballooning jeep numbers are causing damage to the park.

Nor has the increase satisfied jeep drivers.

According to Yala Safari Jeep owners’ association president, Ajith Priyantha, previously over 1000 vehicles were permitted each day to enter the park.

He rightly claims the entire area depends on tourism, implying that restricting jeep drivers will impoverish people.

In other words he is pushing for a return to 1000 vehicle visits per day.

The difference is 550 daily visits between his demand and the 450 visits now authorised by the Wildlife Department.

How this tussle will be resolved is anybody’s guess.

But the impacts will be felt by Yala village and surrounding towns that have expanded mostly because of the park.

Flash hotels and humble lodges have sprung up, as also shops, home gardens and other downstream support facilities that provide employment and incomes to many.

Undoubtedly the park has made some rich.

Jeep owners have invested in yet more jeeps and recruited drivers and support staff.

All of them will need to survive, one way or another.

Adding to the burgeoning developments are politicians who promote their protégés, even to the extent of breaking laws.

In July this year I was a visitor to Yala for three days with a group of friends who, together with me, have been visiting the park for over 50 years.

For many visitors, the main attraction are elephants and leopards.

But such animals do not show up on demand.

So people may come away claiming disappointment.

In such instances, it seems the sighting of buffalo, deer, monkey, reptile or birds are of no consequence.

If I too was to insist on seeing elephant and leopard, then not all my recent hours spent in Yala were successful.

Their scarcity made me suppose they had learned to avoid the tracks because of vehicles and man.

But overall I did see the pachyderms, sometimes in small herds.

I learned some come dangerously close to vehicles, having been habituated by visitors and drivers who feed them.

I even had the luck to glimpse the fiery pelt of a leopard that mostly stayed concealed in scrub.

Throughout my three days I was witness to another spectacle: hundreds of jeeps with foreign tourists rushing about on Yala tracks.

They raised clouds of dust and frequently created something like rush-hour traffic.

In their eagerness to please clients, some drivers tend to flout rules, speeding, straying off the track, damaging verges.

Getting close to animals and giving clients a greater thrill ensures better tips.

Whenever elephants were present, or if there had been the hint of a leopard, the jeeps would assemble like great herds, revving engines and jostling each other for position.

Drivers keep in touch by phone.

So they rev up and speed off to meet colleagues who have signalled a special viewing opportunity.

Speeding jeeps in Yala are alleged to have caused the deaths of two leopards – near Patanangala in 2011 and inside the park in 2015.

In the good old days, encountering another jeep or a foreign tourist in Yala was a rare occasion.

Then you usually stayed within Yala in a park bungalows for the special thrill of listening to jungle sounds and seeing animals from your veranda.

I count myself lucky there was no helicopter to stampede me and hundreds of elephants that showed up the day I visited Kaudulla National Park.

But unfortunately another unacceptable event would take place.

In early evening elephants began emerging from the surrounding jungle in groups of 10 or 30 or more – adults, juveniles, babies.

They were spread out on the extensive tank bed that had dried up and turned into an uneven grassy plane.

Along with the elephants came the jeeps.

There could have been nearly fifty.

The elephants were in no hurry to get to water at the centre of the plane, leisurely eating grass all along the way.

Giving onlookers a further thrill was a proud tusker who challenged and chased off another bull.

Elephants in small herds are usually docile, their concerns focussed on care for babies and juveniles.

But they will aggressively confront any perceived threat. 

That is exactly what happened.

Jeeps jostling for position annoyed a large matriarch.

She trumpeted and charged.

A panicked driver hurriedly backed his jeep into the front of another vehicle.

Then followed a shouting display.

Threats and counter threats were hurled and claims made that the matter would be settled later, outside the park.

Such unruliness is bound to increase with the expansion of jeeps and tourists, and the seeming lack of protocols and supervision.

As it is in Kaudulla, no park guards or guides come along with the jeeps. It appears drivers merely buy a permit to enter.

In Yala a park ranger as guide must accompany visitors.

Initially that meant a ranger in every jeep.

Manpower shortages now mean a single guide is assigned to groups of visitors in three or four jeeps.

The ranger travels in the lead jeep with little supervision over visitors in the other vehicles.

Everyone must observe simple park rules. But not all do.

All along the road to the Kaudulla National Park, modest homes advertise rooms for tourists or jeeps for hire.

That happens in Yala too.

The front verandas of some homes have become cafes.

The Habarana railway and bus stations were busy with backpackers.

So obviously word is getting around.

And with time visitor numbers to Kaudulla National Park will grow as exponentially as it has at Yala.

And if that means elephants and other wildlife are going to be stressed, it can all end up badly.

The recent Wildlife Ministry decision to curtail daily jeep numbers within the Yala National Park is a belated attempt to re-establish the decree that the parks exist solely for wildlife conservation.

All else is secondary.

Uncontrolled growth of jeeps and visitors in any area of tourist interest will undoubtedly impact on fauna and flora.

Left-behind garbage disposal is only the beginning of problems.

At its nastiest, the constant churning of dust and human activity can turn such areas into wastelands, minus grasses, trees and animals.

Damage due to overcrowding may already be happening to the delicate eco systems on Horton Plains, Adam’s Peak and similar places.

Other locations to be watchful over are whitewater rafting at Kitulgala and whale watching at Mirissa.

In past decades the Wildlife Ministry has been negligent by allowing tourists and vehicles to balloon uncontrollably, bringing about disarray.

But as the Yala Safari Jeep owners’ association president implies, entire economic systems have sprung up around tourism venues and are vulnerable to regression and collapse should the main attraction be curtailed.

Yet such restrictions are a must if future generations too are to enjoy the joys of Sri Lanka’s unique eco systems.

And in that context it becomes obligatory on the Wildlife Ministry, together with other state authorities, to find ways to ensure that people and towns dependant on tourism attractions are not suddenly left destitute.

*My park visits were facilitated by Mr & Mrs Prasad and Devinka Dissanayake.

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Latest comments

  • 11

    Mr. Christopher Rezel,
    Thanks a lot for your timely article. Our beautiful country is being gang-raped as we speak. Her natural beauty is already a fraction of what it used to be. Uneducated Maharaja’s clan & gangsters destroyed a lot. Including picturesque Hambantota District. RW’s UNP is selling Sri Lanka’s finest spots to marauding Chinese merchants of greed. UNP fools call it “development”. UNP’s designated future leader Maria Kade Sajith has no regard for Wildlife protection laws. Believes national parks are his inheritance. Visits sanctuaries when it suits him. Qatari Rishard and Wahabi Hakeem couldn’t care less. They only care about the Muslim vote block and making “Allahu Akbar”. Even inside cherished Wilpattu. Citizens must rescue this country from the on-going criminality against nature. There is no other choice. We must act. Cheers!

    • 2

      Christopher Rezel ,

      RE: Our Wild Spaces Cry Out For Protection

      “At its nastiest, the constant churning of dust and human activity can turn such areas into wastelands, minus grasses, trees and animals.”
      “Damage due to overcrowding may already be happening to the delicate eco systems on Horton Plains, Adam’s Peak and similar places.”

      Yes. This has been the case ever since the Paradeshis, Paras, foreigners landed illegally in the land of Native Veddah Aethho, using illegal boats, hora-oru and kalla-thonis .Now it is Para nightmare with the foreign Para-tourists joining in. The only positive items are earning much needed foreign exchange and stopping some village women to go to the Middle East to toil as maids, all that the expense of wild life and the animals.

      Solution: Send the Para back to their homelands, India or wherever they came from.

      Mitochondrial DNA history of Sri Lankan ethnic people: Their relations within the island and with the Indian subcontinental populations.


      Through a comparison with the mtDNA HVS-1 and part of HVS-2 of Indian database, both Tamils and Sinhalese clusters were affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka.Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication, 7 November 2013; doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.112.

      • 1

        Moda Amarasiri: For every thing, your same cure. Mitochondrial DNA.

        • 1

          Gon Dimwit Para-Jimsofty,

          “For every thing, your same cure. Mitochondrial DNA.”

          Yes, the Mitochondrial DNA of the Paras, Para-Sinhala Para-Tamils, Para-Muslims etc, clearly show that they are Paras in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, and they should get back to their homeland India, so that the Land can get back to its former pristine state.

          Talk to Mr. Modi of India, Bharat, Damba-Diva.

      • 1

        @Amarasiri, this conclusion is from your referenced report:

        “No definite association of the Sinhalese with any specific ethnic or linguistic groups of India was, however, detected in this study; thus, their exact immediate origin on the mainland remains yet to be confirmed.”

        This result may even support what HELA promoters say that Sinhalese were the original natives and nothing to do with immigrants from India. Well that is a conclusion from these independent researchers. That makes you THE PARA balla or kallathoni whatever you like to call the paras, and Sinhalese the rightful natives of the country. All this time you have been bluffing in this forum with misinformation.

    • 1


      Last thing we should do is to use wild animals to push political agendas. Hambanthota port is not an asset but a liability bleeding the country to death which includes forests and wild animals when the joint venture was formed to run it.

      • 2

        Thanks a lot for the response. My first political agenda is environment. For ourselves and our children. Not least, for those who cannot speak for themselves, the innocent animals. Who are being pushed out of ever so shrinking habitats by human greed, politicians, criminals and religious fanatics out to increase their lot. Hamba Port, Mattala Airport, Cricket Stadium, Conference Centre are all crimes against our nature and economy. Why aren’t Rajapassa environmental criminals not in jail for these crimes against our beautiful country? Because Yahapalanaya is complicit. Bitter truth. Cheers!

        • 0

          I totally agree with you.

  • 3

    Political pressure against correct procedure made earlier Wild Life DG resign.


    It appears that even now political interference in running of wild life parks exists.
    In this atmosphere the animals will soon be ‘crowded out’ of the parks.
    Politics has been the death-knell of many good things in Sri Lanka.
    It has become very difficult to correct this trend.
    The future of the parks is at risk.

    • 1


      Thanks for the link. The Paras, in the land of native Veddah Aethho, are going berserk, as expected at the expense of the animals.

  • 3

    Sri Lanka needs to protect its forest; its wildlife; its ecology and its heritage;It’s rivers; its mountains; its landscape; its trees and its fruits and its townships..
    Be realistic..today all over the world urbanisation take place..why? People from rural areas come to cities and cities are expanded …
    But; unplanned building constitution costs a lot of damage..
    I do not know why politicians do not care ..
    What takes place now is different stories…
    Experts have no say ..
    Politicians overrule experts advice..look at the ways in many areas townships are made up..
    No planing permission is needed ..
    Why rich can bribe officials..
    Look at how politicians destroyed environments…
    Mega Mattala airport; express ways and megs projects have done great damage that anyone else ?
    Who cares?
    China will desotry our ecology ?
    China is suffering from floods and landslides ..
    Same will happen to us soon.
    Consider advice of experts .
    We have a lot of them ?
    But politicians are too arrogant.

    • 1

      Singhalese pundit,

      “Sri Lanka needs to protect its forest; its wildlife; its ecology and its heritage;It’s rivers; its mountains; its landscape; its trees and its fruits and its townships..”

      Yes, the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, Sri Lanka needs to protect its forest; its wildlife; its ecology and its heritage;It’s rivers; its mountains; its landscape; its trees and its fruits and its townships..

      Yes, ship all the Paras back to their homelands, India, and other Para Lands, and let the land get back to its pristine state.

  • 0

    Why Amara…you want to send all back…
    Today population is wealth? Why you do not like people

    • 1

      Singhalese pundit,

      Population is wealth only if they do not destroy the land it and lives in harmony with nature, just like the Native Veddah Aethho were doing for thousands of years before the arrival of the Paras.

      It is the people who do not like the environment. So send them back to their Para-homelands.

  • 2

    Tussel between the bleeding taxi drivers and the authority responsible for protecting wild life? As taxi drivers everywhere in the world, the tourist driver variety in Sri Lanka are no different. They are one of the most selfish groups of labour that I have come across. The way they want to slaughter the golden goose now for short term profit, there may not be any wild life to show to future visitors; their children could then starve realizing the folly of their fathers. If the tourists really want to intrude on wild life, then let the taxi drivers now charge double the amount, so that they could manage with a fewer through-flow of traffic. It is up to the tourists then, if they want to come and intrude on animals habitat. Or better still run a herd of wild buffaloes through their homes, and see how they take it. They can see the wildlife while sitting in their arm chairs in their lounges.

    • 1


      “The way they want to slaughter the golden goose now for short term profit, there may not be any wild life to show to future visitors; their children could then starve realizing the folly of their fathers. “

      Yes, that is precisely what the Indian fishermen have done to the fisheries by drag fishing, and destroying the habitat, in addition to over-fishing and pollution.

  • 2

    The subject is about the management of wildlife parks. Commentators focus on local party politics, Lankan history and other unconnected and pointless details, mostly nonsense. Not a single positive comment on how to better the situation. Seems there is an overcrowding of simpletons and retards among readers too. Sad.

  • 3

    Any right thinking person will agree that the forests belong to the animals and they should be left alone. If we use them it should be done preserving the eco balance. Number of vehicles entering the parks should be further restricted and alternate employment found to those who depend on parks.In Nepal by law they have to maintain 65% forest cover and they restrict tourist arrivals by levying a heavy fee to enter the country. At Pidurutalagala vehicles in the peak area is restricted to ten at any given time so that one has to come out for another to enter.

  • 1

    It is time that Sri Lanka took a leaf out of China’s Book. China restricted the number of children a family could have, some time ago.

    Over population is creating all the Environmental Problems in the World. Even ‘God’ has started creating Gay and Lesbian Humans and ‘Same Sex’ marriages to this End!

  • 1

    The article asks serious questions regarding uncontrolled commercial development that exploits our fauna and flora. Many commentators have used it as take-off point to spew out bizarre political views which include blatant racism, history of their own making, and disgusting racial vilification. On the whole, states of affairs they have no control or influence over and which are far removed from the subject. The behaviour is similar with many CT commentators. They give the impression of having just got up after a heavy night of kassippu with thoughts and actions critically muddled. So with sarong raised they stand on any pavement and make a public display of their shanty upbringing.
    Focus on issues raised should be the slogan CT insists on with its commentators.

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