Yala - what needs to be done NOW!
Wildlife enthusiasts are urging that authorities act fast after the recent report that another leopard was killed inside the Yala National Park, very likely by speeding vehicles. The huge numbers of vehicles within the park, sometimes with huge traffic lines and drivers that do not adhere to park rules have been problem for awhile now, with animals becoming casualties in an area they are supposed to be protected in. Here Srilal Miththapala outlines the basic problems facing Yala and what can be done to make the situation better.
The Basic Problem
· Over visitation (Yala is the most popular and wellknown national park in Sri Lanka).
· Over emphasis on sighting of one species (leopard - centric).
· Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) unable to enforce rules properly due to political interference.
· This is primary due to overspeeding on the main road.
· The jeep drivers stay inside the park till very late and then drive very fast on the straight main road stretch to get out of the entrance before the closing time at 6-6.30 pm.
· It is a veritable Grand Prix with them racing and overtaking (it's always better to be in the front because of the dust storm that is kicked up behind the lead vehicle).
· Therefore, quite honestly the driver and passengers may not even know if a small animal is knocked down because of the speed and the poor visibility because of the dust.
· The blocking of mobile signals periodically within the park is a good thing, but it has no bearing on this problem of animals getting knocked down.
Of course there are many, and a wish list would include following:
· Limited visitation (carrying capacity- allow only a specific number of vehicles inside the park at any given time).
· Have scheduled tours operated by DWC and prevent large buses going into the park.
· Strictly enforce park rules and punish offenders by suspension.
· Surcharge on vehicles having poor load factor ( one or two passengers).
· Make some roads one-way to better control traffic.
· Open up alternate entrance possibly at Heenwewa.
· Surcharge on entrance fee on holidays and peak periods.
· Ensure well trained trackers one for each vehicle.
Practical and easy way to implement things that can be done in the short term
However, there are several things can be done immediately:
· Create strong social media interest and set up a web based central blacklisting register to report errant drivers, which can be viewed by the general public.
· Educate all visitors / tourists and travel agents to refrain from hiring drivers who have been blacklisted. ( a sustained media and publicity blitz for a specific period).
· In a similar way, implement a reward scheme where public can vote for the best driver and awarded some recognition.
· The main road from Kirinda junction to the entrance is technically a public road coming under the jurisdiction of the RDA. Some speed bumps can be introduced quite easily and if some proper speed limit boards are displayed, drivers can actually be charged under the motor traffic act ( but then who is going to police this ? speed cameras? Hi Tech solution?).
· Public awareness is vital and pressure from visitors can be the most powerful and effective tool to help mitigate this problem.
· Unfortunately the DWC doesn’t seem to have the will nor the interest to carry out its responsibility properly. This was primarily due to political interference, but there in addition there are other internal bureaucratic issues and shortcomings that need to be sorted out. Hence, expecting DWC to act decisively, in a cohesive and sustained manner to strictly enforce the park rules would be, in my mind, a rather fanciful expectation.
· Several posters were designed and printed by the Sri lanka Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and given to the DWC last year. Copies were also displayed in all the hotels.
This problem is not limited only to Yala, although admittedly it is the worst in Yala. But Minneriya is fast going the same way.
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