Many travel itineraries by Private tour operators focus on a limited number of wild-life sites in Sri Lanka, which has tremendously increased the pressure on these sites
Why you should not go to Yala National Park
The number of visitors to Yala National Park has increased seven fold over the past 10 years whilst the carrying capacity of animals has remained the same. You have to wait in long queues to view wild-life at Yala as there are so many Jeeps and SUVs lined up to visit the park.
Further, the visitor facilities have not been improved to meet increased visitation. This has contributed to increased visitor dissatisfaction as well as extreme pressure on the resource base.
As there is no restriction on the number of vehicles each day, animal behavior has changed and there has been a great deal of disturbance to animals. Also these vehicles are travelling very fast and one may feel there are more human visitors, local and foreign, than elephants, leopards and other wild animals.
Also visitor experience offered at present, is limited to a jeep safari in most places where the only visitor experience provided is wildlife viewing. All the other possible visitor activities have not been exploited at all – thus failing to maximally utilize the visitor benefits that the park has to offer.
Key Issues at Yala – Over-visitation and its consequences on the biodiversity
Tackling over-visitation and its consequences on the biodiversity of the Yala NP, former Director General (DG) of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya, questioned whether a natural ecosystem can sustain “abuse” in the light of tourist numbers skyrocketing more than 1,000% from 2008 to 2015 – from 48,368 to 545,007 visitors at Yala, at a round table discussion on ‘Biodiversity & Sustainable Tourism’, held on May 22, 2017 World Biodiversity Day.
He pointed out that road- kills have increased within the Yala NP, there is harassment of wildlife at sightings, visitors are feeding wild animals and causing behavioural changes in them and there is anecdotal evidence of a decline in the animal population within Yala. He was very critical of the government’s “over- emphasis” on tourism revenue, while neglecting protection and management of Protected Areas. He also added that while Yala’s Block 1 faced much over- visitation, the wildlife in Blocks 3, 4 and 5 were not habituated to visitor-vehicles.
Alternatives – Wilpattu, Kumana, Minneriya and Wasgomuwa National Parks
Wilpattu National Park, Kumana, Minneriya and Wasgomuwa National Parks can also offer same experience as Yala NP: large charismatic species such as Asian elephants, sloth bears, leopards and water buffalo, small carnivores such as cats and mongooses, large aggregates of water birds, residential facilities such as bungalows and camp sites
Further, visitor data indicates that some sites attract disproportionately high numbers of visitors whilst other sites get very little visitation despite the fact that these sites are endowed with similar visitor attractions.
Lunugamvehera and Udawalawe National park
The number of visitors to Lunugamvehera National Park that can offer a similar visitor experience as Udawalawe National park (ability to view elephants and presence of large aggregates of water birds and raptors and other facilities such as bungalows and camp sites) records only 5% of the overall number of visitors recorded at Udawalawe National park, despite both parks being located within an hour’s drive from each other.
Based on a report by Prof Devaka K Weerakoon for Biodiversity Sri Lanka