Why you should not go to Yala National Park & Alternatives

Leopard at Wilpattu NP - Photo by Base Camp Wilpattu
Leopard at Wilpattu NP – Photo by Base Camp Wilpattu

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

Jam packed with vehicles and tourists at Yala NP
Jam packed with vehicles and tourists at Yala NP

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

  • Jane
    May 31, 2017 at 2:20 am

    We had to stay in a long queue of jeeps to enter into Yala.

  • Garry
    June 1, 2017 at 4:54 am

    There is a congestion in Yala NP roads.

  • Ranjan
    June 1, 2017 at 5:00 am

    Clearly, wildlife tourism presents problems to Yala NP but religious tourists are much more of a problem. These visitors, who are often the less well-educated members of the Sri Lankan
    community, have little appreciation for wildlife or the natural values of Yala, Their behaviour is completely unregulated. Pilgrims usually arrive in large buses, often leave the road network, and may encroach on and even harass wildlife.
    They are also likely to collect firewood for cooking and recreational purposes.

  • Ranjan
    June 3, 2017 at 2:14 am

    The idea in creating protected areas is that animals will find refuge there and lead a sheltered life, free from the detrimental impacts caused by humans. A large segment of the protected area network of the Department of Wildlife Conservation was set up specifically for the conservation of elephants. However, all is not well with the elephants in our protected areas – many of them are starving to death.

    This was discussed by Dr. Pruthuviraj Fernando at the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society’s monthly lecture on the subject ‘Are our National Parks, sanctuaries or concentration camps for elephants?’ in July 2015

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