Govemnet was not prepared to change the laws that had been brought in regarding the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary

The Yala wildlife sanctuary was closed for around two months from September 1st until October 23, when it was reopened due to the drought and to allow the animals and the forest a bit of a respite from human intrusion.

The park reopened however, with new regulations limiting the entry of the number of safari jeeps to 100. Previously over 200 safari jeeps used to enter the park on a daily basis. Recently, a jeep driver was attacked and sustained serious injuries when he was taking a group of tourists to visit the park. While the injured driver is receiving treatment at the Tissamaharama hospital, the police claim that the driver that attacked him and the jeep had been taken into police custody. 

However, the protestors claim that the protest is a peaceful one but warned that if the government fails to allow these jeeps unrestricted entry and continues to implement the new laws, they would further expand the protest and close all the shops in the vicinity as well. However, these protestors should bear one thing in mind which is that this sort of behaviour sends a bad message to the world and the tourists coming here, which will definitely have a negative impact on the tourist industry as a whole. Hence these parties should pay attention to the damage they are causing to the entire tourism industry due to their petty thinking. 

The Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera said the government was not prepared to change the laws that had been brought in regarding the Yala Wildlife Sanctuary. He said these new laws had been implemented with the aim of protecting the Yala sanctuary which is a national treasure and is treasured throughout the world and that he was not prepared to dance to the tune of anyone just to suit their needs and agendas.

This situation has arisen as a result of the government’s measures to limit the number of safari jeeps entering the Yala national park. The safari jeep drivers are currently engaged in a protest against this decision. The protestors threaten not to operate their safari jeep tours for both local and foreign visitors until the government folds up these new laws. However, the Wildlife Minister is firm in his stand and claims that he is not prepared to bend the rules for anyone as this was a measure taken in order to save the national park for the benefit of future generations. “I am not ready to change this decision afraid of anyone’s threats,” he said.

Meanwhile, expressing his views Rukshan Jayewardene,. President, Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, said a decision was made by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), and on the advice of a special committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office, to extend the traditional closing of Yala during the drought from one (1) month to two (2) months.  The reasoning behind this was two fold:

  • Due to the extremely high visitation over the year to Block I with, on average, over 300 vehicles entering the Park on a day, to give the animals, and the Park, an extended period of respite, to recover from this daily invasion of vehicles and humanity, and
  • To encourage visitation to Blocks III, IV & V, all of which have the same rich biodiversity as Block I, and with the animals becoming accustomed to visitors, could provide as rich, or even better, experience than Block I.

“National Parks are primarily sanctuaries for wild animals, and for their protection, and with this initiative, the DWC reaffirmed their commitment to this principle. 

However, despite their good intent, due to a demand by a Government Minister to have Block I opened early, a demand that was endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office despite the earlier recommendations of the special committee set up by the same office, Block I was opened on the November 23, 2017, 10 days earlier than scheduled.

This decision is purely political, undermines the authority of the DWC in the administration of one of its National Parks, and brings the whole environmental and conservation policy of this country into disrepute,” he said adding that as the country prepares to host a CITES Convention in 2019 and boasts of its burning of blood ivory, its policymakers now call for the capture of wildlife elephants for sale to private individuals and the shooting of other animals who come into conflict with humans due to illegal encroachment into their habitat, and unplanned development.

Where is the Minister responsible for wildlife in all of this?  It is clear that he has no power in any of the decision making processes for the Ministry he has responsibility for, and no commitment to conservation.

We strongly protest against this politically motivated decision prompted by the aspirations of one prominent Government Minister, as supported by the Prime Minister.  It is detrimental to the future authority of the DWC and compromises its conservation function, and is injurious to the future well-being of this country and of its people.  This is NOT good governance!” he pointed out.

However, when this incident took place the Wildlife Minister was overseas but he said while he was not prepared to change the laws that had been implemented by the government for the protection of the park, he was still willing to hold discussions with the protestors and the relevant associations in a bid to create a better dialogue between these tour operators and the government.

- AshWaru Colombo

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