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Sunday, 05 November 2017 04:03

Environmentalists protests political decision to open Yala early

The re-opening of Yala National Park earlier than it was scheduled was a politically motivated decision prompted by the aspirations of one prominent Government Minister, supported by the Prime Minister, a group of environmentalist said on Wednesday.

They told the media at the BRC in Colombo that 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 month to two months. The reasoning behind this was due to the extremely high visitation of Block I with over 800 vehicles entering the Park daily, 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.

Despite the decision, 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 October 23, 2017, eight days earlier than scheduled, according to environmentalists.

The media briefing was attended by Vice President of Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) Ranil Pieris, Nadeeka Hapuarachchi, Dr. Eric Wickremanayake, Rohan Wijesinghe and former Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya.

Speaking to the media, Dr. Pilapitiya said that the main responsibility of the DWC was to safeguard the wildlife not the tourism as the sustainability of the tourism was based on the rich biodiversity.

"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," Dr. Pilapitiya stressed.

He noted that the over visitation of Yala couldn’t be solved overnight to limit the number of safari jeeps as it had been the main income generating method of many families living adjourned the Yala.

The former DG said that the officials of the DWC should be given freedom to do their job without any sort of political interferences.

To Protect the wildlife, Yala should be closed three months per year while promoting other blocks for tourism by developing the infrastructure facilities of the area and a system of e-ticketing would be a good solution to stop the over visitation of Block I of Yala, he added.

The environmentalist urged the government to implement the Action Plan developed in 2016 without changing its content and suggestions to please politicians, Dr. Pilapitiya strssed.

The Safari Jeeps should also work under a set of rules and the issue was with favourations extended to to different Safari Jeeps due to political interference, he said.

Environmentalists questioned where was the Minister responsible for wildlife in all of this? And claimed it was clear that he had no power in any of the decision making processes for the Ministry he had responsibility for, and no commitment to conservation.