Animals celebrating the lockdowns

 While the majority of the human population lament about being cooped up at home due to these lockdowns being imposed without much warning, the animals that have lived in captivity almost their entire lives, rejoice. Without the blaring sound of vehicles, the constant mist of dust, and the lack of humans ogling at them and stepping too close for comfort, the animals living in national parks have the freedom to roam about as they please, embarking on whatever adventure they set their minds on. Nature also celebrates her newfound freedom to grow and thrive as she pleases without the garbage and the pollution caused by humans. 

Brunch spoke to a few wardens from famous national parks in Sri Lanka to ask them what changes they have observed due to the pandemic. 


The environment looks fresher: Yala National Park Warden Manoj Vidyarathne 

 Talking about back when the park was open, Yala National Park Warden Manoj Vidyarathne informed us that daily, there were about 150-300 safari vehicles travelling through the park at any given time. Because this is not a possibility right now, he observed that animals like elephants and leopards roam freely on the main roads. He also described that herds of elephants that never sighted in Block B of the park are now seen there often. “This is not seen very commonly when the park is open, and it is very clear that the closing of the park has contributed positively to these animals’ wellbeing,” added Vidyarathne. 

He also observed that the environment has benefited greatly from the pandemic. Since the grassy areas are not disturbed by vehicles, human trekking, or dust, they flourish in this environment. “Everything looks so fresh, and the grass grows so abundantly, it has almost grown over the roads and paths. Since not a single vehicle has gone over the roads, the grass and plants continue to grow wild.” 

As necessary as tourism is to our country’s economy, Vidyarathne ponders whether it is worth causing so much distress to our majestic animals. “We can only hope that in the future, the number of tourists allowed will be reduced. Sometimes, we even see about 600 vehicles enter a day, which obviously causes the animals to retreat into the furthest parts and this affects their mentality.” He is of the opinion that a compromise on the number of vehicles allowed, i.e. allowing less, is the only way that tourism can continue while the animals’ well being and nature is also protected. 


Animals are enjoying their newfound freedom: Wilpattu National Park Warden Suranga Ratnayake 

In Wilpattu, they are facing other issues caused by the pandemic. “People in this area that were working in Colombo have come back to their villages, as they are out of work so they engage in activities that destroy the forest, like deforestation and killing animals for sport and food.” 

In order to combat this problem, they have increased patrolling duties, and the number of people who patrol has also doubled. “Despite Covid, the wildlife officers are still on duty, and because there are no tourists visiting, we are able to focus on patrolling the entirety of the park. Just yesterday (Monday, 7), we conducted two raids to catch these delinquents.”

Taking the animals into consideration, Ratnayake stated that they seem to be enjoying their life, roaming about freely. “There are no vehicles moving about, so fewer animals get hit by these vehicles and are unharmed these days. If you take the path that is usually taken by vehicles, you will easily spot bears and leopards moving freely. They are enjoying their newfound freedom.” 

Ratnayake also observed that there has been a huge change to the environment: “The usual pollution that torments the park is completely eradicated right now. The entire park looks more green and healthy.” 


Nature is taking its course: Minneriya National Park Warden Bathiya Madugalla 

Like the others, Minneriya National Park Warden Bathiya Madugalla had made the same observations: The animals are free and seem to be happier. We asked Madugalla if this newfound freedom has caused an increase in the birth rate of animals, to which he said that no such observation can be seen as of yet, but nature is definitely taking its course. 

He also informed us that when watching these elephants, he noticed that the ones that were violent or aggressive have calmed down, and now roam about peacefully. This points to the fact that humans are clearly the cause of these creatures’ distress and ill-mannered behaviour, as the lack of tourists and visitors seem to have turned even the wildest beasts into gentle giants. He added that the lack of tourism means the amount of garbage dumped is much less, so animals will not try to eat the pollution and get sick. Not only has their mental health benefited from the pandemic, their physical health has too. 

Madugalla concluded: “Since the Easter bombing and throughout Covid, there has not been a huge peak in tourism, so these animals have had time to adjust to their serene settings, unhindered by human wanderings. We think that Covid will be a problem for at least another two years, so we will not be seeing any peaks in tourism, which will be beneficial to these animals.”


PHOTOS Krishan Kariyawasm