News

New Yala pilgrimage site could hurt animals: Officials

  • Claim moves to declare Akasa Chaitya as pilgrimage site and build road

BY Pamodi Waravita

Top officials at the Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC), speaking to The Morning yesterday (6), claimed that while the Dayaka Sabawa (council of laity) at the Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya located within the Yala National Park has requested the Archaeology Department to survey the area around the ancient Akasa Chaitya site and to renovate it, attempts are also underway to mark the site as a place of pilgrimage, and to construct a road between said Viharaya and the particular Chaitya.

According to them, officials from the Archaeology Department had visited the site on two recent occasions, and they noted that such a construction could seriously impact the bear and leopard population in the area.

Last month, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that illegal roadways are due to be constructed through the National Park to the Akasa Chaitya.

Following these allegations, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), in a press release on 15 July, said that it is “aware that interested parties have an ambition to lay claim to the ancient Akasa Chaitya site as a place of pilgrimage, and to build a road there from Sithulpawwa”.

“Should such a road be built, apart from it being a breach of the law according to the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, it would lead to the demise of one of Sri Lanka’s premier National Parks, famous world over as being the best place to photograph leopards in their wild habitat. Additionally, the large-scale habitat degradation such a road would cause, the inevitable displacement of wildlife, and the influx of swarms of unsupervised visitors, will destroy the value of the Yala National Park and eventually discourage foreign visitors from seeking it out as a must visit tourist attraction in Sri Lanka. The resulting economic loss from such an impact on visitor numbers will seriously impact the local and national economies, both of which are already reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the WNPS further claimed.

The Akasa Chaitiya, which was built in the 2nd Century BC is located within the Yala National Park, along with a number of other ancient sites such as the Sithulpawwa and Magul Maha Viharaya. Designated as a National Park in 1938, Yala spans 130,000 hectares, is home to 44 species of mammals, and has one of the world’s largest concentrations of leopards.