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Vandal tourists: Expose the lack of implementing regulations for safari goers 

Earlier this week, there was a video clip circulated on social media of some safari tourists harassing a wild elephant at Yala National Park. The video shows the occupants of the safari jeep clicking pictures, chattering away, and laughing loudly while following the elephant who was minding its own way and patiently walking away. However after an extended period of time, owing to the safari goers’ excessive noise the elephant soon got irritated and turned aggressive and began to chase the jeep as it hurriedly backed up. You can even hear an occupant exclaiming that this is a “real adventure”. 

Environmentalist, wildlife enthusiast, and expert on Sri Lankan Elephants Srilal Miththapala commented on this incident and countless other incidents that have taken place when on safaris. Speaking of the regulations in place and how things should be far more stringent when moving forward, particularly with the tourism industry gearing to pick up pace he said: “It is correct that some drivers do get too close to wild animals and provoke them. This is totally against the laid down rules and protocols of wild life park management. The problem is that like in other areas in the Sri Lankan government it’s not the lack of rules that is the need. It is the strict implementation of the rules that is lacking.”

Miththapala stressed on the lack of implementation of existing rules, and he said: “The Department of Wildlife Conservation is adequately empowered to bring to book all such miscreants. But political interference and political patronage of these drivers, lack of interest, and motivation to take action by the Department of Wildlife Conservation are the reasons for these incidents to plorificate” adding also that: “Some years ago there was an attempt to have a Department of Wildlife Conservation dedicated patrol car to randomly drive around and nab such culprits. There was also an effort by the hoteliers and travel agents to educate the guests that this type of behaviour is not acceptable so that they can bring pressure on the driver from refraining in unruly behaviour.” 

Miththapala said that this problem had abated quite a bit with the parks having only small numbers of visitors for some time now, especially considering the pandemic, however, gradually the demand is rising once again, and “perhaps even the wild life has become a bit more bold to interact with vehicles more than earlier. While this certainly creates great excitement and unique experience for the tourist, it is a dangerous situation that could suddenly turn very nasty and serious. I firmly believe that the Department of Wildlife Conservation should come down hard on this immediately. After all we had a good chance to put all this right and start a fresh, post Covid-19. We must not lose that opportunity.” 

He shared that the upcoming inevitable onslaught of tourists would mean that there needs to be an effective enforcement mechanism that holds people accountable, regardless of who you are. It is imperative that this grace period we have received by nature of a global pandemic be utilised to re-evaluate and restructure the way things have been allowed to carry on. 

Conservationist and veterinarian Dr. Deepani Jayantha, who has been working closely on the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, also shared her thoughts on the matter stating that “these incidents show the utter failure of a nation to respect a fellow species living in the wild. This is a country without discipline; where ethics and integrity are not valued. The situation is getting from bad to worse, and the everyday news proves this” adding that: “I think the kids should be allowed to take part in the conversations of conservation often. Respecting all creatures big and small matters a lot. I wish responsible tourism triggered more public discussions. Let’s start with our family, friends and colleagues. Let’s talk about what is right versus wrong.”