A safari Jeep driver with a jumbo placenta in his possession was arrested in Tissamaharama a few days ago. According to the Police, the driver, who was part of a three-vehicle convoy visiting the Yala National Park, had found the placenta by the wayside. Acting on a tip-off, wildlife officers stopped the vehicle at the park exit, seized the placenta, and took the driver into custody. He was produced before the Tissamaharama court and fined Rs. 35,000.
Jumbo placenta, known in Sinhala as “wede maha”, is believed by locals to ease labour pains in pregnant humans. The driver told the Police that he picked up the placenta for his pregnant wife.
Under National Park regulations, removing anything from the premises of a state-administered park is an offence, and visitors may get off vehicles only at designated spots. Wildlife officers told the Sunday Times that the fresh animal placenta suggested the mother elephant had given birth in the previous 24 hours, and as such the mother, the baby elephant, and the rest of the herd would have been in the vicinity when the safari convoy went by. In such a situation, the mother elephant is extra protective of her offspring, and liable to attack intruders in her habitat.
|A group of drivers who were present at last week’s forum
Yala National Park Warden W. A. B. Indrajith said misbehaviour by safari drivers is on the rise. On a normal weekend, about 400 vehicles drive into Yala. Besides heavy traffic, speeding vehicles is another problem that worries wildlife officials. The park warden also admitted that a few trackers needed to be disciplined.
Lakdasun, an internet-based conservation group, has set up a forum (www.lakdasun.org) to help promote good practices in wildlife parks, and encourages communication and interaction between conservationists and safari operators.
Last week, the director of a leading travel agency warned that if the situation in parks deteriorated, it would affect their business and the tourism industry.
Addressing more than 60 drivers and Jeep owners in Debarawewa, Nishaad Wijethunga said visitors from overseas were well aware, through the internet, of conditions at Sri Lankan wildlife parks. When they visit wildlife parks, they are extra vigilant about driver/tracker behaviour. He said there has been a 20 per cent drop in the number of tourists visiting Yala; these visitors have deliberately dropped Yala from their itineraries. Mr. Wijethunga said Jeep drivers had an important role to play in projecting a favourable image of Sri Lanka and its most famous national park.
Mr. Wijethunga reminded the drivers and Jeep owners that tour companies did not insist on leopard sightings, and that visitors know that a leopard sighting is a rare occurrence. Drivers were therefore not under pressure to somehow provide visitors with a leopard sighting. Answering drivers who complained that safari guides insisted on finding leopards, Mr. Wijethunga said it was the travel agent who gave the drivers businesss, not the guides.
Drivers were not expected to chase leopards, and they should drive within speed limits, he said.
Tharindu Jayasinghe, secretary of the Independent Jeep Drivers’ Association, thanked Mr. Wijethunga for explaining the true situation, and added that the message should also be communicated all visitors to Yala, including locals who drive their own vehicles and Jeeps. The animals should be the priority at all times, and all who visit the national parks should understand that the parks belong to the animals, not to the visitors, and that the animals and their habitat should be respected by all visitors.
This was the message of Rukshan Jayawardena of the Wildlife Conservation Forum and Vimukthi Weeratunga, head of the Biodiversity Unit of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka.
Leopard behaviour in Yala is changing as a result of aggressive and intrusive human behaviour, the conservationists warned.
Leopard killing: no
Six months ago, the carcass of a young leopard was found inside Yala. A post-mortem confirmed the cause of the death was a road accident, while wildlife officials said the animal was apparently killed by a speeding vehicle. The Department of Wildlife Conservation had promised an investigation, but there has been no follow-up action.
“It is possible the culprit is an influential person and that the Department of Wildlife Conservation is reluctant to investigate,” said conservationist Rukshan Jayawardane. The activist said that Department of Wildlife Conservation was not functioning as before, and lacked direction as there was no permanent Director General. Former Wildlife Director-General Chandrawansa Pathiraja was dismissed a year ago and he has not been replaced.
Web watch for animal welfare
Wildlife enthusiasts concerned about abuse of animal rights and bad practices inside wildlife parks have created a website for reporting irresponsible acts by park visitors. The website carries a list of willful and accidental acts against animals by park visitors. Readers who have anything to report or photographs to share may contact the animal activists. See www.irresponsible-tourism.tumblr.com