Mother Nature welcomes you with open arms but just as you would do when entering a plush hotel, museum or even a friend’s house for dinner, there are things expected of you when visiting a wildlife park. Sadly, for many people a wildlife park is a free for all, with scant disregard to what Mother Nature and note this, the wildlife ordinance expects expect and insist! If the animals had a choice they probably wouldn’t want humans in their habitat but the wildlife kingdom needs protected parks. A protected, well-governed park offers animals a rare refuge where they can roam free unlike in open forests increasingly preyed upon by people with bad intentions. In an increasing threatened habitat, even in protected parks, endanger animals and forest resources. A balanced eco-system must be maintained for their future; endangered species must be specially monitored and cared for. Water, an increasingly depleting resource need to be managed, too. This is where the Department of Wildlife steps in and it is an enormously difficult and costly endeavor. This is where you come in. People must have the opportunity to see and marvel at the beauty of the nature; witness the glorious wonders of the animal kingdom and when they do come, they provide a lifeline to the wild. Income from ticket sales contribute to the colossal sums needed to protect and maintain a park. And when you do come to the wild, it is your bounden duty to come prepared. Study this page carefully and you will know all about the Visitor Code that you must respect and practice.
Yala is the most visited national park in Sri Lanka with record-breaking numbers every passing year. Now as you think of coming to the park, we have a question for you. Why? If the answer is because it sounds like a ‘fun’ thing to do, we want to help you make the answer and your experience much more meaningful and productive. Here’s a checklist of preparations
Do your homework by reading up on wildlife, its destruction and get to know the park you are preparing to visit. Start with its history; geography and the inhabitants. Each animal has incredibly unique features, behaviors, feeding patterns etc. Knowing your hosts will make the adventure all the more memorable.
Get children involved too and friends. Talk about what you know and drive home the fact that you are not visiting a circus. Read to Do’s and Don’ts elsewhere on this page and take them to your heart. A wildlife safari is essentially an educational experience that imparts incredible happiness and doing it with friends and family is truly a ‘fun’ experience.
Be prepared to speak up and act responsibly. Do not condone bad, ugly, selfish behavior and do not entice your trekker to break the law. Every wrong move may endanger the animals and your life too.
Yala in its entirety is 26 times bigger than the city of Colombo. But the public is currently allowed only on two of its designated blocks making the park’s road network over-crowded with vehicular traffic, especially on public holidays. While new areas with more roads are being considered it’s a humongous and costly task experiencing delays. So the best you can do is to travel in an orderly, responsible manner, sticking to designated routes and not speed at any time.
Remember, at all times that you are in someone else’s territory and conduct yourself as a responsible nature lover. Leave with only memories and do not leave even your footprints.
The rule of the thumb in visiting a national park is that you must simply blend in and try to be invisible. While you just can’t hide from them, there’s a lot you can do to make sure that the animals can simply ignore you. Each animal has its own personality and the slightest thing can destroy their peace. When you understand their habitat, lifestyle and behavior, you can become a good visitor. Just as much as an irritating and selfish neighbor can drive us wild, destroy our peace and turn us into angry human beings, the slightest thing can upset the equilibrium of animals and that may happen quite unwittingly on your part. This is why educating ourselves is to prepare ourselves for the journey. Avoid any kind of interaction, verbal or through gestures. Did you know even the noise of vehicles seem to affect the feeding habits and personality of elephants, for example? Animals sense who you really are. Be patient and respectful and they will roam freely. Predators can feel mostly under pressure because of photographers, which has huge impact on their hunting, feeding and reproductive habits. Be a spy and never force a photo op on them. Chasing an animal in your vehicle puts them under tremendous pressure and think of having to experience that visitor after visitor, day after day. Some species of birds are more sensitive in special times; the most crucial period for birds is nestling season. Any undue pressure can bring on the kind of pressure they feel when a predator is on the prowl. That’s quite cruel. Learning about animals is fun and adds meaning to life; what’s more, it prepares you to be a responsible visitor to the animal kingdom. Be patient at all times; the VIP is not you but your host, who wants you to come, be amazed and go, all unnoticed!
When you enter a national wildlife park you accept the risks involved. While animal attacks are rare, you must remember that they can happen. Animals are highly unpredictable, temperamental and may easily be provoked or spring to action without a warning. They are known to guard their herds and territories; with behavior different from one species to another. Elephants offer the highest risk while other predators may pose dangers at close range.
In case of an emergency, remind yourself to be calm and intently listen to the instructions of your trekker. If you are on your own, remain quiet, engine of vehicle cut and do not leave the vehicle at all.
In extremely dangerous situations, your trekker may ask you to put foot to the pedal; remember to keep calm and think rationally. Loud noise should be made only if trekker says so or when no other solution is in the offing, in the face of a violent, persistent attack, which is extremely remote and unlikely.
Your trekker is trained for any eventuality and will take you out of harm’s way. If you do not have a trekker, call for help if you need assistance if you are lost or need urgent help.
Imagine, you are a superstar and you don’t even know about it. And zillion people come at dawn and dusk, just the same way the paparazzi zoom in on their target. They hustle and jostle for vantage points, follow you round like a bunch of possessed men or a pack of looting hyenas. They won’t even let you eat in peace or let you enjoy that well-earned fiesta. If this happens to you, surely you can call in the Police or hire some security guards. You’d give a piece of your mind, at least. A leopard can’t call in the Police but it can give you a piece of its mind but it chooses not to; displaying greater tolerance and latitude that humans show. It has little option but to accept and adjust, letting you enjoy that perfect shot while our irresponsible actions may forever change even their gene pools, as they learn to live with noisy human visitors. There are some 40 leopards, the highest gathering in the world, putting up with you. A gracious host only asks for a considerate visitor!
Guns, knives, and other potential weapons as well as matches, lighters, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and anything that can harm the nature are strictly prohibited. Having illegal items in your vehicle or in your person can land you in jail.
Do not feed animals and remember, there is a red light also for your own food! Smell of food can interfere with animal habits and behavior. Have a good meal before entering the park. You can bring a snack but avoid cooked food and items with strong smells. You’re your food in airtight containers and consume at designated rest areas only.
Cameras, video-camera, mobile phones and other electronic devices must be used with care. Put your phone to ‘silent’ and switch off your stereo as some animals can clearly hear low frequencies even at a reduced volume. Do not do flash photography.
Do not ‘honk’ inside the park.
Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited within the park.
Nothing, no nothing can be thrown out inside the park. Keep your bags carrying any food items tightly locked to prevent from animals taking away their own thrash.
Carrying soil, stones, feathers or any other item from the park is strictly prohibited.
Remaining in the park after dark is strictly prohibited.
Eco-tourism can be defined as travelling to exotic areas or responsible travel to nature while making little or no impact on the natural habitat and at the same time impacting the improvement of local society. Wildlife tourism is a coordinated journey into the wild where people can be at one with animals in their natural habitat. This must, however, be done in strict conformity to wildlife regulations, taking utmost precautions to conserve and protect the natural habitat. Where there is wildlife attraction, there is almost certain to be eco-tourism. Combining your visit to a national park with a stay at a village-based eco-lodge, camp or resort will not only let your experience a magical new dimension to life but also an integral part of conservation and rural development efforts.