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|Year and Month||11-12 Jun, 2016|
|Number of Days||2|
|Crew||Hasi, His Wife, Gayan, His Wife and Me|
|Transport||By Car & Safari Jeep.|
|Activities||Safari, Photography, Sightseeing, Wildlife, etc…|
|Route||Colombo->Kottawa->Matara along Highway->Tissa->Yala and return on the same route.|
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Related Resources||Check the Video Journey here.|
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
Hello everyone, hope you’ll are doing great. Here I’m back with the 3rd Pictorial Story. Well now you know these pictorial stories are solely focused on the wildlife parks in Sri Lanka. I brought you the stories of wildlife at Wilpattu and Kumana in the previous stories and hope you enjoyed them as much as we did. It’s amazing how one would fall madly in love with the National Parks as I was not so passionate about them before. My love was for waterfalls but from my last visit to Wilpattu, it all changed and now my penchant is wildlife.
It’s so heart-warming and pleasing to the eye when you’re with the wildlife. I mean, it’s just so difficult to explain the feelings, yet you’d find being able to observe these wonderful marvels of the Mother Nature in their natural habitats (lemme emphasise it again “Natural Habitats” coz caging them and having them in zoos as public displays is not human-like). Furthermore, we need to respect their rights of roaming in their own territories freely without making ourselves a nuisance. Just like us, they too value privacy and being able to be on their own. So as the most intelligent beings on earth (even that according to our own standards), let’s try to protect these wonderful creatures and live in harmony. However seeing the difficulties of living in harmony among human beings, I know it’s a big ask but please try your best to do your bits.
As you all know, Sri Lankan Leopard is the Holy Grail of all environmental enthusiasts in the country. There’s this manic rush at chasing the leopards in order to get the best shot on our lenses. Unfortunately this creates so much discomfort and unpleasant situations inside the wildlife parks inviting fierce competition among jeep drivers, trackers and visitors to beat the rest and get the best out of the sightings. This has wreaked havoc at Yala and being spread to Wilpattu quite rapidly making it extremely unbearable and uncontrollable. Well to be honest, even I’m guilty of some of these careless, selfish and reckless behaviours and I’m sure almost all the others are too. What’s more important is to learn from your mistakes and make an effort not to repeat them and help others correct theirs and prevent the younger generation from committing these.
I’ve a few suggestions which would help you enjoy the safari instead of being constantly under pressure looking out for the leopard or bear putting pressure on the drivers and trackers. Hope these will help you and I’ve actually started doing most of them, rather all of them except No. 3. However I’m planning to put it to use soon coz it’s just unbelievable how much freedom it gives me from the partial attempts at it.
- Well, you’ve sort of gotta come to terms with not being able to see a leopard or a bear inside the wildlife park as it’s such a rare and gifted occurrence. When you make up your mind, it’ll lift a great burden from your heart and mind and allow you to relax and enjoy the safari. After all, you’re there to enjoy everything the wildlife parks have to offer. I’m sure there professional photographers who’re out there to get some good shots for their magazines, websites, etc. and would want only those pictures. However the majority of the visitors are casual photographers and you’d be amazed to see how beautiful the rest of the animals, birds and views really are if you just give up that sole purpose of seeing a leopard.
- Learn to enjoy the wildlife with your eyes first. Most of the time we’re glued to our screens or viewfinders breathing real hard in order to capture the best of the best. What we forget is that we’re out there to ease the pressure building inside us from the issues at office, home and others. So don’t tire yourselves more and invite heart attacks. Now I’m not asking you not to take pictures. I’m merely suggesting you balance it out and enjoy them with your eyes and savour those moments. After all, nothing like seeing with your own eyes, don’t you agree?
- Let go of the camera altogether. I know this sounds a bit extreme but just think about the days when you didn’t have sophisticated cameras or mobile phones with cameras. How much fun and joy you had then as there was no pressure for you to take the better shot than your friends? Now it’s become a competition, even among the closest of the friends and as a result you really don’t enjoy these rides as much as you should, do you?
- Tell the jeep driver and the tracker that you’re there to see all the animals and beautiful sights. You’d be amazed to see how glamorous views are there inside wildlife parks which go unnoticed in our frantic rush to capture the animals. This will ease the pressure on the driver and won’t make his movements reckless. Make a humble request not to invite his friends by calling them if you happen to come across a leopard or bear. You’ll be amazed at the results.
- Don’t encourage the jeep drivers or trackers to do illegal things by offering money or other titbits. When you show them that you’re there to enjoy the wildlife, the whole of them, but within the legal boundaries, it’d be an exemplary thing for them too. They’d in turn refuse to do illegal things as the time goes on. We need to help the wildlife authorities in order for them to help us.
- Slowdown in your movements. Just take it easy and take time to spend time watching these animals no matter how commonly you find them. Most of the visitors simply ignore commonly seen animals like Spotted Deer, Wild Boar, Wild Buffaloes, Peacocks, Bee Eaters, Herons, Egrets, etc. Just take a moment to enjoy their behaviour as well and I promise you that you won’t get disappointed.
Ok, hope that was of some use. So if you read my previous Pictorial Stories, you’d know that we had some grand sightings except just one occasion we barely saw the leopard at Kumana. So for some reason, something was telling me that we’d be rewarded for our patience with some grand leopard sightings in the next journey. That was when Hasi came around to book Heenwewa in Yala and we arranged our journey. Ideally you should spend 2 nights at a wildlife park, especially something as big as Yala, Kumana, Wilpattu, Wasgamuwa or Maduru Oya in order to maximise your chances and have a more leisurely-paced journey. Unfortunately for us, we only could get away during the weekend limiting our stay for just one night.
So we decided to improvise just like at Wilpattu. We left at midnight on Friday and reached Yala just before 6am. On Sunday, we left Yala NP around 5.30pm after two full days of wildlife safari. Ok, join me for this roller coaster ride through Yala where we finally got a good look at the Holy Grail…
We left Colombo half past midnight when most of the Colombo was still partying late into the night. The garbage collectors were busy at work in the neon lights while stray dogs kept barking and fighting for remaining morsels. The beggars were fast asleep along the shop fronts and some dogs who could fight no longer sought the same shelter with them. Tuk-tuks, the most reliable source of transport method 24/7 in and around Colombo kept whistling past carrying partygoers home.
Amid all the hustle bustle, a group of 5 people were speeding down the E1 towards Matara to make it to Tissa by 5.00am to meet up with our jeep driver. We made it by 4.30am and the Tissamaharama Temple looked simply outstanding in the early morning and I couldn’t resist paying a visit. There was pirith being chanted and a couple of devotees were doing the rituals while majority of them were sleeping along the temple premises.
There was a nice cool breeze coming off the lake nearby rustling the Buddhist Flags lining the sandy path to this mighty Stupa. The time came to a standstill and I slowly walked up to the Stupa premises and walked around quietly so as not to make a movement to disturb the tranquillity of this sacred ground. It’s such a rare opportunity for someone to be able to visit this beautiful place at this time of the day and there were many decorations as the temple was being prepared for the Poson Poya. Here are a couple of pics.
Gayan had to come looking for me as the jeep driver had come and was waiting for me to return from the Stupa. So we got into the jeep and went to Harsha’s place to leave the car in their garden and then having loaded everything onto the jeep we started our journey. Harsha had arranged the 5-litre water bottles for us beforehand. We arrived at the park ticket office just after 6am and joined the already long queue. The jeeps were parked all over and the queue seemed to move ever so slowly. While Hasi is waiting, I manage to take a few pics.
Finally we got our chance and drove to the entrance about 500m away. The road up to that point is now well carpeted. We entered the park and here’s the story of wildlife at Yala for you. We’ll meet them till lunch time before we go to the bungalow for checking in and have lunch.
Back on the road…
So how was the journey so far? It really was a very sharp look from one of the trackers that got us the opportunity to see that leopard that was around 80-100m away. She was resting in the shade and after a while decided to come have some water and then go into the forest. This was the best encounter so far after my brief encounter at Kumana. So our hopes were considerably high for more encounters this time.
We came to the bungalow which is located about 800m from the Situlpawwa Road. There’s this tank which is the Heenwewa full of lotus leaves and the breeze coming from there is simply amazing. We unloaded the goods and give instructions for lunch and took a much needed break at the benches erected closer to the tank. The place was simply wonderful and well worth the stay. Please check the link at the notes for pics and information on the bungalow. So if you’re ready, let’s go and see what more this amazing park has on offer.
That was one great day of safari we had. As I told you before, we’re not that particular about the animals we come across. For us, every one of them is worth seeing in their natural habitats. That jumbo with an elephant collar was a real first as I’d never seen any of them with one like that. The fella looked quite funny with that collar which reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five where Timmy had to wear a collar in order to heal its ear. I hope this enables the relevant authorities to gather vital information as it looks quite uncomfortable for the elephant.
Ok, time to have a bath and sleep in the open dormitory with the cool breeze. However don’t forget to pull the mosquito nets as there are mosquitoes and other insects which would disturb your sleep.
We woke up at 5am and got ready and decided to leave without breakfast at 6am. We had to check out by 11am so decided to do a morning safari till 10am and then come for brunch and for packed lunch to have in the afternoon. Ok, let’s get going.
The herd of jumbos was a real treat as there were many little ones which is a good sign for the diminishing numbers of them. They looked adorable but one jeep was blocking their path allowing its passengers to take pics of them which was very silly and heartless. We need to let them pass without being a nuisance to them. So please think about the discomfort we already cause by visiting in large numbers so don’t make it more unpleasant for them.
Well we came to the bungalow around 10.15am, had a hearty meal and got things back into the jeep for the last bit of the safari. Bidding our farewell to the cooks, we left Heenwewa Bungalow with very sweet memories. Little did we know, however, that we’d be treated to the best ever leopard show in our lives to date. Here we go.
We went to the beach to have lunch around 3pm. The remains of the Tsunami destroyed bungalow brought back sorrowful memories. 42 people had died at Yala but fortunately the occupants in that bungalow had gone out for a safari at that time the waves hit the bungalow. The two bungalow keepers had been killed by the merciless waves along with many others.
After lunch, we got back on the road for the final bit of our safari. That female leopard was a great treat but we were yet to see the best of the lot yet. Let’s get going. Oh before that, I must mention that we came across the bear both days but couldn’t take a picture as there was a manic rush with jeeps coming after one another at breakneck speed. So the bear having seen how stupid the so called brainy humans are went deep into the jungle.
Well guys, that’s the end of our safari and probably the best so far I’ve done. That male leopard looked ferocious and quite authoritative of his territory. He looked at us with those piercing eyes as if to question us for trespassing. I was simply speechless and missed taking quite a lot of pictures as I took in the scene unfolding in front of us with my own eyes. The camera was nothing compared to what I saw for real.
Well, feeling over the moon but yet with an insatiable penchant for the wildlife, we bid our farewell to this wonderful place on earth vowing to come back at the next possible moment.
Let me request you all once again. The new Yala Park Warden Mr. Suranga Ratnayake has taken plenty of protective measures to ensure the safety of you and the wildlife. Furthermore to make sure the animals are not harassed by the reckless behavior of the jeeps and tourists. Please adhere to them by all means even if you have to forgo that one-in-a-million picture.
This is Sri signing off for now and hopefully will see you again with yet another Pictorial Story soon.
P.S. As you all are aware the newly appointed Wildlife Director, Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya had tendered his resignation (http://www.dailymirror.lk/110716/Why-did-Wild-Life-Department-chief-resign-) making all the environmental enthusiast once again feeling hopeless and disappointed. He was worldwide acclaimed as an expert when it comes to Wildlife Conservation. Taking up the post of Director General Wildlife, he made the following comments:
“As an environmental professional, during my tenure as director general I will not violate the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance or do anything detrimental to wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka. I would rather resign than be instrumental in causing a negative impact on wildlife conservation.”
So his reason for resignation so soon after the appointment is quite clear. Apparently our corrupt and under-educated politicians and other powers-that-be made him resign by forcing his hand to violate the rules and regulations. It’s such a sad story to hear well-reputed hard-working government servants with a spine are treated like this forcing them to resign and then leave their motherland. Well this is a big let-down by the President who bears the Ministry of Environment who said that he’d do anything in his power to make sure they are protected. Unfortunately they are mere words as they turn out to be coz if they can’t allow people like these to work independently, how on earth are we going to leave a better environment for the present generation let along future generations?
Furthermore, another dedicated Wildlife Official, Yala Park Warden Mr. Suranga Rathnayake is also under the political microscope apparently after an interview (http://www.dailymirror.lk/111017/Yala-Warden-s-Daily-Mirror-Interview-Ministry-to-hold-inquiry) he gave to one of the national papers against illegal entries by a Cabinet Minister. Now the Sustainable Development and Wild Life Conservation Minister has very promptly ordered an inquiry into this incident and I hope it won’t mean the law-abiding park warden will be prosecuted as it is the nature of the political game in Sri Lanka.
Well let’s hope Dr. Pilapitiya gets his fair place as the DG of Wildlife and also Yala Park Warden escapes the hatred wrath of incompetent politicians.
Finally, I’ll leave with the below quote from Ansel Adams, a renowned American Photographer and Environmentalist. This suits for today across the world, especially in countries like SL where corrupt and uneducated leaders rule.
“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”