Amidst the opposition by environmentalists, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife yesterday had decided to increase the number of safari jeeps entering the Yala National Wildlife Park to 500 a day, a senior official of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) said.
The decision was taken at a meeting held with the participation of Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Director General of the DWC M.G.C. Sooriyabandara, Director Planning of the DWC Ranjan Marasinghe, Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa and four jeep drivers' associations whose members are permitted to conduct tours of the Yala National Park.
In a bid to solve the issue of over-crowding within the Yala National Park, the ministry last month restricted the number of safari jeeps entering the park to 200 a day-100 during the morning session and 100 more in the afternoon.
However, safari jeep drivers' associations overwhelmingly opposed the new regulation and demanded unhindered access to the park.
According to statistics maintained by the DWC, the highest number of vehicles that had entered the park on a single day during past three years was only 425 with the exception of December. As per the new regulation upto 500 jeeps would be permitted to enter the park on a single day.
President of the Independent Safari Jeep Drivers' Association P.D.Keerthi, speaking to the Daily Mirror said that they were satisfied with the decision and extended their gratitude to Minister Sajith Premadasa in this regard. According to Keerthi, it was Minister Premadasa, hailing from Hambantota district, who had fixed the meeting with Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera for them to be able to put forward their demands.
During the meeting, Minister Jayawickrama Perera had also decided to extend the time during which ticket counters are open for visitors. Accordingly, counters will be open from 6 to 11 am and 1 to 2 pm. The minister had earlier curtailed the ticket issuing time period in the morning to 8 am in order to address the over-visitation issue.
Former DWC Director General Sumith Pilapitya criticized the new decision and said the wildlife within the park would suffer the repercussions of it.
The DWC said that although it was earlier planning to introduce an online ticket booking method for visitors who wish to tour the Yala National Park, opposition from jeep drivers' associations, who feared that their income would be affected by this, had caused a re-think of its feasibility. Minister Perera had then advised the DWC to withdraw the issuing of tickets online. (Piyumi Fonseka)
Read the full feature article on the over-crowding issue in Yala: http://www.dailymirror.lk/expose/article/Mounting-jeep-safaris-make-Yala-animals-snarl-140087.html