In the recent months, the Yala National Park is among the areas affected by the severe drought, which is reportedly, the worst in the past 20 years. These severe drought conditions have had adverse effects on animals in the dry zone and both large and timid animals alike, are under stress and are looking for water.
While the park authorities pump water to some water retentions through two-inch pipelines, many volunteered to send in water bowsers filling smaller water holes, as a lifeline for the animals. The John Keells group aided this cause through its leisure sector.
Cinnamon Wild Yala, in collaboration with the John Keells Foundation, the group’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) entity, arranged 30 bowser loads of 15,000 litres each, filling and maintaining several medium-scale water holes inside the park. Walkers Tours joined in this effort by raising funds for 12 bowser loads ensuring a steady supply of water throughout the peak period of the drought for the park animals.
Further, as an ongoing animal welfare and wildlife conservation initiative, the John Keells group, via the John Keells Foundation continues to support ‘Project Leopard’ together with Cinnamon Wild Yala and the Cinnamon Nature Trails naturalists. The steel pen concept, pioneered by Dr. Ravi Samarasingha to minimize the human-leopard conflict, is now adopted by Cinnamon Wild as part of its responsibility in safeguarding this illusive cat, while restoring and uplifting the livelihoods of the cattle farmers in the surrounding areas. This project is implemented and supervised by the Cinnamon Nature Trails naturalists at Cinnamon Wild.
Under Project Leopard, Cinnamon Wild has already distributed 50 steel pens among the cattle farming community with the guidance of senior biologist Manori Gunawardane. With further funding support from the John Keells Foundation, 10 more pens are planned for donation by the end of this year (2014).
Continuing from Project Leopard, the John Keells group, through Cinnamon Nature Trails initiated the Leopard Research Initiative at Yala Block I to study the distribution and ecology of the Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera Pardus Kotiya) at the Yala National Park in the recent past. The 20-month long field data gathering phase of the initiative has been completed and the non-technical report is expected at the end of October 2014.
Two workshops will be conducted for the public as well as officials of the Wildlife Conservation Department on the interesting findings of this study before end of 2014. The resulting information will also be shared with visitors while on safari and based at the Cinnamon Wild through short films and presentations enabling them to obtain a more personal informative experience. The trail camera units used for the initiative are planned to be placed around the cattle farms aimed at recording leopard visits to nearby farms.
The Cinnamon Elephant Project, which is a collaborative effort between Cinnamon Hotels, the John Keells Foundation and Centre for Conservation and Research, breaks new ground in developing elephant viewing-based tourism and taking it to a higher level through integration of research and tourism. The project will track some of the smaller elephant herds living around the ‘Hurulu’ reserve to understand the seasonal movement of the elephant herds that are part of the larger gathering.
Under this programme, elephants are individually identified based on their morphological characters and their life stories followed by the naturalists at the Cinnamon Hotels. In addition, demographic, health and behavioural data are collected, which provide baseline data on the elephant population, enable monitoring of their wellbeing and contributes to scientific knowledge on Asian elephants. The project aims to benefit science and tourism and through that contribute to ensuring the long-term conservation of the Asian elephant.
This information will be shared with visitors while on safari and based at Cinnamon Lodge Habarana through a newly constructed elephant research station, enabling them to obtain a unique, enriching and more personal experience. Web-based information dissemination will also enable them to follow the lives of identified elephants even after their visit, encouraging repeat visitation.