he Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) of Sri Lanka has officially named seven wild animals as “Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka” at the Department’s 65thAnniversary which was commemorated on 1st October 2014. The Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka include: the Asian Elephant (Elephantus Zeylonicus Maximus), the Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), the Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), the Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), the Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus).Naming the Top Seven was long overdue in Sri Lanka. The famed South African ‘Big Five’ of Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Rhino which they named some years ago is a well-known case. Due to the three decade long armed conflict, Sri Lanka was not in a position to promote itself as a global wildlife destination. Today for the wildlife enthusiast, experiencing the Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka would mean exploring both land and sea. Therefore the Top Seven Wildlife of Sri Lanka, land and sea experience will be totally different to that of the land only exploration for the Big Five in Africa.
Selecting of Top Seven Wildlife in Sri Lanka
Selecting the Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka was based on the criteria established by the DWC. The DWC identified tourists’ interest and attraction on the main (bigger) seven wild animals or flagship from seven different families which covered both land and sea animals in and around Sri Lanka. In addition, the DWC has taken into consideration diverse behavioral patterns, unique anatomical features, specific distributions and inimitable adaptations of the animals aiming to facilitate long term conservation of the species. Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka are ‘protected’ or ‘strictly protected’ under the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 2009 of Sri Lanka. Most of the wild animals of Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka are listed as ‘Threatened’, ‘Nearly Threatened’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and are also listed in the CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
Sri Lanka A Hotspot of Biodiversity
Sri Lanka is the jewel of the Indian Ocean for wildlife and biodiversity enthusiasts. Sri Lanka is one of 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world.The country isrelatively small in land size (65,610 km²) but it has the highest biodiversity density in Asia. The wide range of topographic and climatic variations contribute to the special features of its biodiversity. Sri Lanka is home for 2936 fauna, 3492 flora and 3021 marine species according to the National Red List 2012 of the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy of Sri Lanka.
According to the Conservation International, to qualify as a biodiversity hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria.a) It must have at least, 1500 vascular plants as endemic – which is to say, it must have a high percentage of plant life found nowhere else on the planet. A hotspot, in other words, is irreplaceable. b) It must have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation. The Conservation International further says, around the world, 35 areas qualify as hotspots. They represent just 2.3% of Earth’s land surface, but they support more than half of the world’s plant species as endemics — i.e., species found no place else — and nearly 43% of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species as endemics.
"Sri Lankan National Parks are becoming overcrowded with many vehicles. Unruly behaviour by some visitors, inexperienced tour guides and drivers to the parks disturb the wild animals. For their survival this must be addressed immediately"
At the same time endemic biodiversity in Sri Lanka is exceptionally high according to IUCN. The IUCN has on its Red List 27% of the flowering plants, 84% of the amphibians, 50% of the reptiles, 54% of the fresh water fish, 85% of the land-snails endemic to Sri Lanka. The main reason for this exceptionally high endangered rate is the unending desires and greediness of humans.
Sri Lankan National Parks and the Global Map of National Parks
There are 22 National Parks in Sri Lanka, and in terms of land size, accounts for 5,290km² which is approximately 14% of the total land area of the country(65,610km²) which is administered by the DWC. The two biggest National Parks are Wilpattu (1,317km²)and,Yala (978km²). The Sinharaja Forests Reserve is a world heritage site and a land area that extends to 88.64km² which administered by the Forest Department.
The famous wildlife destination countries are in the regions of Africa, South and East Asia, South America, North America and Australia. In these regions, the land area of the national parks of these countries are sometimes half, similar or larger than the entire land area of Sri Lanka (65,610km²). As such, the land areas of the National Parks in South Africa are 37,000km², Kenya 44,600km², Botswana 56,258km², Indonesia 160,520km², Thailand 61,413km², Brazil 250,00km², Venezuela 199,418km², Canada 377,000km², USA 210,000km² and Australia 335,062km².To experience the wildlife in these countries sometimes takes weeks which compared to Sri Lankan wildlife (both land and sea) takes only a few days.
The Way Forward
Sri Lanka is yet to develop and implement ‘the plan’ or ‘the road map’ for Sri Lanka as an international wildlife tourism destination. Adequate resources should be allocated to the DWC for wildlife conservation. Research and development (R&D), upgrading of infrastructure development and park management at the National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries need to be addressed as ongoing tasks. The DWC should maintain strong links and coordination among relevant line ministries including other government institutes, universities (locally and internationally), the rural community, private sector organizations, international organizations, INGOs/NGOs, interested individuals and the media on their conservation. Strict rules and regulations should be brought in for perpetrators who violate the rules and regulations of fauna and flora (which needs either amendments to the Fauna and Flora Protection Act or a new Act).
Conservation activities should link and engage with the communities living near the National Parks. There is also a need to uplift their socioeconomic lives and eradicate the human-elephant conflict. Possible and transparent public private partnerships (PPP) could be brought in for conservation and other activities on socioeconomic development. No political interference or any favouritism should be brought regarding wildlife either to seek and/or gain short political and business opportunities or image building which may lead to a quick extinction of surviving critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, precious and prestigious wildlife of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan National Parks are becoming overcrowded with many vehicles. Unruly behavior by some visitors, inexperienced tour guides and drivers to the parks disturb the wild animals. For their survival this must be addressed immediately. Since the war ended in 2009, sea-related wildlife tourism in particular Whale and Dolphin watching has increased and must be developed responsibly with necessary safety regulations for visitors and without disturbing sea habitats.The DWC needs to study some of the success stories of other countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Australia on how they manage their wildlife, and also link with them on R&D as well.
Anti-personnel (AP) landmines and other explosive ordinances affected land remaining to be cleared in the jungle areas in the north and east regions should be given a high priority by the Government of Sri Lanka on its National Mine Action Programme. Sri Lanka is still to clear 80km² of AP mine-affected land. It is believed that some parts of the Wilpattu National Park are still mined and also a large area of jungle habitat for wildlife is heavily mined in the North and East regions. Any unauthorized activities in the National Parks including, jungles clearance for demining, cultivation including Ganja (Cannabis), brewing of illicit liquor, mining activities, poaching of wild animals, cutting down trees and illegal gathering should not be allowed under any circumstances.
Sri Lanka needs to study and research on the global warming, climate change and its impact on country’s forest and wildlife as an ongoing task. Sri Lanka has to commit large parts of the landscape to be altered in support of development projects and to support agriculture, flood protection etc. Directly or indirectly ‘forest and wildlife’ can be negatively impacted of these projects. During the period 1961-1990, Sri Lanka’s mean air temperature increased by 0.016 Celsius per year. It is predicted that Sri Lanka’s mean temperature may increase by about 0.9 to 4 Celsius by the year 2100. Overall, all the economic prosperity will be meaningless if Sri Lanka’s natural beauty and environment is destroyed or lost. There is direct impact on global warming due to unplanned development projects which do not take into account important environmental issues.
Sri Lanka can offer a range of memorable wildlife experiences in comparison to any other international wildlife destinations. However, the marketing of and delivery of this wildlife experience should be conducted in a proper manner. Destination marketing of wildlife ultimately should create memorable experiences for a visitor. At the same time wildlife conservation needs to be directly benefited by wildlife tourism. Introducing the Top Seven Wild Sri Lanka should help towards sustainable wildlife conservation for Sri Lanka.