Lankaa??s National Wildlife Sanctuaries Opening Again

Lahugala National Park

On January 30 the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) held a ceremony near Arugambay in south-east Sri Lanka to mark the reopening of the Kumana Buy motilium in us and Lahugala National Parks. Closed since 2005 due to the war, the reopening of the wildlife sanctuaries symbolises a return to normalcy for the countrya??s parks system. With nearby Yala National Park already open and the rest of the countrya??s 20 national parks scheduled to open by April, it wona??t be long before locals and foreigners can again visit some of the countrya??s most beautiful areas and see its most astonishing animals in their natural habitats.

Because of their location in the formerly LTTE-controlled east, Kumana and Lahugala have been inaccessible since 1985 except for a brief period in 2002-2003 during the ceasefire a?? too short a time for any construction to take place. Before retreating from the park in 2008, Tamil Tiger cadres destroyed what was left of Kumanaa??s infrastructure, including its bungalows and office buildings.

Then, last July, the DWC that comes under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, finally received approval to begin renovating the park. This required rebuilding the parka??s neglected infrastructure, especially the access roads. The Lahugala sanctuary was devastated by the 2004 tsunami but has almost fully recovered and is now, according to a press release from the DWC, a??open to an influx of both local and foreign visitors.a??

Although the DWC had hoped to open Kumana (formerly known as Yala East National Park) in November last year, a severe drought that began in September delayed construction. Working with government and non-government organisations, the Ministry concentrated on providing water to animals in the park to keep them alive. The heavy November rains that followed the drought brought problems of their own: all the rainwater washed away much of the recent road construction, forcing the Ministry to spend another four weeks repairing the damage. Although more roads are scheduled to open in February and March, the main road through the park is now open for traffic.

Director General of Wild Life Conservation Ananda Wijesooriya said that the next few months is the best time to visit the parks.
a??The birds will start nesting in Kumana in March and April a?? these parks are very famous for local and migratory birds,a?? Wijesooriya said. a??At any time of the day and any time of the year you can see elephants in Lahugala.a??

Wijesooriya admitted that he didna??t know how many people would visit the newly-opened sanctuaries. Because of their remote location, Kumana and Lahugala were never as popular as Wilpattu National Park, which remains closed for the time being. However, the two sanctuaries are close to both Yala National Park and many beaches that are popular to surfers. Ravi Corea, the President and CEO of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, said he hopes the sanctuaries will attract nature-lovers.

a??Kumana wasna??t visited a lot because it was so remote,a?? Corea said. a??Only those who were extremely interested in wildlife visited. But now with the new roads Ia??m sure there will be an increase in the number of visitors.a??

Although he applauded the DWC for re-opening Kumana and Lahugala, Corea also said that there are trade-offs involved in opening up pristine wildlife sanctuaries to tourism.
a??As people start to visit these parks the amount of illegal activity will decrease,a?? he said. a??But increased visitation can be detrimental if ita??s beyond a certain limit. Hopefully these things will be handled by the DWC.a??

The next sanctuary scheduled to be re-opened is Wilpattu, Sri Lankaa??s largest and most popular national park. De-mining work on Wilpattua??s main roads began in January, and the DWC has been told by the security forces that it will take around one to two months to finish initial operations, in time for a part of the park to open in April. After the DWC receives security clearance they will set to work rebuilding the parka??s infrastructure.

Like Kumana and Lahugala Risperdal costo , Wilpattu has long been under LTTE control and thus off-limits to outsiders. First closed in 1985 due to the civil war, the park was re-opened in May 2003 following the ceasefire negotiations. Two incidents resulted in it being closed again: in 2006 a jeep carrying a group of tourists was blown up by a landmine.

One of the tourists was Nihal De Silva, the author of the Gratiaen Prize-winning novel The Road From Elephant Pass. Then, in 2007, Park Warden Wasantha Pushpananda was ambushed and killed by the LTTE while on an inspection of the park.

Following these deadly events the park was closed and has remained inaccessible to visitors ever since. Like Yala National Park, Wilpattu is famous for its leopards, as well as its elephants, sloth bears, and spotted deer. The re-opening of Wilpattu, along with the Kumana and Lahugala wildlife sanctuaries, will be a boon to the countrya??s tourism industry and cause for celebration for the countrya??s nature-lovers.

a??These are our national parks and they have been closed due to the conflict, so ita??s good that the DWC can open them now,a?? Corea said. a??They have been neglected for so long. Ita??s time that the parks got some protection.a??

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