The Sunday Leader

Controversy Surrounds Decision To Close Wilpattu

by Nirmala Kannangara

Controversy surrounds on the decision taken by the Department of Wildlife Conservation to close the country’s largest national park , Wilpattu for the first time in history.

Although the Wildlife Department claims the decision to close the park was due to the prevailing drought, questions have been raised as to who had taken such a decision when most of the lakes and water holes within the park still have enough of water for the wildlife to survive even if the drought continues. However reliable sources within the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) alleged that the decision had been taken not by the department officials but on the instructions of the subject Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera. “Although we close the Yala Parks during the dry spell because of water scarcity, upto now Wilpattu Park had not faced such a serious situation to close down indefinitely. Most of the lakes and water holes have enough of water for the wildlife to survive. In the event the park is closed the illegal activities that is being carried out within the park such as poaching, forest destruction for valuable timber and treasure hunting will continue in large scale. We have our doubts whether the decision to close down the park from August 1 until further notice, is to pave way for those who engage in illegal activities to carry out without any hindrance when there are no visitors in the park,” reliable DWC sources said on condition of anonymity.

According to this official, unlike other national parks in the country, there are many archaeological sites in Wilpattu and there were instances where these sites had been destroyed by the treasure hunters. “The palace believed to have used by Kuveni at the time Prince Vijaya landed at Thambapanni is situated within the Wilpattu national park. Once a Buddha statue had been broken to take the treasure where a DWC employee too was involved. Having know that these illegal activities would rise further as they wish when there are no visitors in the park, it is surprising as to why the higher officials had agreed to close the park on the Minister’s advice,” sources added.

The sources further said that it is not the Minister that should take the decision but the DWC officials together with erudite environmentalists who know what is the best to do if the park is facing a severe drought. “If this is a genuine decision for the betterment of the wildlife we all would welcome this decision but what we see is the decision has not taken on behalf of the animal welfare but on a hidden agenda,” the DWC official claimed.

However Director General DWC, M.G.L. Sooriyabandara said that the decision taken to close the park will be reviewed after a team of officials from the department make a visit to the park. “Once this team gives the report on the park’s ground situation we will decide whether it is necessary to close the park until the situation turns better or otherwise,” Sooriyabandara said.

When asked why the DWC put a paper advertisement on July 20 informing the general public about the Wilpattu closure if he is expecting a report from his officials, Sooriyabandara said that on the instructions of the Minister to get the prevailing ground situation, a team had gone to the park to find out whether the water levels of the lakes would be enough for the wildlife to survive or whether water has to be filled to these tanks.

According to Soriyabandara, all bungalows at Wilpattu had now been closed and there is a necessity to allow the animals in the park to rest without any disturbance from the visitors. “Water for these bungalows is given from the lakes within and in order to save the water consumed by the visitors we closed the bungalows.

When there is movement in the park, the wildlife does not get the proper rest they require in fear of vehicular traffic. Once the park is closed for visitors and there are no vehicle movements the animals can get a proper rest for few weeks,” Sooriyabandara said.

When asked whether the decision was taken in the best interests of the animal welfare or for the best interests of the parties engaged in illegal rackets within the park, the Director General said that there are no room for any illegal activity to be carried out as the wildlife employees at the park are given a special allowance for patrolling to curb illegal activities not only within the Wilpattu Park but also in all other parks in the country.

“Drought season patrolling allowance is given to all park employees to control such illegal activities taken place when the parks are closed. True there is a dearth of employees at these parks- especially at Wilpattu as it is the largest park in the country, but such special allowances encourage these employees to go all over the park to see what is happening and keep the department informed for us to get the support of the security forces to stop wildlife crime. Anyhow we have to rectify the worker shortage at the earliest,” Sooriyabandara said.

However, Wilpattu safari jeep drivers said that unlike in other parks in the country, the wildlife at Wilpattu does not undergo harassment in the hands of the visitors as the vehicle movement is restricted only to a certain area but not all over the park. “This is such a large park and the road network does not cover the entire park. If  we take the lakes, the roads run along one side of the lake where the wild animals have the privilege to come to the lake for their needs from the side where vehicles do not move. We know what is going on in this park and we assume that the decision taken by the DWC is not for the benefit of the wildlife but for the benefit of those who engage illegal activities here,” a group of jeep drivers said.

According to them, there are over 42 lakes and water holes within the park and other than a very few, all other lakes have enough of water even if the drought persists for one year. “The DWC has taken a good decision to close down the bungalows as the water consumption during the dry spell can lead to water scarcity to a certain level but that does not mean that the water resources within the park had gone dry. Up to now there is enough of water for the animals and there is no necessity for the DWC to keep the park closed from August 1 until further notice. On July 20, the DWC had put up a paper advertisement saying that this decision was taken due to the prevailing severe drought. We have undergone severe drought periods worse than the prevailing situation. But neither the entire water resources at Wilpattu Park went dry nor the DWC took any action to close the park for visitors earlier,” sources claimed.

According to the sources water holes and lakes such as Okkari Villuwa, Maha Patessa, Kal Villuwa, Galge Viharaya, Thelbeepu Wewa and few others will go dry after the end of August but not any other water resources. “Kuda Patessa, Demata Vila, Nelum Vila, Boruppan Vila, Thimbiri Vila, Mara Vila, Thala Vila, Kaniika Vila, Mana Vila, Percy Bendi Wewa,Anadaragolla Wewa, Maha Wewa,Galpoththewa, Maradan Maduwa, Wiranda Vila and Sudumuwa Vila are few tanks that will never go dry even if it won’t rain a year. Most of these tanks are situated away from the three roads that the vehicles move around and has not caused any disturbance for the wildlife where they have the freedom to use the water ways for their needs. The worst ever dry spell we ever witnessed in this area was in 2011, 2012 and 2013 where the water levels in these tanks went down. Although we thought that the tanks will completely go dry, it never happened and the DWC never took any decision to close the national park. As it is a known secret that when the visitors are in the park it is difficult for treasure hunters, forest destructors and the poachers to engage in their activities we are confident the decision was taken in the best interest of their behalf,” sources alleged.

Meanwhile the sources said as to how certain group of people who have been settled within the Wilpattu National Park buffer zone with the blessings of a certain Minister in the government are engaging in poaching and sell the meat to the nearby restaurants. “Most of these people do not have proper jobs and are involved in poaching. Even park employees too have to be blamed for allowing these people to kill the animals for money. It is the same with treasure hunters as well as timber dealers. Once these wildlife employees are paid, they put a blind eye to all these illegal activities. That is why we are requesting the DWC not to close the park for visitors. When the visitors move around the park, there is no room for these illegal activities to take place,” sources added. Meanwhile a leading environmentalist who wished to remain anonymous said as to how the Pallekandal Church in the Wilpattu buffer zone too had caused concern to the destruction of the park.

“This church was in existence over the past several decades but now it has come to light as to how certain constructions have been taken place without proper authorization. During the annual feast the devotees that comes from all over the country causes severe damages to the wildlife.

Even the church does damage to the park by cutting down aged old trees to putting up tents and mobile toilets. The vicinity of the church which was earlier surrounded with greenery is now full of empty plastic cans, polythene bags and waste thrown by the devotees, has destroyed the environment. Not only that, but also the foot prints of elephants could be seen all over the place.

It proves that the elephants too roam in the church areas because it is their habitat. This is an area where elephants roam freely and it is learnt that the devotees give food for the elephants that comes to the area. This is a serious situation where the church has not taken any action to preserve the ecology. In the event these elephants come to the makeshift tents seeking food, there will be a human elephant conflict,” sources said.

The sources further said as to how the church activities would impact the wildlife habitat very badly unless stern action is taken. “Church expansion should be stopped immediately. A state minister of this government is behind this expansion.

This is not a religious issue but an environmental issue. Unless the destruction to the park and the wildlife is stopped at any means the situation would get worse. Let the DWC introduce camp sites in these areas where destruction is taking place to the wild so people’s movement could minimise these illegal activities.  A National Park has to be protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO). These parks are declared and maintained for the protection of all animals and plants falling within its boundaries and only secondarily to an area for human access and activity but strictly governed by the FFPO.

When the law is not enforced properly to the whims and fancies of those who are in power in order to please their stooges these national parks cannot exist any longer,” source alleged.


3 Comments for “Controversy Surrounds Decision To Close Wilpattu”

  1. Damned if they do , damned if they don’t. That is the situation of the treasure of natural parks.. Wheels within wheels. Nobody, for whatever reason should be allowed to enter the entire zone of the park, and even the tourist business in the park has gone out of control, as seen in Yala and Singharaja. As seen in other areas of life, politics has been a major contributor to destruction, with religion been used as a veil to cover the questionable issues. They will stop only when everything is destroyed.

  2. Dadaddaaggyaggydaaggyddddsd

    For the animal welfare or for the animal eating people’s welfare?????????????

    Close all parks including the Singhajara.

  3. Shaziq Shadah

    What about our Muslim brethren who are currently residing at our new colony deep inside Wilpattu? Will they be restricted from leaving Wilpattu also? They could die of thirst! Allah Musaeadatuhum.

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