Wildlife lovers and conservationists have voiced
serious concerns over a decision by the Road
Development Authority (RDA) to develop a road through the Ruhuna
and Kumana National Parks. Such development would have damaging
effects on the wild life and habitat of these protected areas, they
|Crossing a dried out waterway, Yala East National
The proposal to develop the road from Kirinda to
Pottuvil- most of which is a dirt track that lies within the boundaries
of the National Parks - was put to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by
the Chairman of the RDA, M.B.S. Fernando. This was after the RDA
Chairman made a personal visit to the Yala National Park during
which the poor condition of the road was brought to his notice.
Having received the President’s approval
to undertake this project, the Chairman and other officials from
the RDA had inspected the road earlier this year to examine the
possibility of converting the gravel stretches and jeep-tracks to
a road that would be accessible in all weather conditions. The approximate
length of the road is 30 km.
The road — which would cover Yala Blocks
1 and 2 and traverse Kumbukkan Oya, Okanda and Kumana going up to
Pottuvil and Panama — would be under the control of the Department
of Wildlife Conservation. Future maintenance of the road would also
be handed over by the RDA to the DWLC providing their officials
the necessary equipment and training.
Mr. Fernando says that the renovations were taking
place purely for tourism purposes to increase the tourism revenue
to the country. By developing the existing road, they hoped to make
previously inaccessible areas accessible to the public, thereby
increasing the number of visitors to the Yala park.
|Menik Ganga, Yala National Park
The Yala National Park is the largest continuous
protected forest area in the country and plays a significant role
in the conservation of the country’s flora and fauna. Rich
in its diversity of habitat and animals, it is known for elephant,
leopard, crocodile and deer. There are also many sites of historical
and archaeological value within the park.
At present, Yala nets the highest tourist revenue among the National
Parks of Sri Lanka. While an increase in this revenue is perhaps
desirable, conservationists appeal that priority should be given
to protecting the precious natural resources within the park.
Despite the concerns of environmentalists, Director
of the Department of Wildlife Conservation Dayananda Kariyawasam
affirmed that he was in favour of the road since it had been agreed
that it would be a gravel road, constructed in an environmentally
friendly manner. No one would be able to enter the park without
a ticket and a tracker, and all those using the road would have
to follow the existing park rules, not travelling at high speeds,
etc., he said. The road would be closed after 6 p.m. and careful
records would be maintained at the entry and exit points.
|Fair weather track across the plains, Block
II, Yala National Park
Mr. Kariyawasam said that the road would enable
the Department to prevent illegal activities such as poaching and
gem mining by giving officials better access to certain areas of
However, conservationists feel that the threat
posed to the wild animals by such developments far outweigh any
benefits. Rather than preventing illegal activities they point out
that there will probably be an increase in poachers, illicit loggers
and other such persons gaining easier access to various regions
of the park by means of the roadway.
Wildlife photographer and environmentalist Namal
Kamalgoda, remarking on the severe shortage of staff in the Wildlife
Department said that at present there were not enough trackers even
to accompany individual vehicles through the park during the weekends.
In that case, he questioned, how would they cope with increased
traffic, and moreover, how could they expect to police the road
thoroughly to prevent poaching?
The chief concern for most conservationists is
whether the road is going to be a public access road, and be utilized
for the purpose of conveniently getting from one point to another
rather than for visiting the park. Mr. Kariyawasam said that he
had not given thought to that aspect, adding that it was too early
to tell. He admitted that there would have to be some restrictions
imposed. RDA Chairman Fernando however, said that as long as they
were provided with a ticket and a guide, anyone could access the
road with the permission of the Department.
A road in a National Park should not be used for
purposes that are not in the interests of the park, say conservationists.
If there is a main road going through the park, there maybe traffic
during times when the park is usually closed to visitors to give
respite to the animals, such as at times of severe drought.
Conservationist and lawyer specialising in environmental
issues Jagath Gunawardane stresses that the country’s natural
resources cannot be sacrificed for tourism purposes. “Renovations
of this nature would cause ‘the Edge Effect’- which
will take place alongside the new road and the extent to which it
would spread are uncertain. The road would act as a physical and
biological barrier, dividing the park into two,” he said.
He also pointed out that a gravel road would require constant maintenance,
which would further disturb the animals, and therefore cannot be
called ‘environmentally friendly’.
Road-kills, which were common even with the existing
road, would undoubtedly increase despite it not being a high-speed
road, said Mr. Gunawardane, commenting on the frequent deaths of
small mammals, lizards and mongooses after being hit by a moving
World Bank environmental specialist Sumith Pilapitiya
cautioned thatSri Lanka had to be particularly careful when destroying
or damaging the environment, since it directly affected the country’s
economic growth. A report by the Yale University in USA-The 2005
Environmental Sustainability Index -had shown Sri Lanka’s
economic growth as not environmentally sustainable. Mr. Pilapitiya
also pointed out that the existing track partly lay through the
Yala Strict Natural Reserve (SNR), which is a key bio-diversity
area that can only be entered for research purposes. Of the three
SNRs in Sri Lanka, the one in Yala is the most highly protected,
and should not be open to visitation, he said. He advised that an
informed decision should be made only after conducting an EIA to
gain an understanding of the issue.
When asked if the road would be used for military
purposes, the RDA Chairman stated that it would be used only for
emergencies - by enabling security personnel to move quickly into
strategic locations in the road from Palatupana to Okanda (the entrance
and exit points of the Yala National Park) in an emergency.
The RDA will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment
(EIA) before starting operations in response to a request made by
the DWLC Director. Although an estimate has not been done, the RDA
Chairman believes the road project would cost approximately Rs.
100 million. If the project receives an allocation in the Budget
of 2007, he says, the RDA hopes to complete it by the end of next
question of legality
|Are the proposed renovations
of this road through the Yala National Park legal under the
Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance? Although RDA Chairman
Fernando claims that the project is not against the Fauna and
Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) as it is the maintenance of
an existing road, and not the construction of a new one, lawyer
and conservationist Jagath Gunawardane points out that the development
of this road is akin to building a new road and that according
to Section 6 of the FFPO, building any new roads and clearing
of habitat in a manner that disturbs the animals in a National
Park is an offence.