It’s the second largest park in Sri Lanka, and also the most visited. The 5 blocks of Yala National Park covers more than 900 square kilometers, lying between the Southern and Uva provinces.
Recently, the Sustainable Development and Wildlife Ministry revealed that the park has earned LKR 700.58 million in revenue for the year 2017. This is evidently the highest income earned by a national park in Sri Lanka. Adding to that, the visitor count for last year also came to a record high. 397,122 have visited Yala, out of which 207,927 were locals. That’s roughly 52%.
Why the visitors keep coming to Yala
Doesn’t matter if its early February or late September, Yala gets frequent visitors through out the year. Just last year, the Daily News reported that the national park had earned LKR 10 million income within a few weeks. This was when most of the park was closed down for renovations.
But why do people keep coming? For those of you who don’t know, well, there are quite a few reasons actually.
1. Sri Lankan Leopards
This, perhaps, is what many visitors look forward to. If you’re an animal lover, then seeing the Sri Lankan Leopard is a must have on your bucket list. After all, Yala has one of the highest leopard concentrations in the world. But unfortunately, these majestic creatures are in danger of extinction. A 2015 survey revealed that the estimated population is between 650 – 950.
Of course its not all about the big cats. The park is home to many critters . Among them, Yala is home to over 200 species of birds. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see ones that are endemic to Sri Lanka like the Jungle Fowl, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, blue tailed bee eater, etc.
3. Other wildlife
Other wildlife found in the park includes over 40 varieties of reptiles and mammals, 18 amphibians and 21 fresh water fish. This list also has quite a few endemic critters such as the painted lip lizard, Sri Lankan flying snake and the Stone Sucker.
Its not just the animals, even the greenery here shows quite a variety. From moist monsoon forests, to grasslands and marine wetlands, the park caters to ecosystems of every kind. If you make your way to blocks 3, 4, or 5, you will notice that the forests are more widespread than the others.
Will the numbers keep growing?
Well, that’s hard to say. It might be the case where 2018 will outperform last year’s numbers. Only time will tell. But regardless of these earnings, a common issue raised by visitors, both local and foreign alike, is the apparent lack of maintenance and proper infrastructure in the premises. Overcrowding has been a major concern for the park, for quite some time. This becomes even problematic, specially considering the fact that tourist numbers continue to grow YoY. This is even more concerning, particularly in a situation where the park seems to earn millions in annual revenue.
According to Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya, former Department of Wildlife Conservation Director General, number of visitors to Yala had grown by over 1,000% between 2008 – 2016 period alone. At a media briefing held back in October 2017, Vice President of WNPS, Ranil Peiris stated that if tourist numbers continue to grow while things continue the way they are right now, the park won’t last very long.
The future of the national park is indeed worrying. One thing we can do is hope for the best, that things will work out for the better.