A relatively small land area, (possible to purchase land for expansion, from farmers in the area in future, at market rates, based on surpluses arising from the Park Operations) was demarcated and specifically designated as the “Kalawewa National Park” in 2015 and opened to the public.
This small area has the largest concentration of TUSKERS in Sri Lanka. I believe the whole Country as only 150 Tuskers out of an Elephant population of 6,500.
I had the fortune to visit this place last afternoon, and instantly saw the potential to protect this National Monument for the Conservation of Tusker Elephants for the future of MANKIND. Otherwise the Sri Lankan Tusker, has only a limited lifespan and we will forever be damned by future generations for NOT ensuring the species survival.
If we are able to identify and develop a balanced future for this place, we can ensure ALL stakeholders, the people of Sri Lanka, locals who are affected adversely by the creation of the Park, the visitors, the Environmentalists, the Govt. and above all the Wildlife of the Park who have only us to bat for them, get their just desserts.
We must have as our mission to save the Tusker from extinction, and ALL efforts at the Park should be congruent to achieve that goal, whilst generating the needed funds to do so from the Park itself.
What is the vision statement for the world? Kalawewa National Park will be “World renowned for the place that saved the Sri Lankan Tusker from extinction, and ensured its healthy return in the wild.” NOTHING MORE NOTHING LESS
How do you achieve this? We must enhance the environment conducive to the unhindered movement, availability of fodder, and reproduction of these animals.
1 We must preserve its character
2 Gradually remove ALL human encroachments of cattle, buffalo, sand mining, fishing and poaching from within the confines of the park.
3 Secure the borders of the park from inward and outward movement, but more importantly, clear the Elephant Corridor of human settlements for the free movement of Elephants between the Ritigala, Minneriya, Somawathiya, Kaudulla and Wasgomuwa sanctuaries.
4 Provide an economically sustainable plan for its development to achieve the overall objectives of species survival without a burden on the State.
What is the Economic Plan we speak of?
Let us NOT FORGET that in Six Years, there will be a direct highway connection from the heart of Colombo, to Dambulla, which will be reached in 2 hours, and park entrance in a further 30 minutes.
A Columbian can come on a day trip of Tusker viewing, leaving at 5 am and seeing a morning safari and be home in time for lunch if need be, or to come leisurely and do this in the evening, and get home for dinner. I understand that 4 tuskers in one herd dropped in to the water this morning, when I checked up with the Tracker, taking a Poya morning party today within the park.
What is the IMMEDIATE DEAL for self sufficiency.
Any amounts borrowed from the Treasury to set up the initial working capital can be repaid with interest. This should be treated as a stand-alone project, unlike other DWC projects where ticket revenue is paid into the treasury and treasury allocations are then given for specific purposes. NO CONGRUENCE !
Trust me! do this as a special case, form a trust for the Park and let them run this independent of the DWC, to show what may work in future, and if successful the formula can be gradually adopted nationwide. Without a working example of taking over a loss making venture to turn it around to be a showpiece of the Nation will be both a challenge, but also an example to the public and the DWC of how much potential we have sacrificed due to the current policies, that are both outdated, and NOT conducive to the conservation of the Wildlife which they purport to preserve!
1 Engage 5 additional experienced LOCAL staff who have traditionally taken visitors to the area as volunteer guides on the daily allowance. Usually too senior to be eligible for state employment. Engage another 5 LOCAL youth, with the aptitude for this work, who already have shown a love for the land, knowledge of the flora and fauna around them, and intend making a career in Wildlife. Once proved, they can be taken into the permanent carder, up the ladder into Game Wardens and Forest Rangers. The current practice of hiring people with political connections, from different areas, and NO connections with forest living, is a disaster, as they are UNSUITABLE for the forests running home to MOTHER, as they are frightened of the dark, let alone Elephants. We have already STARTED ON THE WRONG WICKET.
2 Build roads, a more permanent route that is passable during the rainy and wet season on higher ground that does not get flooded when the Tank overflows, and a second series that goes under water regularly, but which has the basic infrastructure for rapid access in and out. This must be carefully planned to maximize the viewing experience causing minimal disruption to the Wildlife.
3 Assist 15 locals within a 5 km radius of Kalawewa Park entrance, including those whose lives have been disrupted on the establishment of the park, to purchase and run owner driver safari vehicles, to be operated on prescribed basis, that is fair to all, but who get exclusivity initially to ensure they are able to finance their vehicles.
4 Restrict initial visits to 30 vehicle visits a day, MAXIMUM, for a party of 6 excluding the guide and driver, with a minimum 4 hour stay as a right to the visitors who can of course spend much less time if they wish.
5 A flat charge for a vehicle, irrespective of local or foreign, therefore no chance of origin being open to abuse, or being unfair by anyone. This charge is to be Rs12,000 a vehicle, and if NO tuskers are sighted in the trip, a Rs2,000 instant cash refund to be paid to the main ticket holder upon exit. Customers will NOT be liable for any other charges, and tips etc are merely discretionary on customer satisfaction of the service.
6 All vehicles will be allocated by computer random selection, so all have a equal probability of selection, and vehicle no shows penalized upon consecutive no shows based on a formula. Vehicle owner being able to receive Rs5,000 per hire, and all charges clearly stated on line, and on display with NO possibility of abuse of the system by tour operators/guides.
7 All bookings to be made on line, with 50% deposit (Rs6,000) forfeitable upon a no show, with all proceeds going to the Park. The park will therefore benefit upon NO shows, a direct benefit to the animals!
8 The 5 senior Park Volunteers referred to above will get priority with visitors, though they are only on a daily allowance, whilst the others on permanent staff have other duties, including maintenance, electric fence repair along with Civil Defence Forces allocated to sections. They will also be responsible for looking into the welfare of animals, and prevention of poaching and sand mining like in other locations.
9 There will be a person entrusted to ensure that ALL jeeps keep to minimum standards of road-worthiness, and carry a cooler with water supplies for visitors, and responsible for the disposal of empty containers in an environmentally sensitive manner.
10 There must be a strict control of Park Boundaries, as locals are still used to encroaching out of prior practice, however the SAFETY OF ALL WILDLIFE IN THE PARK must be assured at all costs. I noticed Elephants that had suffered gunshot injuries, who should NOW feel safe within the confines of the park, being sure that there are NO untoward fears for their safety.
When a decision is taken to have a Boat Marina for the benefit of tourists especially in the rainy season, then it is best to begin with locating this carefully, so that on the lines of Visitor Centers of US National Parks, there is a fully staffed place with franchise operators running restaurants, and gift or souvenir shops, lecture theatres on education and conservation, for the benefit of the visitors and enhancement of the overall experience of the park. There is NOT ONE national park that can attest to that in Sri Lanka today, which is a total disgrace.
Ideally there would be an all weather, paved road direct to the Marina. There will also be a 100 car, carpark that will ONLY permit cars and jeeps and NOT buses. Preferably underground if practical to minimize the use of space, and upper floors for restaurants to enhance viewing pleasure.
The Marina and water safaris can be developed therefrom, which will incur an additional charge, but less than the cost of the jeep safaris if one comes separately in one’s own vehicle to the Marina. IF necessary Boat rides can have a scale of charges depending on the times offered on a supply demand basis, but be restricted to at most, 2 boats on the water AT ANY TIME. These boats if franchised out, to be run on carefully regulated basis, of sound minimization and pollution level on water, in line with international standards.
I would expect franchise charges to more than cover the cost of the building of the Marina complex over a short term, but MUST be done right from the start. Location, minimal footprint and disruption to wildlife, and distance from park entrance for vehicles ONLY permitted to come to the marina and NOWHERE ELSE.
As a separate exercise, I would expect the construction of ONE park bungalow for serious wildlife enthusiasts, paying a premium for its use, who can avail themselves of park facilities possibly at night, on a night safari, that can be priced at Rs50,000 per session, in addition to the lodging charges within the park complex.
These are some ideas that just come to mind, to establish an independent entity to run this park, as I am sure the Govt. is now contemplating spending money and are looking for ways to cash in.
As can be seen from my proposal it is more of a holistic approach to running a National Park in keeping with 2016 and beyond to 2025, and not using the quill pen approach of the last century, the way other parks are run, with the treasury taking as much as possible without ANY consideration if any of whether the payers are receiving even value for money anymore for their experience, a hugely short term way of squeezing every penny especially from foreigners, in a crass and indecent exercise, along with jeep owners and tour guides, using unscrupulous tactics, to deaden the tourists experience. They will NEVER RETURN to a SL National Park NOR recommend to their friends. That is our loss!
It is time we learn from the best in the world, on how we maximize the tourism experience, ensuring enhancement through time, to benefit Sri Lanka, its wildlife, and its people who are genuinely in it for the long haul to conserve, preserve and showcase our Country for generations to come.
I am afraid that unless a new thought process such as what I have proposed is enacted, the politicization of the National Park Service, which is still suffering from the lack of a capable Director General to even lead it will hitting the nail in the coffin of this aspect of our tourism pleasure, killing it in the process.