Kalawewa National Park, was designated as such over 3 years ago, but is still treated like a playground for locals to come and have a rollicking time, at the expense of the Elephants it is supposed to protect.
On Monday, 27th August 2018, I came to the Nikinniya village side of the Kalawewa National Park, after purchasing my Park Entry Ticket at the Park HQ office, temporarily located on rented property in Galkiriyagama, about 20 kilometers away, and I went over public paved roads to get to the entrance, bar the last 2 km.
I came with a DWC tracker, and entered from the Kekirawa Thalawa Road to the village and then into the park, which had NO SIGNAGE or fence, right into what seemed a large open grassland leading to the water. I was shown an approximate place where one day an Electric Fence will run through.
I was told it had been delayed due to a dispute over lands that locals who have never cultivated, are claiming to be ancestral land on spurious grounds, perhaps their grandfathers had done Chena Cultivation and should simply be acquired into the park, but for local political interference to assert their rights in return for political patronage.
On a separate note, personally speaking, the DWC should allocate as much land as possible to the Park, purchasing land if necessary and fencing it to prevent HEC, and perhaps even two fences in parallel to deter poachers, illegal fishermen using unauthorized nets and unauthorized entry of locals for a fun afternoon.
Upon entering this beautiful scene, and turning right into a sea of open bills, a truly magnificent sight, we drove quietly past them leaving sufficient room not to alarm them and until we were met with a magnificent sight at 2pm of over 200 elephants with two junior tuskers among them happily eating the grass by the side of the lake. We actually spent 2 ½ hrs just watching this one sight of the herd, with different members either taking their babies for a drink, or others going for a dip and still other juniors enjoying a frolick in the water.
Upon entry, as I have said there was no fence, neither were there any signs informing us we were entering a prohibited area, or part of a National Park or any such signage. I am told there is a fence in a different part of this National Park, fencing the villages from the Park, and it is this Nikinniy section that is of most concern at present without the fence and which has three entry points into the grass plains of the park, that is being used by the public.
On the other side from where I was watching the elephants, there was a family who had come in a red three wheeler, who were bating in the water of the Tank, and when they saw two elephants approach the tank for a drink, over 100M away from them, they ran towards the elephants shouting at them and chasing them away. I have photographic evidence of the people running towards the elephant to chase them away. Once these elephants left they continued their bath. They have to local people who have been used to bating here before the park was so demarcated, asserting their rights over the elephants, or so it seemed.
After a long while, we decided to leave and retraced our steps and we were confronted with over 6 motorbikes of men about a dozen, who clearly looked as if they were drinking and had come to the Park to finish what they had begun. Some had their lights on in broad daylight, clearly to distract and provoke any elephants they encounter. The park ranger was UNABLE even to ask them to leave, as apart from being outnumbered, what is he to say, when they say there is no barrier, signage or patrolling of the park! THIS IS CRAZY!
Surely has it taken the DWC so long to provide this Park with sufficient signage, to be placed in the habitual entry points to prevent local people in the know to enter at all? I spoke with Mr Ramasinghe the Warden of the Kalawewa National Park, who said that he is trying to get some local sponsorship to provide some signage as a matter of urgency, as these requests sent to the Head Office in Colombo don’t seem to get the urgency it requires. Until the area is demarcated his staff are simply HELPLESS to counteract the BOORISH elements intent on confrontation with the animals, they are supposed to protect.
Apparently I was told, on the previous day, Sunday, 26th August 2018, there were over 200 people in this location where we confronted the bikers. There were 23 vehicles counted, and over 50 motorbikes, with people bathing, drinking, picnicking, provoking elephants and generally having fun!
Further, and more importantly, they had prevented this same herd we saw, from entering the water to drink. They would eventually have come after dusk, but with their numerous baby elephants and wishing to drink and frolic as is their nature, to be prevented was in itself being a nuisance.
This appears to be the order of the day at weekends and holidays that this location is used by the public as a place of recreation, but why?
ALL THIS INSIDE A DESIGNATED NATIONAL PARK OF SRI LANKA
Clearly the State is unable to assert their rights, due to opposing claims and interests, all which result in the likely disappearance of the Elephant and with that Humanity as we know it in Sri Lanka.
If they cannot do so, then at least permit this to be made into the first privately managed National Park, where the study of Tuskers can be done in situ, to ensure that the gene pool that is now threatened with extinction, may at least have one more chance of proper study for survival.
They should then be permitted to purchase land around the Park, to enlarge its area, legitimately so that the restricted area of this park at present which makes it difficult for the herds to move through elephant corridors, a better chance of so doing.
Today, 27th August 2018, the Minneriya National Park was closed due to some confrontation with the fisher folk who use the Tank for fishing. SO the Tourists used Kaudulla Park as the only alternative for visitation. I came across many jeeps returning from Kaudulla as I was on the Rotawewa Tank bund observing birds at the time after returning from Kalawewa and before nightfall.
They said that over 100 jeeps were chasing after 4 elephants there, by which time, I was the only person to observe the Kalawewa sight, which none of he hotel owners seem to want their guests to enjoy, as well as the single Tusker who was holding up the traffic on the Habarana Minneriya main road, as he was in musth (I have photos to prove that) and these poor tourists missed that sight too. If truth be told the driving time from the elephants to Habarana, 45 minutes.
There is something wrong with our ability to please tourists to Sri Lanka, as many may have already visited the Kandy Perehara. The Jeep Drivers, Jeep Operators and the local hotels in Sigiriya, Dambulla, Habarana, and Giritale area appear to only want to fleece tourists who spend on average Rs7,500 per head, for the package to see, and are led a dance showing them 4 elephants, instead of stating the truth, as there have been few elephants in either park these days. All of the above have made their money, it is just the tourist who is given the run around that normally there are hundreds, but today they are out of luck.
If I was a tourist, who was shown the Kalawewa sight, they would want their money back or would create a stink on social media that would end the day for the 1,000 jeeps and their owners in the greater Habarana catchment area.