- It should have stayed that way
BY Surein de S. Wijeyeratne
My first memory of Yala, from 40 years ago, is a vague one. But some memories, especially the overpowering feeling I had, I remember clearly.
Staying in a lamp-lit bungalow, with sheer darkness all around and the strangest of night sounds enveloping my young mind made me terrified of the place.
But I was fortunate.
I was surrounded by elders, especially my uncle Carl, who is an enthusiast and naturalist from the older generation, whose lesson to me and my siblings was simple: the jungle was to be respected. Not feared.
A master storyteller, he would regale us frequently with stories of old. Each of them packed with dramatic animal encounters in the pre-war wilderness of Sri Lanka and an accompanying nugget of insight into animal behaviour. Unaffected by the elephant that walked through the campsite, the unidentified, gleaming eyes in the torchlight, or the sound of a growling leopard at night, he would often say that he was afraid of people, not the jungle or its inhabitants.
But unfortunately, what we have today is a “walk in the park” attitude, now that Yala is not just more accessible but is also over-accessed. Silence used to be insisted upon in our vehicles that drove into the park, with professional and amateur trackers listening for bird calls and the tell-tale sound of an alarm call. Today, the inane chattering and nattering that emanates from the open safari jeeps is downright disrespectful.
And since respect is not forthcoming from the visitors and violators, maybe it’s time to instil some fear.
Those who refuse to respect should be afraid. And we should keep them that way. Terrified. Then perhaps they’ll stay away from these precious places and inflict less harm.
So next week at the office water cooler, tell your colleagues that the rampaging elephants in Yala are wild at us, so don’t go there again. Tell the boys with their beers that the flamingos are causing their drones to crash, so it’s better to go take aerial photos of that giant, concrete lotus flower in the middle of Colombo. Tell them the Man-eater of Punanai is back with a vengeance, if that helps.
If not a fear of the animals, then let’s make them afraid of our wrath. Call out the idiocy. Belittle the fools and friends who think taking “the photo” is worth disrupting the poor elephants, leopards, bears, and flamingos. And most importantly, deny those who “boast and post” about their exploits any adulation at all.
Maybe it’s time for all those of you who genuinely care about our fauna and flora to take a step back and stop sharing your pictures and videos on social media. Eliminate yourself from this ridiculous and superfluous competition. Let the fools remain. Then calling them out will be easier.
Despite the photographers in my family, Uncle Carl’s first lesson to us was how to use a pair of binoculars. Why? To observe, learn about, and, therefore, appreciate nature. It was the knowledge we gained by doing this that dispelled the fear of the wild. Observe and learn first. Recording the experience by taking a photo was secondary. Great photos were the outcome of unique experiences, not high-powered lenses, selfish behaviour, and dangerous driving.
The world doesn’t need, nor do they need to see, any more photos of our wildlife. Especially when the inconsiderate and uneducated photographer (and today, the so called “content creator”) is one major cause of its not-so-gradual destruction.
So perhaps among those who don’t respect it, let’s instil some fear of our wildlife. Because, I honestly fear for our wildlife
Surein is a member of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society and the Assistant Artistic Director of Sri Lanka’s largest amateur theatre company, The Workshop Players.
The history of wildlife protection in Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with that of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka. At 128 years old, the WNPS is the third oldest Non-governmental Organisation of its kind in the World and was responsible for the setting up of the Wilpattu and Yala National Parks in Sri Lanka, and of the formation of the Department of Wildlife Conservation