Leopard Safari in Yala

5.jpg (16988 bytes)by Tilak Conrad
With relatives arriving from England and Australia for a holiday - we had to find/create a suitable tour to meet varied interests. Mark Ellingham (who own Rough Guides - a leading publisher of Travel Guides) and his wife Natania Jansz with their 8 year old son Miles, Charmaine Moldrich who runs the publications department for the Sydney Museums and of course Jane & myself. Who to call? - well of course - Amila at eco@jetwing.lk who had advertised a Leopard Safari package.

Our doubts about taking our children Misha (5) and Tarik (2) and what to do were soon sorted with a three day tour to Yala. Costs were about Rs. 7,935 per adult and although our relatives had to pay Tourist Rates that were about double - the costs seemed very reasonable - two nights, three very full days, full board, three jeep safaris into the park, packed lunches and an excellent guide was what we were promised.

The coach arrived (slightly early!) at about 6.45 am on Friday and we all piled in - picked up more people (Mrs. Shirani Rubera & friends & family and the Namasivayam family) en-route in Dehiwela and off we went. Our guide was Dharmin Samarajeewa, who over the next few days proved just how important it is to have someone who knows his stuff!!! We were expecting to drive non-stop to Uda Walawe, but Dharrnin kept finding extremely interesting sights of wildlife all the way from Bellanwilla marshes. Our lack of knowledge/preparedness for these trips was immediately evident as fellow trippers, from the front of the bus, kept sending egg sandwiches, Del crisps, etc. etc. to us gluttons in the back.

We stopped on time at the Kinjou Rest, in Timbolketiya (near Uda Walawe National Park) for lunch and refreshments and then left for Yala at about 2pm. We arrived at Yala Safari Game Lodge at about 5.00pm and were efficiently checked-in to our non-a/c rooms which were excellent. Of course we had taken out time, hard core Yala goers bomb down in five hours after an early departure.

Dharmin was there for anyone who wanted to go, so the more energetic went of with him on a 45 minute walk. The rest of the day was up to us - we relaxed and generally got into being on holiday. That evening we were shown an excellent documentary on Leopards filmed in Yala by the BBC, titled the ‘Leopard Hunters’.

We leave at 6.00am said Dharmin. So somewhat bleary eyed we all (on-time!!!) presented ourselves at the reception the following morning. We were given our packed breakfasts and piled into two safari jeeps to go into the park. Our "tracker" joined us at the Park Office and by 6.30am we were inside the park. One jeep had the tracker the other had Dharmin - no competition - so halfway through Dharmin changed vehicles so that we could all get the benefit of his knowledge. Even though the park was under a severe drought both the tracker and Dharmin ensured that we got our fair share of all sorts of wildlife, elephant, bear, and of course loads of peacock, deer, (add the rest) - but no leopard yet!

Headed back to the hotel for lunch with the next safari due to leave at 3pm. So time for a quick rest and then off again. The enjoyment was obvious as everyone was there again for this the second of our three safari’s that were included in our costs. The following morning’s safari was the only one I skipped, and of course that is when they saw the leopard! ! Aaaargh!

After lunch we left for the long drive back to Colombo and cut it quite tight as Charmaine had to catch a flight to Greece - but we made it - what else can I say, without going into reams - the food was excellent - the guide, Dharmin Samarajeewa was a true gem, not only knowledgeable but an excellent communicator to this very varied bunch of 14 plus adults and kids. Everything went like clockwork - something I love!!!. The coach was great with a very good driver!

We’re there for more with Jetwing - and look out for the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka - Mark and Nat who have avoided doing one for all these years, because of their personal connection to the country - have now decided that they must.

Thank you Amila, Dharmin and all the behind the scenes people who ensured that we had a truly memorable time.

Affordable Photo Guides to Sri Lankan Wildlife

A series of photographic information leaflets, inexpensively priced at Rs 35 each, is destined to make a big impact on creating awareness of Sri Lanka’s fauna and flora. The series of four leaflets have been published by the Jetwing Research Initiative in association with the Sri Lanka Natural History Society and the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. The Photo Guide’s designed by Copyline were initiated by Jetwing Director Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne who is a well known populariser of natural history through his activities as a writer and photographer. Two of the leaflets are focused on birds. One on the birds of the lowlands sponsored by Yala Safari Game Lodge and the other on the Rainforests and Highlands sponsored by St. Andrews Hotel, Nuwara Eliya.

Hunas Falls Hotel which recently created a Botany and Butterflies patch has sponsored a photo guide to the common butterflies. Amila Salgado, who leads Expert rainforest Tours has assisted and also photographed for a leaflet on Sinharaja. Tropical Villas Hotels which is used on week- end rainforest packages led by Amila has sponsored this photo guide.

"The need for affordable interpretation literature has been felt for some time," says Hiran Cooray, Managing Director of Jetwing Hotels. "These photo guides will help to address the skills gap which Sri Lanka needs to fill to develop as a major eco-tourism destination". Amila Salgado who has led many school children on rainforest tours is confident that they will be a big hit with children. "Children are hungry to learn and the photo cards would be a big hit as they are cheap enough to buy, even for cutting up for school projects," he says.

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, sees such affordable identification literature to the common plants and animals playing an important role in education and conservation. As CEO of Jetwing Eco Holidays, probably the best known specialist wildlife travel company in the country, he is also aware of the economic importance of making identification literature widely available. "Ultimately" he says, "the perception of foreign eco-tourists of our natural history skill levels is dictated by the trackers of the wildlife and forest departments, the children visitors encounter on treks and so on. To succeed as a eco-tourism destination, we need to increase skill levels across the board".

The Photo Cards are in the format of folded leaflets which can be carried in the field easily. Each contains at least forty photographic images of wildlife. They are visually attractive, portable and affordable. They will be made available in leading bookshops by distributors Lake House Hyde Park Corner Bookshop. A web version can be viewed on www.jetwingeco.com

Nature Photographer 2002 attracts young photographers

Over two hundred photographers have taken part in the prestigious Nature Photographer 2002 Competition. A quarter of them were ‘Young Photographers’ under the age of 21. Last year, the overall first prize of Rs 100,000 was won by Thushara Weerakkody’s abstract image of a Corrugated Frog. This year’s winners will be announced in December. On the panel this year were wildlife photographers Lal Anthonis, Namal Kamalgoda, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, wildlife artist Lester Perera, contemporary painter Anoma Wijewardene, Smart Media Director Rochelle Kannangara, marine biologist Anouk Illangakoon and Barefoot entrepreneur and photographer Dominic Sansoni. "Selecting a panel of judges from a broad range of disciplines from the sciences to the arts is part of the overall strategy to develop this as a high profile arts event," says Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, a Director of Jetwing and Chairman of the organising committee.

The entrants were largely Sri Lankan but also included nationals from Sweden, the UK, India, Australia, Canada and South Africa. "The event has received a significant amount of publicity overseas and we anticipate the number of foreign entrants to increase in future years," said Namal Kamalgoda, the secretary of the Organising Committee. This year the total number of images entered exceeded 1,600 an increase over last year. The majority of images entered were in the mammals category followed by the Landscape category. The organisers anticipate the event playing an important role in increasing environmental awareness and raising the standards of photography. The venue and dates for the Nature Photographer 2002 exhibition will be announced in due course. Successful entrants who have winning and commended entries will be contacted by the administrator who will also be returning the images entered for the event. Last year’s winning images can be viewed on www.jetwingeco.com
(Courtesy: Sri Lanka Wildlife News — Compiled by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)