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Author Topic: Buffer zone invasion  (Read 321 times)
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« on: July 27, 2011, 06:03:36 pm »

Recently an interesting news article caught a great deal of attention and interest – one that mentioned eco hotels were being given permission to be built within one mile from the buffer zones of National Parks in Sri Lanka.
What further highlighted this issue was that the Ministry of Environment seemed to think this a matter of enhancing the connection between man and animal rather than causing a great issue and stronger conflict.
We hear stories of conflict – human and elephant, etc. – and realise that possible boundaries are a good thing, to allow an animal, not just an elephant, to freely roam as they please and the result is a co-existence. Bringing ourselves closer, rectifying that this is only to understand animals better and increase the knowledge of the people is just nonsense.
“Those in the same position as I am in feel that this is an extremely short-sighted move. It should be a long-sighted one if they want to believe that they are to have a cohesive existence with the animals but trying to protect the environment and wildlife while also trying to run eco hotels is not an easy task. This is coming at a wrong point of time too as for many years the people who have wanted to protect the biodiversity and wildlife of this country have struggled to bring about the amendments. And now all of a sudden, they want to build eco hotels that are just one mile away from the buffer zones of the national parks – it is just irrational thinking,” said environmentalist and attorney-at-law Jagath Gunewardena.
What is it that we know? One thing for sure is that any hotel being constructed near a national park or biodiversity hotspot is not a good thing. A hotel creates a lot of disturbance in the form of noise, lighting and movement. A hotel also uses up a lot of chemical substances. A hotel waste disposal is another issue. Garbage is not only going to affect the environment but it would also attract unwanted scavengers, disruptive to wildlife and leftover food leads to the spread of several diseases. Gunewardena mentioned that this was the case when it came to a few hotels situated close to the Yala National Park and spread swine flu as well as foot and mouth disease in another area.

Although many might not look into the tiny details even things such as lighting can cause issues, attracting some animals while scaring off others. Small insects can be destroyed as well. “When we talk of animals many focus on the large animals but we think of the smaller ones as well who will be destroyed. There are other social issues of concern at the same time – hoteliers will try to attract animals so that their staying guests will also be entertained and looking at it on a serious note, there is no logic in having hotels near parks, to attract animals. Logic reason is for them to lure animals into their vicinity; enticing them by food and other snacks. Unfortunately that will lead to a whole plethora of other problems like the spread of diseases, unwanted human animal conflict, etc. Hoteliers won’t be able to restrict the tourists from feeding the animals either and in return this will cause problems in the animals’ behaviour as well,” he added.

It must also not be forgotten that poachers, hunters and others coming in for illegal wildlife trade could easily be disguised amongst tourists staying in these hotels. It will be an easy task for them to stay and go about their activities without being noticed. Gunewardena confessed that many of the illegal activities that have continued for the past 15 years have been by persons staying in hotels that are near national parks. “The tip off that something illegal is going on does not come from the hotels either because they do not want to get involved with the law, so how can we expect the same now?” he questioned. Hoteliers are not in the position of protecting the forests and wildlife and already have plenty of responsibilities in keeping their ‘eco’ hotels running; there is a lot to lose on both ends by giving permission for such hotels to be built just one mile away from the national parks’ buffer zones.

Some argue that if the hotels are properly managed there will be no issues. But that’s not the issue – what has to be encouraged is responsible tourism. That is where we have to draw the bottom line. Renton de Alwis, former chairman of the Tourism Promotions Bureau commented on this matter by stating that natural areas need to be explored by travellers and not by tourists and there is a difference between the two types. “We need to make that distinction to better plan what we do and not do in the parks. This needs to be taken on strongly for it is a misguided notion that tourists must be within protected areas. Well managed visitation and locating facilities are two different things,” he added.

De Alwis further stated that the idea of building eco hotels closer to national parks is not something that neither good tourists, nor travellers appreciate; that it is a myth, a notion that investors have created. In Yala, good tourists do not mind waking up at 4:00 a.m. to observe nature and wildlife – this is an example of what good tourism is all about and we need not have to change the status quo. Controlled and well-managed visitations, park bungalows only for researchers and serious nature observers should be allowed and not for anyone else are sound restrictions.

“What is ‘eco’ about ecotourism is, it protects the ecosystems and not destroys it. Anyway calling tourism all these names is unnecessary. What we need is good tourism that ensures the protection of our natural, cultural resources all over the country and benefits communities and not investors with short-term profit objectives. The way forward is about right policies, strategies and their implementation. This isn’t an issue about hotels, tourism or ‘ecotourism’; it is an issue about the future of our country, our people and also of tourism and ecotourism in its true sense. The state policy as articulated in the Mahinda Chinthana states that the state will do whatever it takes to protect the nature, and flora and fauna of this country. It is now time to keep to the main policy trust and not deviate from them to suit other situations,” said de Alwis.

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