A JEWEL FOR NATURE TOURISM IN ASIA

de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2003). A Jewel for Nature Tourism in Asia. Serendipity. March 2003. Page 8.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne believes that Sri Lanka has the right ingredients to become one of the leading Asian destination’s nature tourists
How many destinations in the world will allow a visitor to snorkel off golden sand beaches and by nightfall, be searching for leopard in the highlands. Probably not many. Sri Lanka is one of those few places in the world, with a breathtaking array of landscapes and wildlife, packed into a relatively compact area.
The island, around 66,000 square kilometers, is unusual. Contrary to expectations of island bio-geographic theory, it has large mammals. It is the best place in Asia to see the Asian Elephant, the largest terrestrial mammal on the Asian continent. Visit the Uda Walawe National Park and one is virtually guaranteed to see elephants. During September and October, the ‘gathering’ takes place. An annual migration of elephants to the receding shores of the Minneriya National Park. At times up to three hundred elephants may be present on the exposed lake bed, by now a verdant meadow of lush grass.
Sri Lanka also has another eco-tourism trump card. The Leopard. Yala National Park has one of the highest densities of leopard anywhere in the world. The leopard is also the top predator on the island. This lends it an air of confidence which together with the open nature of the park’s terrain, allows for some fine Leopard watching. A trio of researchers hosted by the Yala Safari Game Lodge (see www.jetwingeco.com) are uncovering the secrets of this beautiful animal.
Tree Frogs are an image most associated with Costa Rica. However, Sri Lanka may challenge that perception. On-going research shows that Sri Lanka may emerge as the frog capital of the world as a result of a unique species radiation which has been recently discovered by researchers. Many other species of animals await discovery in the bio-diversity rich rainforests in the south west of the island. The island’s mountainous core, is topped by cloud forests. This harbors unique animals such as the Dwarf Lizard which has a prehensile tail and an adaptation to give birth to live young.
The island has one of the highest species densities for some faunal groups (including reptiles and birds) per 10,000 square kilometers. However its claim to be a top destination for eco-tourism lies in a blend of attributes. Rich bio-diversity, compactness, a good infrastructure of hotels and road and English being widely understood.
Another attraction in Sri Lanka is that the cultural sites are also good for eco-tourists. Many of the archaeological reserves double up as nature reserves, attracting birdwatchers and naturalists. The medieval capital of Polonnaruwa is worth a visit for some seeing it ancient stupas and sublime stone sculpture. But birders may also see over a hundred species of birds, in a day. This combination of culture, nature and friendly people leave Sri Lanka with all the components to emerge as a top eco-tourism destination in Asia.
The writer is the CEO of a wildlife and adventure travel company. He is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka (OBC) and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (New Holland). To subscribe to his free, wildlife e-newsletter, e-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk with “subscribe wildlife news” in the message header.