0116-A1

Ruhuna (Yala) National Park in Sri Lanka: Visitors, Visitation and Eco-Tourism

U. M. I. R. K. Weerasinghe, Dayananda Kariyawasm and Mangala De Zoysa[1]


Abstract

Ruhuna National Park was established in 1938 in Yala on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. The park covers 97 878 ha of land comprising an old secondary forest. About 32 species of mammals, 125 species of avifauna and many reptiles and lagoon fauna species have been recorded in the park. Sri Lanka has been ranked 21st among the large bio-diversity hotspots in the world. Hence, eco-tourism has become a very important sector generating both conservation and development together with income. However, eco-tourism gives long-term benefits economically and environmentally only if it is managed in a sustainable manner. Environmental conservation and enhanced facilities further secure the naturalness and attractiveness of a tourist destination. Hence, the main objectives of the study are to analyse the present condition of the Park, to identify the existing limitations and to make suggestions to improve sustainable eco-tourism.

The paper attempts to identify the visitors, assess visitation and evaluate the eco-tourism in Ruhuna National Park. The visitors are identified in terms of gender, age distribution, education level and income group. Visitation is assessed as reason for visits, preference for wild animals, visibility of wild animals, comparison of visibility and preference, and barriers for visibility. Visitation, environmental impacts, environment conservation efforts, relevance of eco-tourism activities, preference for eco-tourism activities, comparison of relevance and preference are used as the main criteria to evaluate the eco-tourism.


Background

Ruhuna National Park was established in 1938, which lies on the southern coast plain of Sri Lanka. Yala is in history as the center of bygone civilizations and the kingdom of King Ravana (Samaraweera, 1970). The Park covers 97,878 hectares of land comprising a few hundred years old secondary forest. It is predominantly semi-arid thorn-scrub, interspersed with pockets of fairly dense forest. A total of 32 species of mammals, 120 ~ 130 species of avifauna and many reptiles and lagoon fauna species have been recorded. (IUCN, 1994).

Sri Lanka has a very old history of tourism with well rich culture and traditions evidence for more than 2,500 years. Tourism earns Rs. 9.1 billion as the fourth largest foreign exchange earner and provides 37,943 of direct and 53,120 of indirect employment opportunities. (Central Bank, 2000). Sri Lanka has greater bio-diversity per unit area and it ranks top on the Asia and the 25th bio-diversity hotspot in the world.

The number of visitors and also seasonal fluctuation in number of visitors, mode of transportation may pose series of disturbances to the nature (Tisdell, 1991). Further, dumping of garbage and noise pollution have apparent impacts. Undesirable changes may include mortality of trees, deterioration of water quality, detrimental impact to wildlife survival and behavioral changes, disturbance of ecosystem and loss of scenery beauty. Hence, environmental conservation further secures the naturalness and attractiveness of tourist destination. However, the impact of tourist on environment differs according to the purpose of visits.

Eco-tourism has become popular over last decade. It has been identified as the fastest growing sector, which account 60% of international mass tourism. Boo, (1994) define eco-tourism as a nature-based tourism and recreation that incorporates sustainability of environmental, experimental, socio-cultural and economic dimensions. Generally, eco-tourism market is broadly categorized into four niche markets of wilderness use, adventure travel, nature-based travel and eco-lodge and camping (Boo, 1991). These activities should be selected in a correct way so as to minimize the impact they generate on nature. The selection procedures have to follow appropriate location, zoning, managing visitors, designing facilities etc. (Dachnes and chettamet, 1997).

With the global scenario, Sri Lanka has failed to intercept the world eco-tourism market performance. Presently, eco-tourism accounts only 6.6% of the mass tourism. All categories of some 100,000 tourists, 30 percent of which foreigners particularly Europeans visit the Ruhuna National Park annually. The public interest and enthusiasm in the Park may be used to market a product and to conserve the resource. However, the Park from eco-tourism gets benefits economically and environmentally only if it continues to be managed in sustainable manner. Hence, the empirical analysis of the present condition has become a practical importance to improve the tourism industry in the Park. The main objectives of the study were to evaluate the present condition in terms of visitors, visitation and eco-tourism, to identify the main constrains, and to make suggestion to improve the eco-tourism in Ruhuna National Park. The study is based on the primary data collected through a field survey of visitors, field observations, and interaction with officers and others involve with the activities of the Park.

The Visitors

Gender difference

The gender of both local and foreign visitors does not significantly influence (c2 = 0.432 and P=0.507) their visit to the Park (Table - 1). However, there is a significant difference between the local male and foreign female in visiting the park (c2 = 15.020 and P = 0.000).

Table - 1. Gender of local and foreign visitors

Gender

Local Visitors

Foreign Visitors

Total

c2

P

Male

43 (61)

17 (57)

60 (60)

0.432*

0.507

Female

27 (39)

13 (43)

40 (40)

15.020**

0.000***

Total

70 (100)

30 (100)

100 (100)



*The Chi-square goodness-of-fit test
**McNemar Chi-square (A/D)
***Significant at P=0.5
Percentages are in parenthesis

Age distribution

The total visitors of the Ruhuna National Park have significant variation (c2 = 37.4 and P <0.000) in their age categories and the majority (59%) belongs to the middle age category of 36 ~ 55 years (Table - 2). The young visitors below 20 years as well as old visitors beyond 56 years are comparative very less in number.

Table - 2. Age distribution of visitors

Age Group (yrs)

Local Visitors

Foreign Visitors

Total

c2

P

> 20

7 (10)

00 (00)

07 (07)

37.4*

<0.000**

21 ~ 35

21 (30)

06 (20)

27 (27)



36 ~ 45

27 (39)

12 (40)

39 (39)



46 ~ 55

09 (13)

11 (37)

20 (20)



56 <

06 (08)

01 (03)

07 (07)



Total

70 (100)

30 (100)

100 (100)



*The Chi-square observed vs expected frequencies (Total)
** Significant at P=0.5
Percentages are in parenthesis

Education Level

The education levels of the visitors of the Park are significantly different (c2 =82.16 and P <0.000). Most of them (76%) have secondary education (Table - 3).

Table - 3. Education levels of visitors

Education

Local Visitors

Foreign Visitors

Total

c2

P

a. Primary

10 (14)

00 (00)

10 (06)

82.16*

<0.000**

b. Secondary

53 (76)

23 (77)

76 (76)



c. Tertiary

07 (10)

07 (23)

14 (14)



d. Total

70 (100)

30 (100)

100 (100)



*The Chi-square observed vs expected frequencies (Total)
** Significant at P=0.5
Percentages are in parenthesis

Income Groups

Most of the local visitors (96%) of the Park belongs to middle income categories (Rs. 4,001 ~ 50,000) particularly 58% are lower-middle income category (Rs. 4,001 ~ 8,000). The visitors of low income (6%) and upper-middle income (6%) categories are comparatively very low.

The Visitation

Reason for Visits

Based on the average score of the Likert Scale, the reasons are ranked in descending order. Local and foreign visitors have ranked the reasons of their visits almost similarly (rs = 0.8095 and P = 0.015) (Table - 4). They have scored the highest (43.40) for wild-animals ranking 1 as the utmost important reason. Ranking the last (8) shows that the visitors do not consider the Park as an important place for research studies.

Table - 4. Raking of reasons for visits

Reason

Local

Foreign

Both

rs*

P

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Birds

32.80

4

21.00

3

29.26

4

0.8095

0.015**

Wild-animals

51.20

1

25.20

1

43.40

1



Flora/vegetation

23.00

7

18.80

7

21.74

7



Scenic beauty

44.80

2

22.60

5

38.14

2



Enjoy a trip

43.00

3

24.20

2

37.36

3



Research studies

14.00

8

06.00

8

11.60

8



Others want

30.20

5

19.20

6

26.90

6



Spend a holiday

29.40

6

23.20

4

27.54

5



* Spearman Rank Order Correlation Coefficient (Local & Foreign)
** Significant P=0.05

Preference for Birds and Wild-animals

Local and foreign visitors give some similar preference to the animals in the ranking order (rs = 0.6091 and P = 0.047) (Table - 5). They have ranked Elephants as the most preferred animal (Rank 1) in the Park. Wild-bore have been ranked 10 by foreign and ranked 9 by local visitors as the least preferred animal in the Park.

Table - 5. Preference ranking of wild animal groups

Reason

Local

Foreign

Both

rs*

P

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

a. Birds

42.20

4

24.00

2

36.74

3

0.6091

0.047**

b. Bear

46.00

2

23.00

5

39.10

2



c. Crocodiles

35.20

5

21.80

9

31.18

5



d. Deer

27.80

7

23.40

4

26.48

7



e. Elephants

47.20

1

25.00

1

40.54

1



f. Leopards

43.00

3

22.00

8

36.70

4



g. Reptiles

27.20

8

22.80

6

25.88

8



h. Sambar

31.40

6

23.80

3

29.12

6



i. Wild boar

23.80

9

18.80

10

22.30

10



j. Other mammals

22.80

10

22.60

7

22.74

9



k. Buffaloes

15.80

11

17.80

11

16.40

11



* Spearman Rank Order Correlation Coefficient (Local & Foreign)
** Significant P=0.05

Visibility of wild animals

There is a highly significant correlation (rs = 0.9543 and P = 0.000) between visibility of the animals in the Park ranked by local and foreign visitors (Table - 6). They have ranked the visibility of buffaloes, wild-bore, birds and elephants similarly (1, 2, 3 and 5). However, bear and leopard are the least visible animals (rank 10) in the park.

Table - 6. Visibility of wild animals

Reason

Local

Foreign

Both

rs*

P

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

a. Birds

28.60

3

21.00

3

26.32

3

0.9543

0.000**

b. Bear

14.00

10

06.00

10

11.60

10



c. Crocodiles

14.80

9

15.00

8

14.86

9



d. Deer

25.80

4

20.00

6

24.06

4



e. Elephants

23.40

5

20.60

5

22.56

5



f. Leopards

14.00

10

06.00

10

11.60

10



g. Reptiles

21.20

6

20.80

4

21.08

6



h. Sambar

21.00

7

19.60

7

20.58

7



i. Wild boar

38.80

2

21.80

2

33.70

2



j. Other mammals

17.20

8

18.80

9

17.68

8



k. Buffaloes

43.40

1

22.00

1

36.98

1



* Spearman Rank Order Correlation Coefficient (Local & Foreign)
** Significant P=0.05

Comparison of Visibility and Preference

The visitors are not in a position to see the animals as they preferred (rs = -0.4829 and P = 0.132) (Table - 7). The buffaloes (rank 1) and wild-bore (rank 2) are the most visible animals in the Park, but are the least preferred animals (rank 11 and 10) by the visitors. More preferred animals such as bear (rank 2), Leopard (rank 4) and crocodiles (rank 5) are the least visible (rank 10, 10 and 9) animals. Elephant is the most preferred animal ranking 1 has a fare visibility (rank 5).

Table - 7. Visibility and Preference of the visitors for animals

Wild-animal

Visibility

Preference

rs*

P

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

a. Birds

26.32

3

36.74

3

-0.4829

0.132

b. Bear

11.60

10

39.10

2



c. Crocodiles

14.86

9

31.18

5



d. Deer

24.06

4

26.48

7



e. Elephants

22.56

5

40.54

1



f. Leopards

11.60

10

36.70

4



g. Reptiles

21.08

6

25.88

8



h. Sambar

20.58

7

29.12

6



i. Wild boar

33.70

2

22.30

10



j. Other mammals

17.68

8

22.74

9



k. Buffaloes

36.98

1

16.40

11



* Spearman Rank Order Correlation Coefficient (Visibility & Preference)

Barriers for Visibility

Most of the visitors (65%) particularly the local visitors (81%) have recognized the seasonal behavioral pattern as a main barrier for visibility. Noisy is the second serious barrier for 64% of the local and 60% of the foreign visitors. Many of the visitors (59%) indicate that lack of watchtowers and hides as a main barrier for visibility. Poor road arrangement and lack of trenches is an important barrier for the visibility for 59% of the visitors.

Eco-tourism

Eco-tourism and Visitation

Watching wild-animals, birds, flora/vegetation and conducting research is identified as important aspects of eco-tourism in the Park. The reasons composed of eco-tourism related activities make the highest contribution for visitation of local (45.1%) and foreign (44.3%) visitors. Scenic beauty (15.7%) and a trip (15.6%) make some contribution for the total visitors as reasons for visitation. Further, spend the holiday (12.7%) and accompany the others (11.5%) make little contribution for the visitation.

Environmental impacts

The noisiness makes an important negative environmental impact for 42% of the visitors of the Park. Off-road driving that cause destruction for flora/vegetation and harassment for wild-animals are considered as negative impacts by 23% of the visitors. 6% of the visitors consider the garbage as an environmental pollutant. No visitors has seen collecting souvenirs, harassing wild-animals or getting off from the vehicles.

Environment Conservation efforts

49% of the local and 13% foreign visitors are willing to participate in direct conservation activities. However, 57% foreign and 20% local visitors are willing to contribute making people aware of conserving the Park. Financing is a main effort of 28% of the visitors. Even 28% are willing to finance the environmental conservation in the park. Only few 3% visitors wish to conduct research studies to conserve the environment.

Relevance of Eco-tourism activities

Ranking the relevance of eco-tourism activities by local and foreign visitors are not significantly correlated (0.5357 and P = 0.215) (Table - 8). However, They ranked wildlife and birding as the most relevant (1 and 2) activities. Both local (rank 7) and foreign (rank 6) visitors have given the least rank for the relevance of biking.

Table - 8. Ranking of relevance of Eco-tourism activities.

Activities

Local Visitors

Foreign Visitors

Both Visitors

rs*

P

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Wild life

57.00

1

21.80

1

46.44

1

0.5357

0.215

Birding

56.60

2

20.20

2

45.68

2



Sight seen

44.40

3

17.80

7

36.42

3



Adventure

35.20

4

18.80

5

30.28

4



Camping

31.60

5

19.60

3

28.00

5



Fishing

28.20

6

18.60

4

25.32

6



Biking

25.40

7

18.40

6

23.30

7



* Spearman Rank Order Correlation Coefficient (Local & Foreign)
** Significant P=0.05

Preference for Eco-tourism activities

The local and the foreign visitors have the same preference for different eco-tourism activities (rs = 0.9286 and P = 0.003) (Table - 9). They have given highest preference for wildlife, birding and sight seen ranking 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Fishing and biking are given least preference ranking.

Table - 9. Ranking of Preferences of Eco-tourism activities

Activities

Local Visitors

Foreign Visitors

Both Visitors

rs*

P

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

Score

Rank

0.9286

0.003**

Wild life

71.20

1

23.00

1

56.74

1



Birding

55.60

2

21.00

2

45.22

2



Sight seen

50.00

3

20.00

3

41.00

3



Adventure

49.20

4

17.20

5

39.60

4



Camping

36.20

5

18.40

4

30.86

5



Fishing

30.40

6

14.80

7

25.72

6



Biking

26.00

7

15.60

6

22.88

7



* Spearman Rank Order Correlation Coefficient (Local & Foreign)
** Significant P=0.05

Relevance of and Preference for Eco-tourism

The analysis shows exactly the same order of ranking relevance and preference for each eco-tourism activity by the visitors (rs = 1).

Conclusions

The majority is middle-age visitors with secondary education. Mostly local visitors are middle income people. Visits of low and high-income categories are low due to different expectations.

Local and foreign visitors visit the park on similar reasons. They give top priority to watch wild-animals. Least priority is given for fauna/vegetation and research studies by middle income visitors with secondary education. Elephant is the most preferred while buffalo and wild-bore are least preferred by visitors. Reasons related to eco-tourism have substantially influence the visitation.

Buffalo, wild-bore and birds are highly visible. The leopard and bear is very rarely visible or invisible. The preferences of the visitors and visibility of animals are not correlated. Visitors consider the seasonal behavioral pattern of animal as the main barriers for visibility. Noisiness, poor road network, lack of watchtowers and hides are other barriers for visibility.

Noisiness makes high negative environmental impact to perform eco-tourism in the park. Local visitors are willing to participate directly in environment conservation while foreign visitors are willing to give publicity about the environmental conservation.

Local and foreign visitors have different opinion on relevance but similar preference for eco-tourism activities in the park. Watching wild-animals and birds are the most relevant as well as the most preferred activities.

Policy Implications

Management of the park should be enhanced with proper infrastructure facilities to increase the visiting eco-tourists. The Park managed transport facilities for visitors within the park would minimize the noise, off-road driving and other environmental impacts.

Producing information materials and organizing awareness programs with regard to nature conservation, research opportunities and eco-tourism would attract more educated and rich nature tourists, scientists and students.

Research should be conducted to assess the likely impact of visitors on the entire ecosystem, on ecosystem resilience and carrying capacity. Scientific planning, organizing and implementation of the development as well as conservation programs are important to keep the eco-tourism sustainable in long-term.

References

Boo, E. (1991), Making tourism sustainable: recommendations for planning, development and management, in Whelan, T. (ed), Nature Tourism, Island press, USA, pp. 187 ~ 199.

Boo, E. (1994), Eco-tourism planning for protected areas, in Eco-tourism: A guide for planners and managers. Gorge Wasington University.

Dachanee, E. and Chettamart, S. (1997), What makes for a viable eco-tourism site? in Proceedings International seminar on Eco-tourism for forest conservation and community development, RAP Publications, 1997/42 pp. 61 ~ 71

Central Bank, (2000) Annual Report, Central Bank of Sri Lanka,

IUCN (1994), Directory of South Asia protected areas compiled by World Conservation Monitory Center, IUCN pp. 242 ~ 247

Samaraweera, C. S. (1970), Yala in History. Loris Pp. 12: 18 ~ 20

Tisdell C. A. (1991), Economics for environment conservation. Economics for environment & Ecological management. ELSEVIER, 1991


[1] University of Ruhuna, Department of Agricultural Economics, Faculty of Agriculture, Mapalana, Kamburupitiya, Sri Lanka. Email: aeone1@sltnet.lk