Sri Lanka at forefront of wildlife conservation efforts

srilanka_wildlifeA popular Sri Lankan tourist attraction and wildlife sanctuary, the “Uda Walawe” National Park, has been recreated in an elephant exhibition in Twycross Zoo in the UK. The Sri Lankan themed habitat opened recently.

The new AED 5.6 million (£1 million) Asian elephant habitat and walkway “Uda Walawe” was opened by the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, His Excellency Justice Nihal Jayasinghe.

“The opening highlighted the importance of the wildlife conservation efforts Sri Lanka is undertaking and marked the launch of a unique zoological and cultural attraction in the United Kingdom,” said Heba Al Mansoori, Middle East Director of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) based in Dubai. “I laud the efforts of Twycross Zoo to create a piece of Sri Lanka in the UK and encourage people to visit the beautiful destination and see for themselves the conservation efforts in the country.”

“Most Zoo’s have themed elephant habitats which reflect Thailand, Burma, Vietnam or India. Twycross Zoo will be the first in the world to theme a Sri Lankan elephant habitat. Sri Lanka is a country which has produced the world’s first and the largest elephant orphanage at Pinnawela and made the conservation of the largest mammal on land and planet earth a priority, creating many protected areas for animals. We have drawn on the knowledge and skills of our zoological consultant Vasantha Nugegoda, from Design for Life to help design this exhibit.”

The entrance to Uda Walawe is a typical authentic farmer’s tree hut. Inside the hut are information panels on the distribution of elephants in Sri Lanka and Asia. Beyond this is a meandering forest trail which guides people to a Sri Lankan village school. The school has a range of religious, cultural and elephant artefacts. Colourful information boards are prominent that highlight Sri Lankan wildlife and tourism. Large screen film footage will be playing showing elephants on festival parade from Sri Lanka. This festival is called Esala Perehera and takes place in Kandy and is a Buddhist summer festival unique to Sri Lanka. In the corner sitting pretty is a life size ceremonial elephant dressed in full parade robes.

When you leave the village school the forest trail then continues to a wooden bridge over a water lily pool, which allows close quarter views of the five elephants. The inner habitat is identical to Uda Walawe National Park, with a large lake, trees, rocks and sandy areas. At this point you will feel immersed in the exhibit. Following the trail, visitors will reach a divide in the path. The lower trail has been designed for less able visitors, whereas the other route meanders past a higher viewing area leading up a high mountain.

Uda Walawe will promote the conservation of the Asian elephants and act as a shop window for crucial wildlife conservation programmes in Sri Lanka. Uda Walawe is the name of one of Sri Lanka’s national parks, in part set up to provide a sanctuary for many wild animals. Approximately three hundred elephants are believed to permanently reside there. The sanctuary is also home to water buffalo, water monitor lizards, sambar deer, monkeys and the occasional leopard. It is an important site for unique bird species. Sensitive and well managed eco-tourism is an important source of income for local people in Sri Lanka and provides an incentive to continue to protect the wildlife.

Suzanne Boardman, Director of Twycross Zoo said, “We are delighted that our visitors will be able to experience a taste of Sri Lanka, as well as learning about the cultural and historical aspects of this wonderful country, including the important role that the domesticated elephant has had on the country. Our aim is for this exhibit to forge strong links between the UK and Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to tourism.

The opening of this new exhibit promotes the need to conserve this important species globally and highlight the importance of elephants in Sri Lanka. It is our ambition to encourage visits to the wildlife areas of Sri Lanka and to share with our visitors the magical aura of Sri Lanka. It is our desire to create a little piece of Sri Lanka in the UK and an opportunity for visitors to learn about and also visit Sri Lanka to see how beautiful this country is.” Uda Walawe is open to all visitors from Thursday 29th July 2010.

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