- Tissamaharama Jeep Association turns violent; threatens wild life tourism operators
By Cheranka Mendis
The three tented mobile safari operators within the Yala National Park have been threatened by the Tissamaharama Jeep Association on Friday and Saturday to cease operations within five days, accusing them of eating into the share of local jeep operators’ business.
The operators – Mahoora Safari Camps, Kulu Safaris and Leopard Safaris – have been threatened by a mob of 50 to 60 persons on separate occasions, causing bodily injuries to some of the team members. The groups operate with prior clearance of the Wildlife Department and are registered companies.
An official of one of the safari groups told the Daily FT that the attacks started on Friday with an assault on a jeep of Kulu Safaris just outside Chaaya Village, Habarana, which was returning after dropping off some of the group’s VIP guests from Spain at the hotel for their final stay.
Three Kulu Safaris team members had been in the jeep when a mob of 50-50 people had surrounded the jeep, threatening them with abusive language first and then beating them up severely. The team members were not hospitalised for safety reasons.
On Saturday, two members of Leopard Safaris were injured in a similar attack, which took place just outside the Palatupana entrance of Yala National Park.
The members were injured and hospitalised. One member is suffering from a head injury and is now at Hambantota Hospital, having been transferred from Tissamaharama Hospital. The group was coming to pick up two tourist groups to take on tour. The tourists were put up in nearby hotels for the night afterwards.
On Saturday a jeep from Mahoora Safaris was prevented from entering the Tissamaharama town near Yodha Road.
Complaints have been lodged with the Tissamaharama Police. However, the operators alleged a local politician is behind the attack as the man taken into custody for attacking the Leopard Safari GM was released on bail an hour after being arrested. The assaulted is still in hospital.
It was also noted that the mob had been using the name of Speaker of the House Chamal Rajapaksa. “We do not think he has any involvement in this. However we suspect a local politician at play here,” the official said.
Three members have also received death threats.
The safari groups have spoken to the IGP and the Department of Wildlife regarding the matter and have received support from the parties.
“We do not take their business. They handle the day guests whereas we work on a pre-booked basis where some guests book us six to 12 months before. We however help the local jeep drivers when they encounter accidents or emergencies in the park due to poor conditions of their vehicles. We want the injustice to stop. This is an issue of miscommunication, envy and greed.”
Officials from the Wild Life Department were not available for comment.