The Nature Interpretation Programme (NIP) training
The ‘Nature Interpretation Programme’ is an educational and awareness raising programme for the jeep drivers of all national parks, to raise their sensitivity towards wildlife and to move them towards a more responsible tour guide community.
WHY WAS IT REQUIRED?
Visitor numbers have steadily increased in the last couple of decades to National Parks in Sri Lanka and with it a huge foreign exchange injection into the Sri Lankan economy.
Revenue from foreign visitors, visiting Sri Lanka’s wildlife parks catapulted from Rs 391,000 in 1987 to Rs 60 Million in 2000 to Rs 468 Million in 2012.
In 2016, as per a study undertaken on behalf of SLAITO, approximately Rs. 7 Billion was earned by local hotels, guest houses, jeep drivers and others from visitation to the Yala National Park alone!
However, the tourism industry has not moved forward with the growing volumes of tourists and visitors to the national parks.
A clear lack of regulations and enforcement of existing laws has resulted in poor jeep driver behaviour in national parks which ultimately flow through to create a poor visitor experience and poor reviews on experience review sites such as TripAdvisor
The global community and the travel industry at large is moving towards ‘Responsible Tourism’ and Sri Lanka must act fast to catch up.
This is why the Federation of Environmental Organizations (FEO) took the initiative to launch the Nature Interpretation Program for Sri Lanka’s wildlife safari jeep drivers, with the aim of creating a more responsible& wildlife sensitive jeep driver community.
PROGRESS SO FAR
The Nature Interpretation program has been rolled out so far at Minneriya, Kaudulla and Wilpattu National Parks multiple times to meet jeep driver demand.
Over 450 safari jeep drivers have participated in the workshops and been accredited by SLAITO, SLTDA, DWC and FEO.
We have seen how jeep driver behaviour has changed for the better as a direct result of the programme – for example in Minneriya National Park, drivers have been observed to be more sensitive towards the wildlife, often reversing/moving out of the way of the elephants when they are seen trying to cross towards the water or with calves.
FEO hopes to roll out the Nature Interpretation Programme at the popular wildlife parks of Yala & Udawalawe in the coming months
From July 1, 2019, only accredited commercial safari jeep drivers will be permitted entrance to the Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks of the DWC, and the Hurulu Eco Park of the Forest Department.
We hope that such training programmes, and entrance policies, will be extended to the other National Parks as soon as is possible; a much anticipated turning point for wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka.
As a second phase we would like to support improving the language skills in the jeep driver community beginning with English as the lack of English skills has been identified as one of the main obstacles in providing a satisfactory and positive visitor experience.