Dev Wijewardane: An awesome photoessay on the Pantanal, Brazil

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Go directly to the Gallery for an exhibition of Dev Wijewardane’s incredible Pantanal photoessay. Scroll down for the iSrilankan interview with Dev.

If the Pantanal is the Mecca of wildlife tourism in Brazil, there are a few prophecies and wise practices we could learn from in protecting our own wildlife-tourism and habitat sustainability experience in Sri Lanka. Dev Wijewardane the disciple who took off on a pilgrimage comes from a family tradition of wildlife enthusiasts who actually learn about the ways of nature and wildlife and have been taught at the toddling stages of wildlife-spotting how man and nature should treat each other.

Living in Australia at the moment, Dev Wijewardane took off to the Pantanal and Machu Picchu much to the envy of his wildlife enthusiast friends in the summer months last year. Everyone has a day job so it was difficult to connect with Dev who had little spare time, but when he did speak to me I wished that people like him were in charge of the subject back home. What a wonder Sri Lanka would be if the people who really had expertise and vision led the relevant industry ? It would surely be the Wonder of Asia.

iSrilankan is thrilled to feature Dev’s photoesaay of the Pantanal here and will be posting Machu Picchu later on.

Gaya : Is this trip to the Pantanal and Macchu Picchu something you always dreamed of? What makes it so special to you ?

Dev: Yes, I have wanted to visit both places ever since I first heard about them. With Machu Picchu, apart from the stunning location, the history behind the place fascinated me. I think the fact that the Spanish didn’t find (and destroy) it adds to the mystery and allure of the place. With the Pantanal, it was the variety of birds and animals that attracted me. There is a reason why it is cited as one of the best places in the world for viewing wildlife! The possibility of photographing a Jaguar and a Giant Otter in the wild was also a motivation for visiting the wetland. Actually, photographing both species was the icing on the cake.

Gaya : What can we as Sri Lankans with a heritage of natural wildlife and natural landscape beauty learn from the experiences in the Pantanal and else ?

Dev: I think for starters we should learn to appreciate what we have. We are so lucky to live in a country with an abundance of wildlife and diverse landscapes, but we seem to take this for granted.

For example, in the 1960’s or 70’s the Brazilian government started building a road across the Pantanal. Half way through construction, they realized that the new road was destroying the wetland, (because it affected drainage patterns). They stopped the project immediately. What remains of the road today is the Transpantaneira, one of the best places in the world to view wildlife.

On the other hand, in Sri Lanka, we built a road through Wilpattu, our largest national park. Environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts raised their concerns but these fell on deaf ears and the road was built anyway. I’m not sure if any environmental assessments were even conducted as part of the decision making process to build the road.

If you visit Yala National Park today and comes across a leopard, it will be chaos – besides a huge number of vehicles, you will also hear drivers and trackers yelling at each other, jeeps tooting their horns, loud music blaring from speakers, and people hanging out of vehicle windows to get a closer look – it is difficult to believe that you are experiencing a sighting of a rare animal. No one controls the number of visitors in the parks. Jeep drivers and safari guides are generally only interested in getting a tip so they often chase after animals and harass them. The telecom tower in the middle of the park is not helping matters either – jeep drivers and safari guides now use their mobiles to communicate and this often results in over-crowded sightings.

We need to to find a way to educate visitors to our national parks. We need to make them understand that the national parks are protected sanctuaries for animals, they were not created to be massive open zoos set aside for the sole purpose of providing a getaway for people. The government can also help by not making statements like this (http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/23023-kill-the-animals-that-destroy-the-crops.html).

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Dev Wijewardane works in the IT industry and lives in Sydney, Australia. His photographic interests include wildlife and travel photography. Dev is a slef-trained photographer and his equipment includes a Canon 5D Mark III and a 7D body along with the Canon 100-400mm L that he uses to photograph wildlife, a 24-105mm L lens thats used for landscapes and as a “walk around” lens and 100m L lens for macro photography. Follow Dev’s blog

Footprints is a series which brings you stories and features from and about Sri Lankans who live away from home. iSrilankan follows the story of their lives to see how the Srilankan footprint has travelled and how diverse is the imprint they leave on the Planet, in communities and cultures that differ from their ancestors. 

 

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