Mumbai: While Sri Lanka gets worldwide attention drawn to its natural world, tourists flock to experience Sri Lanka’s jewels in the wild. Thus, it is imperative to develop a sustainable model to showcase Cinnamon’s stewardship towards environment and conservation. Cinnamon even bagged the title ‘Best Wildlife and Marine Tourism Service Provider’ at the PATA InSPIRE Awards 2015. As one of the leading hospitality chains in Sri Lanka, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts is honoured to showcase Sri Lanka’s natural world as a sustainable tourism product.
An on-going project in its fifth year of operation, Project Leopard in Yala is supervised and deployed by Cinnamon Nature Trails naturalists at Cinnamon WildYala. It has dual objectives of supporting the livelihoods of cattle farmers and protecting the leopard population living in and outside the boundary of the parks. They have distributed 50 steel pens to cattle farmers, enabling them to protect their cattle from leopards in the area – an effort that won the distinguished Davis Award for Peace last year at the University of Clark – USA. This project is First Trap camera image – spotted at the entrance of Cinnamon Wild Yala supervised and deployed by the passionate Nature Trails naturalists, housed within the resort. In order to assist in data collation, camera traps were deployed in the Yala National Park Block 1, in order to estimate the leopard population using the ‘capture-recapture’ methodology. Random points were picked using maps and 28 remote infrared trap cameras were running automatically to provide 24 hour surveillance. The collected images were then used by the team of naturalists to determine the age structure, sex ratios of the animals and the territories owned by these illusive cats.
Considered to be among the top 10 greatest natural animal spectacles in the world, the Elephant Gathering is the largest wild gathering of the Asian elephant, occurring annually within the safety of the protected Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.
The ‘Cinnamon Elephant Project’ is a collaborative effort between Cinnamon Hotels and the Centre for Conservation and Research that started in 2014 as a groundbreaking initiative to develop best practices in elephant tourism – taking it to a higher level through the integration of research into the tourism arena. This integrates both long-term conservation efforts of the endangered Asian elephant, and inclusive ecotourism practices in Sri Lanka – through elephant viewing based on this annual elephant gathering. Elephants are identified based on their morphological characters and their life stories are followed by the naturalists at the Cinnamon Hotels. This information is shared with visitors while on safari and based at the Cinnamon Lodge, through a newly-constructed elephant research station- enabling them to obtain a unique, enriching and more personal experience.
Under the Project, the satellite tracking of two elephant herds from Minneriya and Kaudulla was undertaken through GPS collaring. Data gathered from tracking the collared matriarchs helped understand the exact seasonal movement of the elephant herds and help tackle the human-elephant conflict through better land and water management recommendations.
This also facilitates effective, long-term conservation initiatives for Asian elephants. The team
successfully completed the first phase of the project in 2017, where over 70 elephants were identified, named and photo-catalogued. Phase two of the project was activated in early 2018, with the collaring of the matriarchs of two elephant herds with support from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), which enabled state-of-the-art satellite and GPS tracking of the two herds after the dispersion of the gathering.
In addition, demographic, health and behavioural data is collected to provide baseline population data, enable monitoring of the elephants’ well-being and contributing to the scientific knowledge of Asian elephants. The project will also track some of the smaller elephant herds by using high tech satellite collars throughout the year, even after the annual gathering in August disperses. This phase of the study helps understand the seasonal movement of the elephant herds that are part of the larger gathering.
Project Whale is a pioneering venture, an initiative aimed at studying and preserving the
Blue Whale population of Sri Lanka. Cinnamon Nature Trails has been involved in conducting
whale watching in the East since 2009. Their teams have been recording unusually high numbers
of sperm whales off the Trincomalee Sea each year. This phenomenon has now been identified as
the Super Pods of sperm whales, and the team began collating data to understand the reasons for
these mega congregations in Trinco, also observed in Mirissa and Kalpitiya.
The innovative public science project encourages the general public to share their images and
information on a public platform, using social media tools such as Flickr and other on-line catalogues.
Photo identification is used to identify whales based on unique markings on the tail fluke of the whale, allowing them to be catalogued effectively. Initiated in the North Eastern coast, the project was extended to other coastal areas in the Southern region. The project has already made astounding discoveries with over 50 unique blue whales being catalogued. With time it is anticipated that the project could reveal much about the lifestyles of the whales, such as population numbers, diet and travel patterns. By engaging the local communities and public in this venture, they seek to instill a sense of stewardship in the minds of the public towards the unique biodiversity, to bring all local communities together for further discoveries and knowledge sharing.
The project also supports the livelihoods of the local communities, as boats are supplied by the community with experienced boatmen in charge of these. Financial support has also been provided to these fishermen to commence their business as official boat suppliers for the Project and the whale and dolphin watching experience offered to guests.