Chitral Jayathilake, is a name synonymous with wildlife photography. With an avid interest in promulgating Sri Lanka as a wildlife destination, he reprises his role primarily as a nature lover and then some, through a cornucopia of trail blazing efforts, ensuring that others follow suit. Brandishing an in-depth knowledge of wildlife hotspots of the island has given Chitral the cutting edge as he steers his able team at Cinnamon Nature Trails.
His interest in photography was sparked long before the dawn of the digital age; following the footsteps of his illustrious father, Chitral dabbled in the art of photography with verve.
He was at liberty to use the tools to hone his love for photography, which in turn enabled this pioneer nature photographer a chance to submit his picture for a contest when he was merely seventeen years old. “The honorary award presented by the Duke of Cambridge was a milestone in my life,” enthused he.
While pursuing his passion for capturing the pictures which spoke volumes to its viewers, Chitral commenced his career in the airline industry of the leading conglomerate in the island, John Keells PLC (John Keells Holdings at the time).
He held his first exhibition at the age of 28 and published his premier coffee table book in collaboration with the late Ravi Samarasinghe.
Chitral embarked on a perilous journey to the war torn areas in the North and North East in search of nature’s bounty and was the happiest when the conflict ended in 2009. “This was the second momentum for me and the greatest opportunity this Island achieved,” said he as the cessation of civil strife opened an avalanche of opportunities in terms of exploration.
A Wealth of Knowledge
His extensive knowledge of the wild coupled with his agility and stealthy reflexes, is considered a gift by many renowned nature photographers, who value his immense contribution in placing Sri Lanka on the map; predominantly as a nature based tourist destination.
“Our country is home to a rich bio- diversity and eco-system and I have always marveled at the vibrancy of nature, yearning to showcase it to the world.”
“A few years ago, I made a transition in my career by transferring to the JK Hotel sector which was a beneficial decision as it fueled my passion for creativity and the wild. Subsequently, the two interests fused to bring about the concept of wild life tourism. Along with a team of equally passionate souls, we established the Cinnamon Nature trails which brought in celebrated wildlife enthusiasts of the world.”
Working with the Celebrities
Chitral’s efforts have continuously reached across the realm to international platforms such as BBC Earth, National Geography, BBC Natural History and much more.
“I have been very fortunate to work alongside renowned nature lovers, photographers and wildlife film makers such as Jonathan and Angela Scott who are the only couple to have won the ‘Overall Winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award’ as individuals, the celebrated British marine biologist, Dr. Charles Anderson, world famous wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum as well as TV wildlife celebrity Austin Stevens. Apart from the above mentioned star-studded names were many others including BBC presenter, author, wildlife evangelist and conservationist Chris Packham, award-winning photographer, presenter and legendary wildlife guide Paul Goldstein who is passionate conservationist promoting sustainable tourism and Bence Mate – The highest BBC award winning photographer from Hungary”.
Exploring the Ends of the Earth
“I believe in tapping the potential and not allowing oneself to be stagnated. Hence, the reason for providing an out bound tourist venture, titled ‘Wildlife Exposed’ which is solely based on exploring the wilds of South America predominantly the forests of Brazil which is home to the jaguar, the jungles of Rwanda famous for its population of silverback gorillas and India’s verdant woodlands in search of the majestic Bengal tiger and of course the vast grasslands of Kenya, which is the habitat for many species. After all, why does one have to adhere to the norm when there is a world of opportunity that awaits those who are willing to take the plunge,” announced he.
“These adventure based holiday excursions which are tailor-made for nature enthusiast are specially curated by Cinnamon Holidays which provide experiences to celebrate the natural world, admiring traditions and heritage, diversity of people and places while treading lightly among the magical spaces on earth,” remarked Chitral.
Family – the backbone of success
Chitral receives his greatest support and admiration from his beautiful spouse, Oshadi and his two equally pretty and talented daughters, Dewmi and Ashvini. His time spent with his family is equally as important as his sojourns to the wilds.
Dewmi, is a fashion designer working at the MAS Group, while Ashvini, who echoes the sentiments of her father in terms of photography, aspires to be an architect someday. She herself has gained recognition for her photographic escapades, which involved a few exhibitions alongside her father and another with Dimitri Goonewardane. A few years ago the young photographers (Ashvini & Dimitri) who are protégés of Chitral, published a 136 page book titled “Growing in the Wild” in 2013 when they were 19 years and 15 years respectively.
“I am proud of my girls who have embarked on careers which revolve around creativity and design,” stated Chitral with unbridled pride.
The Importance of Sustainability
Chitral emphasized on the key elements which will eventually prevent unethical practices which endanger the gifts endowed by Mother Nature to our isle, “as much as we need to promote tourism, the government itself has to set up the parameters for sustaining and conserving our wildlife without allowing greed to overtake regulations.
Wild life and nature based tourism should not add unnecessary stress to the habitats as the controls and guidelines need to be in place. For instance Yala exhibits the potential threat to the wildlife sanctuaries when there are no restrictions as the animals are faced with tremendous stress due to the overwhelming numbers which visit the park daily during the season.
The government should implement the relevant controls to mitigate such an influx into the nature reserves if they wish to preserve and retain the natural beauty of its environment and we can learn much from our neighbors and shape the necessary controls that will ensure what’s wild and free here stays like that for years to come.
We can look at the countries such as Costa Rica and even Rwanda which are thriving due to their ability to control visitation which helps to preserve the wild habitat and enhance guests experiences ,” added he.
At present the nature aficionado who espouses the cause of promoting Sri Lanka as a wildlife destination is heavily involved in promoting the ‘Cinnamon Sri Lanka Photo Contest,’which enables tourists to send in pictures of the island which encapsulate either one of the seven categories such as nature , landscapes and cityscapes, interior, culture and people, activity and adventure, deeper perspective or photo essay travel shots with the added opportunity to submit their best videography experiences in the island. The ongoing application process which expires in a few days will be adjudged on technical excellence, composition and originality and enable the winner to receive USD5000 in cash with the bonus award of a 21-day all expenses paid vacation to photograph this bountiful island to their hearts content. The winner of the videography category will receive USD2500 with a day 10 day all- expenses paid assignment to cover Sri Lanka.
Message to the Budding Nature Photographers
The words of the expert to budding nature photographers is saturated with wisdom ,“my message to those interested in following this path which requires a penchant for the natural world is to have bouts of patience as one allows the wild to offer its opportune moments. Do not try to create an image by disrupting the natural flow of nature; let the animals and the landscapes move at their own pace while you respect and reverence their world and feel honoured that they have allowed you to be a part of this not vice versa. It is also imperative to have a profound bond with nature prior to embarking on a path which requires one to take on a meditative stance; conforming to the surroundings while being keenly aware of every movement in order to capture the perfect picture which will reveal its story to the world.
In the past the potential for nature photography was limited to the restrictive investments and it was only a handful of individuals who would embark on such a career, but the trends have changed due to the onset of digital photography and social media. One does not necessarily have to be technologically savvy to click at an image but the creative aspect and the passion for nature does play a significant part in capturing nature in its unadulterated albeit breathtaking beauty. A photograph depicts a story and you as a photographer should consider yourself as the narrator.”