My unforgettable experience as a Naturalist

By Gayan Wijethunga

I was into wildlife since I was a teenager. After several jobs in the environmental field, I joined Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts as a Naturalist in 2014.
My key responsibilities include taking the guests of Cinnamon Lodge Habarana outside the resort for unique wildlife experiences and monitoring and maintaining the biodiversity within the resort. Leading inbound and outbound tours and assisting in wildlife filming projects and events are also my responsibilities. I am also the Leading Field Officer for The Cinnamon Elephant Project which is a conservation project that has won global recognition such as PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Grand and Gold Awards in 2018. The two things I love most in my job, apart from being in the wild, are being a part of a great team and meeting new people.

My job is always full of wonderful and unforgettable experiences. When I’m working on elephant research, sometimes I have to go deeper into the forest than usual park visitors do. Radio collaring elephants is also not something that everyone does, and it was indeed an intense and meticulous job.

Working with film crews provides an opportunity to work with celebrities like Dominic Monaghan, a wildlife presenter and Hollywood actor in ‘Lord of the Rings’. I got a front-row seat on how these jaw-dropping documentaries are produced, and it was truly remarkable. I would never forget the film production which had a night filming in the Yala National Park. They used high-end thermal and night vision cameras to shoot for almost a month in pitch-darkness.

I got to travel not only locally but also internationally. Once I accompanied a group to Ranthambore National Park in India for a Tiger Tour. The opportunity I got to represent Cinnamon Hotel & Resorts at British Bird Fair (UK) is unforgettable.

I kept the best experience for last. Working with whales is the most unforgettable experience in my life. Every year, I lead groups of professional underwater photographers to see marine life in the Eastern Sea. Seeing a gigantic whale underwater is beyond comparison to seeing it from the surface of the water. You get the real perspective of these gentle giants when you see them below the surface. I cried like a kid when I free-dived with a whale for the first time. That amusement never fades away!