Branding Sri Lanka’s wildlife to promote tourism

Recently there were newspaper reports about the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) publicizing 7 iconic wild animals found in Sri Lanka as a way of promoting tourism. According to this idea, the top 7 wild animal species in the list were: Black Neck Stork, Salt water Crocodile, Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Blue Whale, and Leatherback Sea Turtle.

While certainly this list contains some rare animals, they are by no means “iconic.” The word “iconic” generally refers to widely-recognized, well-known, and well-established things, which have some distinctive excellence and charisma. But in this list, not all of these animals can be referred to as “iconic” (definitely not the Black Neck Stork!).

Of course, there is some logic and sense in embarking on a branding concept for Sri Lanka’s wildlife. Wildlife attractions, which provide value addition to Sri Lanka tourism, certainly help to promote interest in Sri Lanka’s diverse product offering.

Today, the “Gathering” of elephants at Minneriya National Park (during the months of May to September) is a must-see on the tourism itinerary, and is considered one of the great wildlife wonders of the world.

Similarly, whale watching along the coastal area of Kalpitiya and Mirissa, are also popular tourism attractions today. The fact that one can see the largest mammal on land, the elephant, and the largest mammal that has ever lived on this Earth, the Blue Whale, in one same place in Sri Lanka, is another unique fact that is now being promoted.

A few weeks ago, two of Sri Lankan wildlife parks (Yala and Uda Walawe) were listed among the Top 20 Safaris in the world by “Tourist Link.”

Hence, it would perhaps be an opportune time for Sri Lanka tourism to popularize and brand wildlife in Sri Lanka.

Africa has successfully branded the “Big 5,” which is comprised of five of the most sought-after, and sometimes dangerous, aggressive, and iconic wild animals, to promote wildlife tourism. A trip to the wildlife parks in Africa is not complete if all these animals have not been sighted, and most visitors will go to great lengths to get a glimpse of these animals on their safari. This has given rise to the very popular brand “Big Five of Africa,” which is now synonymous with Africa’s wildlife and tourism. The Big 5 are: African Lion (Panthera leo), African Elephant (Loxodonta africana & Loxodonta cyclotis), Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Leopard (Panthera pardus), and African Black and White Rhinoceros(Diceros bicornis & Ceratotherium simum).


In embarking to create a similar wildlife brand for Sri Lanka, one should first consider some basic marketing principles.

Al Ries and Jack Trout’s famous studies on branding and positioning, indicated that “positioning is what you do to get into the mind of the prospect, and to manipulate the wants that are already there in the prospect’s mind.”

Any marketer will tell you that a new brand is very difficult to create and needs effort, focus, time, and resources to launch and develop. The brand concept, attributes, and positioning have to be carefully thought through and strategically planned out before launching a brand campaign to promote it.

“Piggybacking” is a strategy sometimes used by marketers to launch a brand with minimum effort and create maximum impact, by leveraging the strength of an already existing popular brand. This requires less effort and resources and in a way, by riding the “slip-stream” of the main brand’s positioning, and capitalizing on the already prevalent “space” in the prospects mind.

Hence, would it not be the wisest, and the most strategically-effective process, to follow the Big 5, and brand Sri Lanka as the country where you can see the Big 4?


In keeping with the basic concept of choosing animals who are iconic and charismatic species, one can list out the following as Sri Lanka’s Big 4.

• Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)
• Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
• Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)
• Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus inornatus)

These are all large mammals, which have a great appeal to the general public and can create much interest in wildlife. The whole idea is that we will “ride” the top of the mind “recall” of the big 5, which will help position Sri Lanka’s Big 4 brand, within the same field of perception of the wildlife tourist, and stimulate greater interest to visit the country.

With Sri Lanka tourism growing rapidly and maturing, it is important that new avenues are created in sustaining this growth.

In this context, Sri Lanka’s Big 4 is, therefore, a timely and useful branding initiative to take forward and build upon, at this crucial juncture, to popularize Sri Lanka’s natural wonders to the world.