Marcel Bandaranaike, courtesy of The Aloysian, April and August issues, 2014
Mihintale, in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura located in the North Central province of Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s first recorded (247 BC) wild life & nature reserve established by King Devanampiyatissa, a convert to conservationism. Further evidence of this deep rooted concern to the conservation of wild life is found in an inscription engraved on a stone slab at Anuradhapura’s majestic Ruwanveli dagoba, attributed to the 12th century king Nissankamalla, forbidding capture, killing or commercial trafficking of any animals within a radius of 7 (gauvva) from the city.
At present, some of the better nature reserves in the Indian Sub-Continent & South East Asia for Leopard & Elephant are found in Sri Lanka.
There are 21 national parks in Sri Lanka maintained by the Department of Wild Life Conservation.
- Angammedilla National Park 11. Lunugamvehera National Park
- Bundala National Park 12. Madura National Park
- Flood Plains National Park 13. Minneriya National Park
- Gal Oya National Park 14. Pegion Island National Park
- Galway’s National Park 15. Somawathiya Chaitiya National
- Hikkaduwa National Park 16. Udawalawe National Park
- Horagolla National Park 17. Ussangoda National Park
- Horton Plains National Park 18. Wasgomuwa National Park
- Kaudulla National Park 19. Wllpattu National Park
- Lahugala National Park 20. Kumana National Park (Yala East)
21. Yala National Park
The most visited & popular wild life park is the Yala National Park. It lies in the South East region of the country & covers 979 square kilo metres & is around 284 kms from Colombo. Yala was designated as a wild life sanctuary in 1900 during the British era of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka ) and its first park warden was Henry Engelbrecht. Yala was declared a National Park in 1938
Water is abundant during & after the monsoons, but during the dry seasons surface water becomes an important factor. Kubukkan Oya & the Menik river & its tributaries flow through the park &, provide an important water source to the wild animals in the dry season filling up lagoons, rock pools, inland tanks & water holes in the jungle. The wilderness consists of a variety of eco systems made up of monsoon forests, semi deciduous forest, thorn forest, grass lands, wetlands & beaches. The south east borders of the park line the Indian Ocean.
The Yala jungles offer sanctuary to the Sri Lankan Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, all on the threatened species list. Sambur & Spotted Deer roam around freely & provide sustenance for the leopard. Jackals, Civet cats, Mongoose, Wild boar are the other mammals that can be spotted at Yala. Two crocodile species, the Mugger Crocodile & the Salt Water Crocodile inhabit the park waters. Of the reptiles, the Sri Lankan Krait, the Flying Snake, Painted lip Lizard & Wiegemanns Agama are the endemic species. The Indian Cobra & the Russels viper are among the other reptiles. The coast line at the park is visited by globally endangered Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle & the Green Turtle.
The Wilpattu National Park …
lies on the North West coast of the island 39 kms west of Anuradhapura and around 180 kms north of Colombo. It is bounded by Moderagam Aru Oya in the North & Kala Oya in the South. It was declared a sanctuary in 1905 & granted National Park status in 1938. It is one of the most protected jungles of Sri Lanka & covers an area of 139,693 hectares. From December 1988 to March 2003 this park was closed due to the security concerns the country was facing then. Now visitors can travel the entire range & occupy the bungalows & camping sites in all areas of the wilderness. Its flora & fauna is representative of the low lands of the dry zone, with three distinct types of vegetation, salt grass & stunted shrub bordering the beach, monsoon scrub & dense mosoon forest inland. The most distinctive feature of Wilpattu is the high concentration of lush villus (natural lakes). These villus (with the exception of two, which are saline) contain pure rainwater. These support an abundance of resident & migratory water birds, & are also the abode of the Mugger crocodile. Wipattu has over 30 species of mammalian wild life. Elephant, Leopard, Water Buffalo, Sloth Bear, Sambur & deer are the most conspicuous. However due the dense jungle, (unlike Yala) most times it is difficult to spot the big game & requires the expertise of a good tracker to track down the animals.
Bird-life could be located easier as they inhabit the environs of the inland lakes. Painted stalk are the most colourful of the birds & could be seen wading the water on lookout for fish. The open bill stalk & the cormorant join them in this exercise. If you could wait patiently viewing this scenario you will be lucky to see these big birds catching a fish in their bills. Different species of Owl, Eagles, Terns Gulls, Kites & Buzzards abode the surroundings. Similar to Yala, Pintails, Whistling Teal, Spoonbill, White Ibis, egrets.. etc. could be seen in most of the inland lakes. The Jungle Fowl, Peacock & the Chestnut hooded bee- eater add colour to the wild.
Spotting Leopard may be difficult due to the dense foliage. However sometimes you could see a leopard on a tree resting after a heavy meal or a Leopard resting right across the jeep track. These are the prize photos for the keen nature photographer. Elephants seen here are mostly loners, however, the rest could be with the herd within the bush. Sometimes when a leopard is spotted, all the safari jeeps tend to converge to this location & a chaotic situation may occur with the Safari drivers trying to squeeze in to give its occupants a better view of the animal in anticipation of a bigger tip in addition to their jeep hire. This is also the case at Yala. The wild life authorities should take stricter measures to educate the Jeep drivers & trackers towards a more disciplined approach.
Udawalawe National Park ….
was designed to accommodate the Elephants displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe reservoir on the Walawe river. This sanctuary covers 30,821 hectares and was established in 1972. The game park draws foreign & local tourists throughout the year because of the possibility of seeing Wild Elephants at close range. The surrounding habitat consists of grasslands, forests & marshes. This is an important habitat for the Sri Lankan Elephant, and is relatively easy for visitors to see them in the open grasslands. The keen photographer may sometimes need a wide angle lens in addition to their zooms to take in the whole picture.
The wild elephants are attracted to the Udawalawe reservoir & it is certainly a worthwhile sight to note a herd bathing in the waters. The Sri Lankan Leopard & the Fishing cat are also present in the sanctuary but are seldom spotted. Sambur, Spotted Deer & Wild boar roam throughout this jungle but the Sloth Bear is rare. Tufted Grey Langur, Water Buffalow, Golden Jackal, Mongoose, Civet Cats are residents but in lesser numbers than found at Yala & Wilpattu. Mugger Crocodiles, Water Monitors, Bengal Monitors & 30 species of snake are found in this park.
Water birds & endemics described in detail above are also residents of the jungle. White Bellied sea eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey headed Fish eagle, Changeable Hawk eagle are among the birds of prey.
Minneriya National Park …
is situated in the North Central Province 20 kms from Polonnaruwa. Its interiors are forested with Bamboo, Patanas & Talawas. Once you travel past the bush you arrive at the beautiful Minneriya Tank. This was built in the 3rd Century AD by King Mahasen.
Each day approaching sun down, this body of water attracts a huge herd of Elephants looking to quench their thirst and cool themselves in the serene waters. The visitors should travel into the jungle in their personal or hired four wheel drives (Jeeps are available for hire at the entrance to the park). The ideal time to start the safari will be around 3.00pm in order to be at the Minneriya Tank around 4.00pm when the large herds of Elephant arrive at the waters. It is said, that during the dry weather, the herd is made up of around 200 to 300 elephants. During a recent trip I have counted around 90 to 100 elephants (These are wild elephants unlike the tame elephants at Pinnawela , which is an Elephant Orphanage). Visitors are cautioned to be quiet so as not to disturb the herd. There have been instances where disturbed animals under provocation by unruly visitors, have attacked them.
It is one of the most beautiful sights of nature one can witness, when the elephants approach the water with their young nestled between the adult animals. The baby elephants frolic in the water for hours under the ever watchful eyes of its parents. Around 6.00pm the entire herd heads back into the jungle for the night.
With the arrival of nightfall, another chapter in the jungle book is concluded.
Our Island In The Sun” with mixed blessings.. after all, is truly blessed with nature….!