Magnificent Wilpattu - Island 20-Feb-2004

by Dasun Edirisinghe
A popular belief among lovers of nature is that any time of the day one can be sure of seeing a leopard at the Wilpattu National Park. This is not just a saying, it is a fact and the Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka is among the top national parks in the world. Both facts were amply evident when I visited Wilpattu recently on a tour I am likely never to forget.

Ancient history...

The Wilpattu National Park and its surrounding are steeped in history and covered with legend. Popular legend says that in 543 BC King Vijaya landed at Kudrimalai and that he married Kuweni. According to some ancient ruins identified, it is said that Kuweni lived in the place now identified as the Kali Villu. Both Kudrimalai and Kali Villu are found in the Wilpattu. Furthermore history shows that Prince Saliya, son of King Dutugemunu, lived with Asokamala in Maradanmaduwa in Wilpattu over 2000 years ago. Pomparippu too is of historical value as urns containing the remains of those belonging to pre Vijayan times have been excavated from that site. Also between Palangaturai and Kollankanatte are the remains of an old harbour.

The Park...

In 1905, the designated area in Wilpattu was declared a sanctuary. Thereafter it was upgraded to national park status on February 25, 1938. However, the Wilpattu National Park was closed to visitors from December 1988 due to the prevailing situation in the country and the unstable security conditions in that area.

After a sixteen year hibernation, it was reopened to visitors on March 16, 2003, much to the relief of many nature lovers who had missed out on the natural treasures of Wilpattu during its closure.

The location...

The park is located 30km west of Anuradhapura and spans the border between the North Central and North Western Province. It is bordered by the Modaragam aru in the south the Kala Oya in the north and is bordered by the Indian ocean in the west. The Wilpattu National Park is the largest national park in the area with an acreage of 131, 693 hectares. It is situated ranging from sea level to 152 metres above it.

The climate...

Annual temperature in the Park is around 27.2 Celsius and its annual rainfall is approximately 1000 mm. Though situated in the dry zone, the climate inside the Wilpattu National Park is very unlike that of the dry zone. Upon entering the densely wooded Park, a feeling of going to a forest with abundant water is what enters the mind. This is perhaps explained by the patterns of rainfall it experiences. The period between September to December is known as the rainy season at Wilpattu with the north eastern monsoon falling heavily. Inter monsoon rains come to Wilpattu between March and April. The period of drought extends from May to early September.

Its flora...

There are many Villu and lakes at Wilpattu. This is identified as the main topographical feature of the Park. They are often flat and basin like while containing purely rain water.

The western sector of Wilpattu is covered deeply with forests. Many species of flora can be identified at Wilpattu national park. There are three types of vegetation; Littoral vegetation, including Salt grass and low scrub immediately adjacent to the beach and further inland, monsoon forest with tall emergents, such as Palu (Manilkara hexandra), and Satin (Chloroxylon swietenia), Milla (Vitex altissima), Weera (Drypetes sepiaria), Ebony (Disopyros ebenum) and Wewarna ( Alseodaphne semecapriflolia).

The fauna...

Looking at the fauna of this national park mammalian diversity and ecological densities are highest. A total of 31 species of mammals have been identified at the Wilpattu national park. Mammals threatened with extinction are also there. The elephant (Elephas maximus), Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) and water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) are identified as the threatened species living within the Wilpattu National Park.

We witness many kinds of birds flying about at the Wilpattu. The Villus support both resident and migratory water fowl, including large breeding populations of the Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) and Open billed stork ( Anastomus oscitans).

Other wetland bird species as Garganey (Anas querquedula), Pin tail (Anas acuta), Whistling teal (Dendrocygna javanica), Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), White ibis (Threskiornis malanocephalus), Large white egret (Egretta alba modesta), Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) and Purple heron (Ardea purpurea) also found at the Wilpattu National Park.

At Wilpattu, among the reptiles found the most common are the Monitor (Varanus bengalensis), Mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), Common cobra (Naja naja), Rat snake (Ptyas mucosus), Indian python (Python molurus), Pond turtle (Melanonchelys trijuga) and the Soft shelled turtle (Lissemys punctata) who are resident in the large permanent Villus. We can saw Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) roaming on the grasslands at Wilpattu. Termites of the Genus Trinervitermes clan probably account for the most significant proportion of the invertebrate bio mass. Termites are found not on the grasslands but actively living in the scrub forests.

Nearly sixty lakes and tanks are found spread around the Wilpattu National Park.

Also there are seven circuit bungalows at Wilpattu national park situated Maradanmaduwa, Pannikar Villu, Kalli Villu, Mena Villu, Thala Villu, Manikkapola Uttu and Kokmottai. Six of them are still not habitable due to various conditions prevailing in those areas. The Kokmottai circuit bungalow is now habitable after extensive renovations.

A looming threat...

Wilpattu national park is the oldest and perhaps the most important protected area in Sri Lanka. Itís fauna and flora are representative of the dry lowland zone. It is unfortunate that many species living in the park are threatened species.

Furthermore the affects of hunters and biodiversity smugglers are threatening the natural balance of the Park. Only recently, the Mayor of Beruwala Mashahim Mohamed was caught by Wild Life Department Officers while he was trying to smuggle 12 Open Billed storks illegally. The is something that needs to be stopped quickly if we are to safeguard Wilpattu and its delicate natural balance.