In the magical wild jungles | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

In the magical wild jungles

21 June, 2020
A silhouette of a hawk eagle near a tank in Wasgomuwa at dusk
A silhouette of a hawk eagle near a tank in Wasgomuwa at dusk

It was certainly  good news that the Government re-opened national parks on Monday (15), to nature buffs and the public after being closed since late March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The public visiting the parks have been advised to maintain strict health regulations.

Similarly, the Government has also focused on re-opening the country to foreign tourists as well as locals to strengthen the devastated tourism industry. The Government has advised that the opening of national parks should be done in a manner that would not harm the pristine environment and the wildlife.

 However, what I saw in a recently telecast TV documentary was heart rending. It showed a large quantity of animal flesh which had been seized by the officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation during a sudden operation in Yala Block I. It clearly highlighted that illegal activities were being carried out unabated in the national parks, greedy hunters, fishermen, treasure hunters and timber fellers making national parks their haven during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

June is very significant to Buddhists in the country. Buddhism first came to Sri Lanka from India when the missionary bhikku Arahat Mahinda was sent by Emperor Ashoka to convey the Buddha’s message to his colleague, the Sri Lankan King, DevanampiyaTissa.

The bhikku, on arriving in the island’s wooded and rocky city of Missakapauva, came upon the king hunting deer in the royal hunting preserve. Stopping the king in his tracks, the bhikku spoke to him about the Buddha’s teachings – which, among other concepts, emphasises the sanctity of all living beings. He also informed the king that all mammals, birds and other creatures should enjoy the same right to live in the land as his people.

Impressed by the bhikku’s words, the king converted to Buddhism. He also renounced the pleasure of the hunt and designated his hunting preserve as a sanctuary where animals and birds could roam free, being granted royal protection from hunters. This historic event was the start of the royal protection for all forms of animal life. Perhaps the religious fervour which gripped the ancient Buddhist kings was to account for this concern. Whatever the reason, the theme of preservation has been carried through to the present day.


Under the auspices of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the country’s popular wildlife reserves such as Yala, UdaWalawe, Wilpattu, Wasgomuwa and Kumana continue this ancient tradition, allowing tourists to visit these animal sanctuaries and have the pleasure of watching a variety of wild animals in their natural habitat.

I have been fortunate to visit a few popular wildlife reserves around the country in recent years, sleeping under the stars mainly to explore archaeological sites in the jungles and secondly, to see the animal life. I was drawn to the jungles by my life-long love of the Buddhist heritage and natural beauty. Heritage and nature, so important to Sri Lanka, have been central in much of my work as a photographer and history buff and drew my attention to these jungles. 

Ruhuna, more popularly known as Yala, arguably the best national park in the country is in the southeastern corner of the island. I visited this nature reserve last year, soon after the December rains, when the trees and grass were green and the tanks were full.

It provides visitors a great chance to see elephants. Sometime ago, spotting a leopard or sloth bear at Yala was only a remote possibility; but in recent years these animals have increased in the park and are now frequently sighted.

Yala East National Park, popularly known as Kumana, lies in the East of Yala and is a paradise for bird watchers. It was one of my regular places to visit not only to spot animals, but also to venture along untrodden tracks to discover hidden wonders of the ancient civilisation dotting the jungle. A highlight here is the 200 hectare ‘Kumana Villu’, a mangrove swamp where during May and June a host of water birds such as herons, flamingos, egrets, painted storks, pelicans, spoonbills, white ibis, cormorants and even the rare black-necked storks may be seen.

Just south of the central hill country, the Uda Walawa National Park – a mixture of scrub jungle, grassland and abandoned human settlements – is  around the man-made Uda Walawa Reservoir. It is a wonderful place to see elephants as about 500 wild elephants live here in large herds.  Other memorable features about Uda Walawe are the teak trees and the excellent bird watching, with the colourful bee-eaters and a variety of eagles being particularly enjoyable. They seemed to be everywhere.

My journey to Wasgomuwa National Park was fascinating. It is the only national park in Sri Lanka’s Central Province where you can see elephants in groups in their natural habitat. It is a wildlife photographer’s paradise.  This park, bounded by two major rivers,  the Mahaweli and Amban Ganga, was inhabited by people during the era of the  ancient Sinhala kingdom. Irrigation canals and tanks (wewas) bear witness to the past prosperity but its present value lies in conserving 23 species of mammals, 143 varieties  of birds and various amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and fish, as well as a rich diversity of plants.

If  Wasgomuwa’s scenic beauty was impressive, then Wilpattu was even better.  The Wilpattu National Park lies on the West Coast and is mainly thick secondary forest. One of the unique features of the topography of the park is the concentration of villus, basin-like natural tanks, where large flocks of water birds and herds of wild animals come to quench their thirst. These villus are also the home of crocodiles.

Kudriamalie Point

The park is also famous for its spotted leopards and sloth bears. Herds of deer, and sambhur (elk) in groups of twos and threes, could easily be seen in the park. Moreover, the ancient Kudriamalie Point lies in the western part of the park close to the coast and a number of archaeological sites are dotted within the jungles of Wilpattu.

As I drove back home visiting each national park, I looked back on great days sampling some of the best wilderness areas in the country. The authorities of the parks have a duty to protect the animals from human vultures who are always eyeing prey in the jungles.