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Sunday, 11 July 2010

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The way to Wilpattu!

The safari ride to Wilpattu National Park wasnít a very lively one as a majority of the beautiful animals making it their home were quite frightened to see us approaching. According to Wijekoon, our safari ranger, these animals have been so stricken by war and destruction that everytime they see a moving vehicle miles away from them, they would still flee in fear. It was evident that despite the park now being open to visitors, itís difficult to really get up close to view the animals in their natural habitat.

Venturing on, we saw many jungle fowl, managed to spot a sloth bear rustling in the bushes, a few peacocks and many birds of prey. Though, the sambar deer and herd of wild boar started scampering for dear life when we saw them from afar.

Wilpattu is so called because of the series of Willus or natural lakes making it the Ďland of lakesí.

The landscaped water ponds and basins that have collected rainwater decorated with soft sand look like something out of a picturesque painting. Nestled in the northwest coast lowland or Sri Lanka in the dry zone area, the entrance to the park is from Hunuwilagama at the 43rd kilometre post off the Anuradhapura-Puttalam road.

The park has 131, 693 hectares, with a stupendous level of 0 to 152 meters above the sea. The park has about sixty lakes (willus) and tanks that distributed all around Wilpattu offering a home and haven for its nature-friendly residents. Wilpattu is one of the largest and oldest national parks in Sri Lanka and possibly in the world, famous for its Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) population. In 1905, the area was designated a sanctuary and in 1938 it was upgraded to the national park status.

There are 31 species of mammals that have been identified within Wilpattu national park like the threatened species including elephant (Elephas maximus), Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) and water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis). Sambhur, spotted deer, mongoose, mouse and shrew are also in existence.

The painted stork, the open bill, little cormorant, along with many species of owls, terns, gulls, eagles, kites buzzards are to be found at Wilpattu National Park.

Wetland bird species that can be senn in Wilpattu are the 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). The most common reptiles found in the park are the monitor lizard(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) making their homes in the bigger villus.

From December 1988 to March 16, 2003 the park was closed due to the war situation and thereafter, nearly 16 years later, it was reopened. Visitors can currently only tour some 25% (75% of the park is dense forest or scrub) of the park. The best time to visit Wilpattu is during the months of February and October. Upon visiting the park, you can even see some of the claymore bomb attack that befell the late great writer Nihal de Silva which is marked by some shrapnel and army vest.

The Mahavansa indicates that in 543 BC, Prince Vijaya was washed ashore at the Kudrimalai Point (Horse Point), married Kuweni and founded the Sinhalese race. Hence, you can see the ancient remains of Kuveniís Palace when you venture inside the park.

Sadly, we didnít see a leopard when we went due to the problem of it going into hiding. Part of the reason is that the animals are still in fear in the aftermath of the war.

According to the ranger, he said that there have been certain activities in order to make the park safe so that visitors wonít be at a risk on the track. In lieu of this, we noticed that the roof of the safari jeep was tightly secured so that you couldnít stand up and this was also a safety measure taken by the warden for fear of animal attack.

However, we didnít even see animals getting close to us since they were scared already. Also, we noticed soldiers from the army camp doing their morning exercises which actually disturbed the tranquility of the park with their jogging and chatting noises.

So there is really no peace for these animals! The bungalows within the park have been built for the use of special officials and are undergoing reconstruction after it has become safe after the dawn of peace.

Though, Wilpattu is definitely worth the visit because of its beauty and lure!

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