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SANCTURIES AND NATIONAL PARKS

YALA

Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka, bordering the Indian Ocean. The park consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public, and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names such as, Ruhuna National Park (Block 1), and Kumana National Park or 'Yala East' for the adjoining area. It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and is located about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan leopards and aquatic birds.

There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala. Among the largest is Lunugamvehera National Park. The park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala harbours 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. The number of mammals that has been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.

The area around Yala has hosted several ancient civilizations. Two important pilgrim sites, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara, are situated within the park. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage on the Yala National Park and 250 people died in its vicinity. The number of visitors has been on the rise since 2009, after the security situation in the park improved.

WILPATTU

Wilpattu National Park (Willu-pattu; Land of Lakes) is a park located on the island of Sri Lanka. The unique feature of this park is the existence of "Willus" (Natural lakes) - Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. Located in the Northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka. The park is located 30 km west Anuradhapura and located 26 km north of Puttalam (approximately 180 km north of Colombo). The park is 1,317 square kilometers (131, 693 hectares) and ranges from 0 to 152 meters above sea level. Nearly sixty lakes (Willu) and tanks are found spread throughout Wilpattu. Wilpattu is the largest and one of the oldest National Parks in Sri Lanka. Wilpattu is among the top national parks world-renowned for its leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) population. A remote camera survey was conducted in Wilpattu from July to October 2015 by the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust. A sample of forty nine individual leopards were photo-captured in the surveyed area and the core area density was between that of Yala National Park's Block I and Horton Plains National Park.

From December 1988 to March 16, 2003, the park was closed due to security concerns surrounding the Sri Lankan Civil War, before being reopened to visitors 16 years later. Visitor access is currently limited to approximately 25% of the park, the remainder of which is dense forest or scrub. Popular visiting periods spans between the months of February and October, although there are a number of private eco-tourism groups that conducts safaris year round.

KUMANA

Kumana National Park in Sri Lanka is renowned for its avifauna, particularly its large flocks of migratory waterfowl and wading birds. The park is 391 kilometres (243 mi) southeast of Colombo on Sri Lanka's southeastern coast.Kumana is contiguous with Yala National Park.Kumana was formerly known as Yala East National Park, but changed to its present name on 5th September 2006.

The park was closed from 1985 to March 2003 because of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) attacks. It was also affected by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

UDAWALAWE

Udawalawe National Park lies on the boundary of Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces, in Sri Lanka. The national park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir. The reserve covers 30,821 hectares (119.00 sq mi) of land area and was established on 30 June 1972.Before the designation of the national park, the area was used for shifting cultivation (chena farming). The farmers were gradually removed once the national park was declared. The park is 165 kilometres (103 mi) from Colombo. Udawalawe is an important habitat for water birds and Sri Lankan elephants. It is a popular tourist destination and the third most visited park in the country.

BUNDALA

Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka. Bundala harbors 197 species of birds, the highlight being the greater flamingo, which migrate in large flocks.Bundala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1969 and redesignated to a national park on 4 January 1993.In 1991 Bundala became the first wetland to be declared as a Ramsar site in Sri Lanka. In 2005 the national park was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the fourth biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka.The national park is situated 245 kilometres (152 mi) southeast of Colombo.

HORTON PLAINS

Horton Plains National Park is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. This plateau at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres (6,900–7,500 ft) is rich in biodiversity and many species found here are endemic to the region. This region was designated a national park in 1988. It is also a popular tourist destination and is situated 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from Ohiya, 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the world famous Ohiya Gap/Dondra Watch and 32 kilometres (20 mi) from Nuwara Eliya.

The Horton Plains are the headwaters of three major Sri Lankan rivers, the Mahaweli, Kelani, and Walawe. In Sinhala the plains are known as Maha Eliya Plains. Stone tools dating back to Balangoda culture have been found here. The plains' vegetation is grasslands interspersed with montane forest and includes many endemic woody plants. Large herds of Sri Lankan sambar deer feature as typical mammals and the park is also an Important Bird Area with many species not only endemic to Sri Lanka but restricted to the Horton Plains. Forest dieback is one of the major threats to the park and some studies suggest that it is caused by a natural phenomenon.

The sheer precipice of World's End and Baker's Falls are among the tourist attractions of the park.

GAL OYA

Gal Oya National Park in Sri Lanka was established in 1954 and serves as the main catchment area for Senanayake Samudraya, the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. Senanayake Samudraya was built under the Gal Oya development project by damming the Gal Oya at Inginiyagala in 1950. An important feature of the Gal Oya National Park is its elephant herd that can be seen throughout the year. Three important herbs of the Ayurveda medicine, triphala: Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellirica and Emblica officinalis are amongst the notable flora of the forest. From 1954 to 1965 the park was administrated by the Gal Oya Development Board until the Department of Wildlife Conservation took over administration. The national park is situated 314 km (195 mi) from Colombo.

MINNERIYA

Minneriya National Park is a national park in North Central Province of Sri Lanka. The area was designated as a national park on 12 August 1997, having been originally declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938.The reason for declaring the area as protected is to protect the catchment of Minneriya tank and the wildlife of the surrounding area. The tank is of historical importance, having been built by King Mahasen in third century AD. The park is a dry season feeding ground for the elephant population dwelling in forests of Matale, Polonnaruwa, and Trincomalee districts. The park earned revenue of Rs. 10.7 millions in the six months ending in August 2009.Along with Kaudulla and Girithale, Minneriya forms one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of Sri Lanka.The park is situated 182 kilometres (113 mi) from Colombo.

WASGAMUWA

Wasgamuwa National Park is a natural park in Sri Lanka situated in the Matale and Polonnaruwa Districts . It was declared to protect and to make a refuge for the displaced wild animals during the Mahaweli Development Project in 1984 and is one of the four National Parks designated under the Project.Originally it was designated as a nature reserve in 1938, and then in the early 1970s the area was regraded as a strict nature reserve.Wasgamuwa is one of protected areas where Sri Lankan Elephants can be seen in large herds. It is also one of the Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka. The name of the Wasgamuwa has derived through the words "Walas Gamuwa"."Walasa" is Sinhala for sloth bear and "Gamuwa" means a wood. The park is situated 225 km away from Colombo.

SINHARAJA RAIN FOREST

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sinharaja is the country's last viable area of primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare.

The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests ecoregion, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988. The reserve's name translates as Lion Kingdom.

The reserve is only 21 km (13 mi) from east to west, and a maximum of 7 km (4.3 mi) from north to south, but it is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. There are about 3 elephants, and 15 or so[vague] leopards. The most common larger mammal is the endemic purple-faced langur.

Birds tend to move in mixed feeding flocks, invariably led by the fearless SriLanka Crested Drongo and the noisy orange-billed babbler. Of Sri Lanka's 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive red-faced malkoha, green-billed coucal and Sri Lanka blue magpie.

Reptiles include the endemic green pit viper and hump-nosed vipers, and there are a large variety of amphibians, especially tree frogs. Invertebrates include the endemic common birdwing, butterfly and leeches.

PEGION ISLAND

Pigeon Island National Park is one of the two marine national parks of Sri Lanka. The national park is situated 1 km off the coast of Nilaveli, a coastal town in Eastern Province, encompassing a total area of 471.429 hectares. The island's name derives from the rock pigeon which has colonized it. The national park contains some of the best remaining coral reefs of Sri Lanka.Pigeon Island was designated as a sanctuary in 1963. In 2003 it was redesignated as a national park. This national park is the 17th in Sri Lanka. The island was used as a shooting range during the colonial era.Pigeon Island is one of the several protected areas affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.