Yala National Park is the most popular and second largest national park of Sri Lanka. Yala park is consisting of five blocks and two of them are currently open for public and adjoining to each other, namely Ruhuna National Park and Kumana National Park. The Yala National park stretches across southern province and Uva province, in southeast of the country. The total area covered by Yala park is approximately around 979 square kilometers and it is located about 300 kilometers from Colombo. Yala was officially declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, together with Wilpattu. In fact they are the first two national parks in Sri Lanka.
Yala park is not yet another wild life sanctuary. It has a wide range of bio diversity, places with historical, cultural and religious importance.
Ecosystems of Yala
With its larger spread across southeast of Sri Lanka and also bordering to Indian Ocean is consisting a variety of ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, grasslands, thorn forests, fresh water and marine wetlands and sandy beaches. Yala Block I is main area with forest cover and rangelands of open parklands including extensive grasslands. Menik river is surrounding forestland. Additionally there are water tanks, water holes, lagoons and mangroves and chena lands. The vegetation of Block II is somewhat similar to Block I and consisting of Yalawela, (was a fertile paddy field).The lagoons of Pilinnawa, Mahapothana, and Pahalapothana are also located in this block.
Yala National Park along with Kumana Sanctuary is a well known hot spot of birds. 215 species of birds have been observed in Yala and 06 of them are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Sri Lanka junglefowl,Sri Lanka wood pigeon, crimson-fronted barbet, black-capped bulbul, and brown-capped babbler. Apart from those there many frequently spotted species of birds including migrants. In a short list, it is possible to include Waterfowl , cormorants , large waterbirds (grey heron, black-headed ibis, Eurasian spoonbill,Asian openbill, painted stork), medium-sized waders Tringa spp., and small waders Charadrius spp. , Black-necked stork , The migrant great white ,resident spot-billed pelican,lesser flamingo, pelicans, purple heron, night herons,egrets, purple swamphen, and Oriental darter,northern pintail, white-winged tern, Eurasian curlew, whimbrel, godwits, and ruddy turnstone,lesser whistling duck, yellow-wattled lapwing, red-wattled lapwing, and great stone-curlew,Rock pigeon, barred buttonquail, Indian peafowl, Green Bee Eater, black stork, black-winged stilt, and greater flamingo ,Crested serpent eagle ,white-bellied sea eagle,orange-breasted green pigeon, hornbills, Old World flycatchers, Asian paradise-flycatcher, Asian barbets, orioles, etc.
44 species of mammals can be found in Yala National Park including Sri Lankan Elephant , Sri Lankan Leopard, Sloth Bear,Wild water buffalow,Sambar Deer,Toque macaque, golden palm civet, red slender loris, and fishing cat, etc. In fact Yala National Park is one of the highest leopard densities in the world and its dream of most of tourists to Yala to observe leopards during their visit to Yala. It is estimated that around 25 individual leopards are roaming in Block I. Elephant population in Yala is around 300-350 which is variable.
Apart form Birds and Mammals there are number of other classes of animal including but not limited to reptiles, amphibians , fish and invertebrates. Yala Adventure Safari services help you to go see and observer these natural assets of Yala.
Cultural & Religious Significance of Yala
Since King Ravana’s age (who is said to be mythical and main role role in Hindu’s Ramayanaya) Yala is deriving cultural importance. It is said Ravana had built a kingdom in Yala and now that is submerged in sea. Also Yala was a main hub in ancient sea trading and was also a gateway for Indo-Aryan civilization to settle in country. There are also evidence of complex irrigation system & developed agriculture including a large number of disrepaired tanks dating back to 5th century BC.
Sithulpawwa, one of main attraction of Buddhist pilgrims which is believed that was a home for over 12000 Arhats. Also there are other Buddhist sacred sites such as Magul Vihara (built in 87 BC) and Akasha Chaitya (build in 2nd BC. The area was with flourished agriculture during the period of Ruhuna which began to decline in 13th century. Yala was a popular hunting ground for British during colonial era. Yala is also a part of unique tradition of Hindus.Kataragama Devalaya (shrine) is a main religious site in Sri Lanka which is closer to Yala and also worshiped by Buddhists,Hindus and even Muslims. Tamil people from north and east annually visit Kataragama as a tradition which is called ‘Pada Yatra’. It is a travel by foot and several hundreds of kilometers long. They pass Yala during their journey. There are occasions where people from other parts of the country, India, Central area, etc take a part in this journey. It is reported in some years western tourists had also joined this bare foot journey.