Wilpattu

Sri Lanka's Largest Wildlife Reserve

Sleeping leopard up a tree, Sri Lanka

Wilpattu National Park is the island’s largest wildlife reserve at 131,693 hectares as well as one of the oldest and most important protected areas in Sri Lanka, being declared a sanctuary in 1905 and upgraded to national park status in 1938. Principally a dry lowland zone rising to 152 m above mean sea level, the main topographical feature in the park is the concentration of ‘villus’. Though looking like lakes, these ‘villus’ are in fact basin-like fault depressions in the earth that fill with rain water during the monsoon season. Two of these ‘villus’ are saline due to the characteristics of the soil. The ‘villu’ feature is peculiar to this part of the island.

The ‘villus’ attract a variety of animals including leopards, elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, water buffalos and deer. The ‘villus’ also support resident and migratory waterfowl, including the Painted Stork, Open-billed Stork, Garganey, Whistling Teal and Spoonbill, as well as forest or scrub dwellers such as the Racquet-tailed Drongo, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Crimson-breasted Barbet and Malabar Pied Hornbill.

The other equally striking feature, though confined to certain areas of the park, is extremely varied copper red, loamy soils. The western sector of the park with deeply forested areas and thorny bushes is reminiscent of Yala West National Park.

Wilpattu National Park reopened in March 2010 following over two decades of closure due to the civil war. The park lies on the northwest coast, 30 km west of Anuradhapura, and is bounded by the Moderagam Aru to the south, Kala Oya in the north, and Dutch and Portuguese Bays to the open ocean in the west. The adjacent areas of Dutch and Portuguese Bays have been proposed as marine extensions to the park, principally to protect resident dugong, which are on the WWF’s ‘vulnerable’ list.

Most of the best wildlife areas in Wilpattu National Park can be visited in a 3-hour jeep safari from Wilpattu or Anuradhapura.

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