Sunday, 15 April 2018

SRI LANKA: Visit The Yala National Park

Yala National Park sometimes called as Ruhunu National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. It consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public; and also adjoining parks.

It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 km² (378 sq mi) and is about 300 km (190 mi) from Colombo.

Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu it 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 and aquatic birds.

The western part of Yala - block one is named as the area with highest leopard concentration in the world.

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.

The Yala area is mostly composed of metamorphic rock belonging to the Precambrian era and classified into two series, Vijayan series and Highland series.

Reddish brown soil and low humic grey soil are prominent among six soil types. Yala is situated in the lowest peneplain of Sri Lanka, which extends from Trincomalee to Hambantota.

Topographically the area is a flat and mildly undulating plain that runs to the coast with elevation is 30 metres (98 ft) close to the coast while rising in the interior to 100–125 metres (328–410 ft).

The national park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon.

The mean annual rainfall ranges between 500–775 millimetres (19.7–30.5 in) while the mean temperature ranges between 26.4 °C (79.5 °F) in January to 30 °C (86 °F) in April.

It is windier in Yala, during the southwest monsoon compared to the wind during the northeast monsoon with wind speeds from 23 kilometres per hour (14 mph) to 15 kilometres per hour (9.3 mph).

Water is abundant after the northeast monsoon, but during the dry season surface water becomes an important factor. The bodies of surface water appear in the forms of streams, tanks, waterholes, rock pools, and lagoons.

Waterholes occur in low lying places while rock pools of varying size are capable of containing water year-round, and are hence an important source of water for elephants.

For many water birds and water buffaloes natural waterholes are ideal habitats. Such reservoirs are largely concentrated to the Block I followed by Block II.

Several tanks are there including, Maha Seelawa, Buthawa, Uraniya, and Pilinnawa tanks.

Many rivers and streams flow in a southeasterly direction, originating in the highlands of adjacent Uva and central hills.

Kumbukkan Oya in the east and Menik River and its tributaries in the west flow across the park, and provide an important water source in the dry season to wild animals of the park.

Normally the streams of the park are dry during the drought season. These rivers and streams exhibit a degree of runoff fluctuations between wet and dry seasons.

Kumbukkan Oya discharges seven times as much water in the rainy season than in the dry season. A number of lagoons are situated along the coast line of the park.

There are several routes to get to Yala from Colombo, while the route via Ratnapura and Tissamaharama is the shortest with 270 kilometres (170 mi).

Yala lay in the direct path of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which impacted Sri Lanka 90 minutes after its generation. The tsunami caused severe but localized damage on the park, with around 250 people being killed.

The tsunami wave was reported to be 20 feet (6.1 m) high. The tsunami waves reached inland only through the river-mouth gaps in the coastal dunes. Inundation distances from ranged up to 392 to 1,490 metres (429 to 1,629 yd).

The main habitats affected are scrub forest and grasslands. About 5,000 hectares (19 sq mi) of grassland, forest, and wetland were directly affected by the tsunami.

The satellite images revealed that mean Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) range from 0.245–0.772 in the Block I and II. After the disaster the NDVI value fell dramatically to 0.2111.

Around 60% of the area along the coastline has changed. The damage was worse closer to the sea. The movement patterns of two radio collared elephants were analyzed.

The study found out that their movements were consistent with behaviour prompted by immediate cues generated by the tsunami waves rather than a response to a sixth sense.

Yala had been a center of past civilisations. King Ravana, the mythical Hindu anti-hero is believed to have established his kingdom here with Ravana Kotte, now submerged in the sea, as its boundary.

Seafaring traders brought Indo-Aryan civilisation with them, as Yala is situated in their trading route. A large number of ancient although disrepaired tanks are the evidence of a rich hydraulic and agricultural civilisation dating back to 5th century BC.

Situlpahuwa, which was the home for 12,000 arahants, is situated within the park area along with Magul Vihara, which built in 87 BC and Akasa Chaitiya, which constructed in 2nd century BC.

Agriculture flourished in area during the period of Ruhuna Kingdom. According to Mahavamsa, the Kingdom of Ruhuna began to decline by the end of the 13th Century AD.

During the colonial period Yala became a popular hunting ground. Yala is annually visited by 400,000 pilgrims.

Poaching, gem-mining, logging, encroachment by agriculture, and free-roaming domestic livestock are the main threats to the park. Three wardens have been killed in clashes with poachers.

Gems are mined along the Menik River and holes created by gem mining, which extend up to 30 metres (98 ft), can be seen along the Kumbukkan Oya.

In Blocks III and IV, the encroachment is severe as chena cultivation and burning, to provide grazing in the dry season, collideds with the boundary.

A large grove of Sonneratia caseolaris is faced with forest dieback in the Menik River's estuary. Cultivation of tobacco, noise and air pollutions caused by uncontrolled tourism are the other conservation issues.

The growth of invasive alien species such as Lantana camara, Opuntia dillenii, Chromolaena odorata is threatening the native plants.

Deep within the forest, Ganja is cultivated in cleared areas. The wildlife is poached and disturbed by the fishermen at Patanangala. The turtles are caught in fishing nets and the fishermen also litter the beach with debris.

They have also set traps inland and dig up turtle nests. In the absence of hand-weeding, which was practiced until the 1950s, the transformation of interior grasslands to scrub jungle is unavoidable.

The tourism has created problems in the past, such as vehicles harassing wild animals. The issue is most severe in Sithulpahuwa where thousands of pilgrims visit, leading to a great degree of commercialisation.
Department of Wildlife Conservation has taken some conservation measures such as management of grazing lands, conservation of small water ponds, and eradication of invasive alien species.

A 40 kilometres (25 mi) long electric fence was erected to prevent elephants from moving into nearby villages.

The Yala National Park is the most visited park in Sri Lanka. In 2002 around 156,867 tourists visited the park.

Foreigners, especially Europeans, account for 30% of total visitors. Block I is the main area for visits.

Block III - main gate in Galge area, on Buttala-Kataragama Road and the adjoining Kumana Park or Yala East main gate at Okanda, on the east coast not far from Pottuvil, however are becoming popular in their own right too.

Note that the Situlpahuwa pilgrimage site, geographically in Block III, has kind of an enclave status and is accessible FOC through separate roads from Tissa and Kataragama.

Most of the visitors stated that reasons for their visit is to see wild animals, and elephant is the most preferred animal. The visitors like to see bears, leopards, birds as well.

In 2000 the income from visitors including lodge fees was approximately US$468,629. Due to security conditions revenue was lost. The Yala National Park has been susceptible to terrorist attacks.

On 17 October 2007 a group of LTTE cadres attacked an army detachment in Thalgasmankada in the park. The attack killed six army soldiers and another was caught up in a landmine explosion.

On 11 July 2008 four people died in an attack launched by the LTTE. The cadres opened fire at a bus carrying pilgrims to Kataragama.

Since the end of the civil war, May 2009, no violence has occurred in Yala area also and it is fully safe for visitors; this was also the main factor in opening blocks III and V for tourists.

From January to June in 2008, 9,078 local tourists and 7,532 foreigners have visited Yala. For the same period of time in 2009 the arrivals have risen to 18,031 locals and foreigners to 10,439.

Accordingly, the revenue increased to Rs. 27 millions (US$235,000) in 2009 from Rs. 16.6 millions (US$154,000) in 2008. The visitors are allowed to see the wild animals from 5.30 am to 6.30 pm.

Due to droughts the park used to be closed to tourists from 1 September, to 15 October annually; however in 2009 and 2010 the closure was skipped and lakes filled with water bowsers for drinking water for the animals.

A future strategy on drought handling is not yet clear.

Yala is situated in the lowest peneplain of Sri Lanka, which extends from Trincomalee to Hambantota.

Topographically the area is a flat and mildly undulating plain that runs to the coast with elevation is 30 metres (98 ft) close to the coast while rising in the interior to 100–125 metres (330–410 ft).

The national park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon.

The mean annual rainfall ranges between 500–775 millimetres (20–30.5 in) while the mean temperature ranges between 26.4°C (79.5°F) in January to 30 °C (86 °F) in April.

It is windier in Yala, during the southwest monsoon compared to the wind during the northeast monsoon with wind speeds from 23 kilometres per hour (14 mph) to 15 kilometres per hour (9.3 mph).

Yala National Park has a variety of ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water and marine wetlands, and sandy beaches.

The area under forest cover mainly consists of Block I and rangelands of open parkland or Pelessa grasslands including some extensive grasslands.

The forest area is restricted to around the Menik River while rangelands are found towards the sea side. Other habitat types of the Block I are tanks and water holes, lagoons and mangroves and chena lands.

The mangrove vegetation in the Buthuwa lagoon is largely Rhizophora mucronata while Avicennia spp. and Aegiceras spp are less abundant.

The vegetation of Block II is similar to those of Block I, and Yalawela, once a fertile paddy field, represents Pitiya grasslands. The mangroves of Block II occur around the estuary of Menik River, which extent to 100 hectares (0.39 sq mi).

The common mangrove plants are Rhizophora mucronata, Sonneratia caseolaris, Avicennia spp., and Aegiceras corniculatum. The lagoons of Pilinnawa, Mahapothana, and Pahalapothana are also located in this block.

The other common mangrove species are Sonneratia caseolaris, Acanthus ilicifolius, Excoecaria agallocha, and Lumnitzera racemosa. In the bare sand Crinum zeylanicum is found.

Of 215 bird species of the park, six 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.

The number of waterbirds inhabiting wetlands of Yala is 90 and half of them are migrants. Waterfowls the Lesser Whistling Duck, Garganey, Cormorants like Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, large waterbirds like Grey Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Openbill, Painted Stork.

Medium-sized waders Tringa spp., and small waders Charadrius spp. are among the common waterbirds. Black-necked Stork and Lesser Adjutant are the rare birds that can be seen in the park.

The migrant Great White Pelican and resident Spot-billed Pelican are also have been recorded.

Other waterbirds attracted to the Yala lagoons include Lesser Flamingo, and Pelicans, and rare species such as Purple Heron, Night herons, Egrets, Purple Swamphen, and Oriental Darter.

Thousands of waterfowls migrate to the lagoons of Yala during the northeast monsoon. They are Northern Pintail, White-winged Tern, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Godwits, and Ruddy Turnstone.

The visiting species mingled with residing Lesser Whistling Duck, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, and Great Stone-curlew.

Rock Pigeon, Barred Buttonquail, Indian Peafowl, Black Stork, Black-winged Stilt, and Greater Flamingo are among the other bird species. Crested Serpent-eagle and White-bellied Sea Eagle are the raptors of the park.

The forest birds are Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Hornbills, Old World flycatchers, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Asian barbets, and Orioles.

44 species of mammals are resident in Yala National Park, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.

The elephant herd of Yala contains 300–350 individuals. Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Elephant, Wild water buffalo are threatened species.

Toque Macaque, Golden Palm Civet, Red Slender Loris, and Fishing Cat are among the other mammals that can be seen in Yala.

The reptile fauna recorded from the park is 46 and five of them are endemic: Sri Lankan Krait, Boulenger's Keelback, Sri Lankan Flying Snake, Painted-lip Lizard and Wiegmann's Agama.

The coastal line of the park is visited by the all five globally endangered sea turtles - Leatherback turtle, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Hawksbill turtle, and Green turtle that visit Sri Lanka.

The two breeding crocodile species of Sri Lanka, Mugger crocodiles and saltwater crocodiles inhabit the park. The Indian cobra and Russell's viper are among the other reptiles.

There are 18 amphibians species that have been recorded from Yala while Bufo atukoralei and Adenomus kelaartii are endemic to Sri Lanka. In the water courses of Yala, 21 fresh water fishes are found.

The fish population in the perennial reservoirs contain mostly exotic food fish Mozambique tilapia. The Stone sucker and Esomus thermoicos are endemic among other species.

The Blackspot barb, Olive Barb, Orange chromide and Common Spiny Loach are the common fish species. Crabs and prawns include the fauna in the lagoons of the park. A variety of butterfly species is found here.

The Common bluebottle, Common Lime Butterfly, Crimson Rose, Common Jezebel, and Common Mormon are the common species.

It is most easy to take a tour from the nearby town of Tissa or Tissamaharama. You can take a tour from any number of guest houses and hotels in the city.

Most leave at 05:00 or 14:30, but it depends on if you are going for half, full day or overnight. The entrance to the park is about Rs 3,500, but it changes often.

The tours should cost about 4,000 to 6,000 on top of the admission ticket. It is usually split between the people in the truck, but you should negotiate this.

It can be expensive to do alone, so it is best to try and partner with others to increase bargaining power. The tour guides often will use you as bait for people coming off buses.

It makes both your lives easier to meet the people off the buses right away, as it gets competitive and most drivers will call their friends to tell them you are coming. They all know what travellers are coming here for.

It is also possible to stay at a bungalow more near the park, but it may cost more and is a little more difficult to reach alone.

It used to be possible to enter the park from Katharagama, but that entrance is currently closed.

Fees and permits - Rs 3,500 for a day pass.

A half-day trip from Tissamaharama, 6 people in luxury jeep; entrance fees and all other taxes included cost Rs 4500 in March 2012.

Yala National Park is one of the best places for sightings of wild elephants in the park is home to many animals including buffaloes, leopards, monkeys, crocodiles, wild boars and bears.

The cat’s purr can be heard from a distance and is so soporific. They love to bask in the sun at the top of 30 ft (9.1 m) rocks and it’s breathtaking, so take a zoom/telephoto lens.

February-June/July is the optimum time to visit when water tables are low. Leopard, elephant and many smaller animals are competing for the same drinking supply.

You are likely also to see sloth bears, deer, wild boar, buffaloes, crocodiles and monkeys. Birds are in profusion – up to 130 species. The park also contains a monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa and other important centres of pilgrimage

There is a small and spartan store at the entrance. It sells chips and soda mainly.

It's best to bring your own snacks for the duration of your trip.

Just stay in the vehicle. These are wild animals. There are crocodiles hidden everywhere, dangerous lizards, and heaps of other troublesome critters.

Also hold on the ride gets very bumpy and its easy to bang your head or get tossed around.



Tourism Observer
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