Located about 300 kilometers from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, the Yala National Park spans a total area of 979 square kilometers in the Uva and Southern provinces of southeastern Sri Lanka, being the second largest national park in the country. The Yala National Park is subdivided into five blocks, two of which are open to tourists. Though tourism at the park suffered due to terrorist attacks in the past and large parts of the park were also damaged by the 2004 tsunami, the Yala National Park continues to be the most popular wildlife viewing destination in the country due to its rich and unique collection of flora and fauna.
4. Historical Role
As per archaeological discoveries and ancient texts, it is evident that the region in and around the modern day Yala National Park served as the home of sophisticated ancient civilizations like the Indo-Aryan civilization. Archaeological sites like Magul Viahara discovered here were built at around 87 BC. A well-developed ancient agricultural system also existed in the region as evident by the discovery of ancient tanks at the site. The Yala National Park (then not known by this name) was mentioned in accounts of European explorers like Cipriano Sanchez and British officers of colonial Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) like the Chief Justice of Ceylon, Sir Alexander Johnston. In 1900, the Forest Ordinance created a 389-square-kilometer forest reserve, including part of the area that was to become the future Yala National Park. Game hunting was allowed in the forests between Palatupana and Yala. The forest received that status of a national park, known as the Yala National Park in 1938, with the implementation of the provisions of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance.
3. Tourism and Education
The Yala National Park is a favorite tourist destination for wildlife lovers from around the world. As per reports from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the national park received a staggering tourist footfall of 236,700 domestic and 142,714 international tourists in the year 2013. This generated a tourism revenue of millions of dollars for the country. Visitors to Yala have a wide choice of activities they can engage themselves in while at the park. Camping sites are available at safe locations in the park for outdoor camping. Bird-watching is one of the popular activities here for bird lovers as the park presents a plethora of rare and unique resident and migratory bird species to those interested in observing and photographing these flying beauties. Wildlife safaris aboard the gypsies is perhaps the most coveted activity at the national park allowing tourists to view the rare fauna of the park including a large number of threatened species of mammals. Beach walks are possible at certain locations in the park that are open to public. The Magul Vihara and Sithulpahuwa pilgrimage sites at the park also offer a spiritual experience to the visitors.
2. Habitat and Biodiversity
The climate of the Yala National Park is a dry semi-arid type with summer temperatures averaging around 30 °C in April and winter temperatures averaging around 26.4 °C in January. Rainfall is received during the northeast monsoon period. Water availability in the water bodies of the national park exhibits high seasonal variation with plenty of water supply after the monsoon season and drier waterbeds during the dry season. A variety of vegetation types also define the ecosystems of the park. Dry and moist monsoon forests, thorn forests, deciduous forests, wetlands, coastal vegetation are some of the ecosystems of the Yala National Park. 215 species of birds including 7 endemic species are found at the park. Of the 44 species of mammals found here, the Sri Lankan leopard, toque macaque, the Sri Lankan sloth bear, red slender lorises, and Asian elephants (pictured above) are some of the notable species. 47 reptiles including 6 endemic species inhabit the park including the highly venomous Sri Lankan krait, the Sri Lankan flying snake, endangered sea turtles, muggers, and saltwater crocodiles. 18 amphibian, 21 fresh water species and a large number of invertebrates are also found in the Yala National Park.
1. Environmental Threats and Conservation
Like most other natural areas of the world, the Yala National Park, though protected by law, is not devoid of threats from human intervention. Rampant poaching of wildlife is reported at this park. There have been incidences in the past where the park wardens have been killed by ruthless poachers. Pockets of the forest land have been dug out to make way for illegal gem mining. Vegetation has also been cleared over large areas of the national park for agricultural activities, commercial logging, and animal grazing activities. Fishermen living in the surroundings of the park have been associated with cases of illegal poaching and trapping of rare turtle species for meat. Tourism has also had its adverse impact on forest land where tourist vehicles have heavily polluted the air of the national park and irresponsible tourists have often left litter at the park, posing threats to the wildlife of the park. The growth of invasive alien plant species in the Yala National Park has also threatened the native plant species of the park. Several measures have been taken by the Sri Lankan government’s Department of Wildlife Conservation to curb the threats to the Yala National Park. Electric fences have been constructed to obstruct the movement of elephants into human inhabited areas to avoid man-animal conflicts. The encroachment of humans into protected lands and use of such land for cattle grazing is also being strictly monitored by the concerned national park authorities.