Yala National Park

Yala is the oldest national park in Sri Lanka & it comprises a contiguous system of nine national reserves including the Kumana National Park.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park (Sinhala: යාල ජාතික වනෝද්‍යානය; Tamil: யால தேசிய வனம்) is a national park situated in the southeastern part of Sri Lanka. It is the oldest national park in the country.

The park consists of five blocks (Blocks I, II, III, IV, V). However, the area known as Yala comprises a contiguous system of nine national reserves including the aforesaid five blocks, Kumana National Park (Yala East), Strict Natural Reserve, and the adjoining Kataragama-Katagamuwa and Kudimbigala Sanctuaries (Buultjens et al., 2005; Jazeel, 2005).  The entire area, except the southeastern part, is bounded by a wide buffer zone marked on the land. The southeastern part of Yala is margined by the Indian Ocean.

Yala is partly open to tourists. Block I (also known as Ruhuna National Park or Yala West) with an area of 140 square km is one such part (Buultjens et al., 2005; Katugaha, 1999). It has an extensive network of motorable roads made for tourists.

Rohana principality
Yala overlies the former Sinhalese principality, Ruhuna, which was the refuge area for the Sinhala kings during the regnal period of the South Indian invader Elara (205-161 B.C.) who governed Anuradhapura, the capital of Sri Lanka during the 2nd century B.C. (Jazeel, 2005). Prince Dutugemunu, the deposed Sinhalese heir eventually defeated Elara and took the control of the Anuradhapura Kingdom again (Jazeel, 2005).

The park is rich with a large number of archaeological sites and some of them are Buddhist ruins belonging to the period of the Rohana principality. More than 50 inscriptions, most of which date from the 2nd or 1st century B.C., have been found in the area (Abeyawardana, 2004). About 40 archaeological sites discovered within the Yala premises are listed below (Abeyawardana, 2004);

    1) Bambawa
    2) Magul Maha Viharaya
    3) Seelawakanda
    4) Sithulpawwa
    5) Akasa Chethiya
    6) Pimbyramakanda
    7) Gonagala
    8) Modaragala
    9) Padikema & Patanangala
    10) Patanangala
    11) Anduneruwa
    12) Brakmanatota
    13) Katupila
    14) Katupilamankada
    15) Pilinnawa
    16) Uda pothana
    17) Ruins of Dagoba
    18) Minihagalkanda
    19) Pilimagala
    20) Maha pilimagala
    21) Kiriwadumahela
    22) Thalaguruhela
    23) Lunuathugalge
    24) Mayagala (Wadambuwa)
    25) Dagoba & stone column
    26) Goyankola Mayagala
    27) Dikkandanegala
    28) Veeragala
    29) Athurumituruwewa
    30) Dematagala
    31) Mandagala
    32) Mandagala Wewa
    33) Kottadamuhela
    34) Bambaragastalawa
    35) Kiripokunahela
    36) Bowattagala
    37) Nelumpathpokuna
    38) Kongala

Modern history
The Yala was established as a "Game Sanctuary" by the British in 1898 (Jazeel, 2005). It was declared as a national park (the first block) on 25 February 1938 (Buultjens et al., 2005). After that more sections (blocks) were added to the park from time to time. The last two blocks, IV and V were added to the park in 1969 and 1973 (Buultjens et al., 2005). In 1949, the park fell under the administration of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (Buultjens et al., 2005).

The presence of LTTE in the national park during the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009) transformed some parts of the park into unprotected jungles for visitors (Buultjens et al., 2005; Jazeel, 2005). The coastline of Yala was badly hit by the 2004 Tsunami waves (Fernando et al., 2006).

Physical features
Yala National Park
Yala is spread on a relatively flat terrain of Vijayan rocks formed over 600 million years ago and dotted with rocky outcrops reaching heights of about 800 ft (Buultjens et al., 2005). Totally, it extends in an area of about 151,177.8 ha. (Buultjens et al., 2005). As Yala is situated in one of the arid regions of the country the area has a hot and dry climate (Buultjens et al., 2005). It receives its annual rainfall during the northeast monsoon from November to January (Buultjens et al., 2005). The dry season begins in June and lasts until mid-October (Buultjens et al., 2005). A few natural water holes and several man-made small reservoirs in the park retain the water (De Silva et al., 1994). Also a number of seasonal streams, majorly the Menik Ganga river and the Kumbukkan Oya river drain the area (De Silva et al., 1994).

Flora & Fauna
The vegetation of Yala mainly comprises of scrub forests, grasslands, and mangroves in the lagoons that are scattered throughout the park (Buultjens et al., 2005; De Silva et al., 1994). The park is replete with fauna such as elephants, sloth bears, sambar, wild buffalo, spotted deer, wild boar, jackals, monkeys, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, mongoose, birds, etc. (Buultjens et al., 2005; Jazeel, 2005). It is also home to the highest density of leopards in the world (Buultjens et al., 2005). More than 130 species of birds such as the jungle fowl, painted stork, blue-faced malkoha, and the pompadour green pigeon have been identified in the park (Buultjens et al., 2005)

Yala National Park .
1) YalaNationalPark-April2010-03 by Rehman is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
2) A watchful leopard by Sachinkaveeshafernando is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
3) Scenery in Yala National Park by Schnobby is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Ruhuna: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-575-073-4. pp.130-131.
2) Buultjens, J., Ratnayake, I., Gnanapala, A. and Aslam, M., 2005. Tourism and its implications for management in Ruhuna National Park (Yala), Sri Lanka. Tourism Management, 26(5), pp.733-742.
3) De Silva, M., Dissanayake, S. and Santiapillai, C., 1994. Aspects of the population dynamics of the wild Asiatic water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) in Ruhuna National Park, Sri Lanka. Journal of South Asian Natural History, 1(1), pp.65-76.
4) Fernando, P., Wikramanayake, E.D. and Pastorini, J., 2006. Impact of tsunami on terrestrial ecosystems of Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Current Science, pp.1531-1534.
5) Jazeel, T., 2005. ‘Nature’, nationhood and the poetics of meaning in Ruhuna (Yala) National Park, Sri Lanka. cultural geographies, 12(2), pp.199-227.
6) Katugaha, H.I.E., de Silva, M. and Santiapillai, C., 1999. A long-term study on the dynamics of the elephant (Elephas maximus) population in Ruhuna National Park, Sri Lanka. Biological Conservation, 89(1), pp.51-59.

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This page was last updated on 14 January 2023

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