Sri Lanka’s largest and oldest natural sanctuary, prized for being one of the country’s most diverse ecosystems and home to an abundance of fauna and flora, ‘the land of lakes’ as Wilpattu National Park is known, is an treasured haven for all environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts.
Popular for its unique feature, the sand-rimmed water basins that fill up with rainwater to form natural lakes or ‘Willu’ as its otherwise known from which it derives its name, Wilpattu is even more well-known for its thriving leopard population which has catapulted it to being amongst the top national parks in the world. The exact number of leopard is yet unknown but it is a popular belief with nature lovers that leopard can generally be spotted on the very first day of touring the park.
Located along the Northwest coast dry zone, the park consists of mainly dense forest, shrub and lush vegetation in which it harbours a thriving mass of plant and animal species. Other than the leopards, elephant, sloth bear, water buffalo and spotted deer are a few of the many other mammals inhabiting the sanctuary. The national park also features a wide variety of birds, reptiles and butterflies.
Wildlife aficionados were thoroughly disheartened by the 16-year closure of Wilpattu following security concerns in the area but its reopening and the availability of yet more camping and accommodation options have seen locals and tourists alike flocking to the park since the end of the conflict.
It is also treasured for the many significant historical events that are said to have taken place in Wilpattu, the most noteworthy being the landing of Prince Vijaya at Kudrimalai Point in 543 BC according to ‘Mahavamsa’ – The great chronicle of Ceylon.
The Park has recently come under the spotlight for rather perturbing reasons – always a target for hunters and biodiversity smugglers, the latest issue concerns the construction of illegal roads within the sanctuary. It is also one of the most important protected areas in the country as many of the species in the park are unfortunately threatened.