Anawilundawa Sanctuary - ආනවිලුන්දාව අභය භූමිය
The Anawilundawa Sanctuary : The main attractions are a large
species of animals and birds. At present, 150 recorded
bird species at the sanctuary have made it popular among many
RICH IN FAUNA AND FLORA WITH A RECORDED 40% of vertebrate species and 50%
of freshwater fish species, the Anawilundawa sanctuary is the second declared
Ramsar site in the country. However this sanctuary is popularly known among
environmentalists and nature lovers as a birds’ paradise.
Due to its rich biodiversity and large numbers of resident and migratory
birds and its recognition as a Wetland of International Importance by the
Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as a waterfowl
habitat by the Ramsar Convention, the Anawilundawa sanctuary was declared
a Ramsar site in August 2001.
The environmental and cultural diversity of the Anawilundawa sanctuary
area also offers a high potential to be developed as an ecotourism destination
in Sri Lanka.
The Anawilundawa wetland sanctuary is located between the coast and the
Negombo Puttalam railway line, in the Puttalam District of the North western
province of Sri Lanka and covers an extent of 1400 hectares.
“The tank system of Anawilundawa is of historical significance, as
it was built by King Parakramabahu dating back to 1140 AD. The system consists
of seven small cascading reservoirs namely, Pinkattiya, Wellawela, Maradansole,
Irrakkawala/ Ihala Wewa, Anawilundawa, Suruwila and Maiyawa. Each tank is
connected to the other which makes this tank system that much more exceptional,” an
official attached to the DWC said.
An ancient system of humanmade cascading tanks or reservoirs dating back
to the 12th century, helps sustain traditional paddy fields in the area as
well as islets of natural vegetation. The tanks store water in this dry region
for irrigation purposes and also play a major role in flood control, retention
of pollutants and sediments and nutrient export.
“The main attractions of the Anawilundawa sanctuary are of a large
species of animals and birds. At present, 150 recorded bird species at the
sanctuary have made it popular among many bird-watching enthusiasts. It was
declared a sanctuary in 1999 mainly to protect the many bird species,” Ceylon
Bird Club (CBC) Udaya Siriwardene said.
Due to the wetland’s unusual biological diversity, unique ecosystem
of natural and manmade habitats and a cultural heritage linked to the irrigation
works, it was declared a sanctuary by the DWC.
“Many years ago, this sanctuary was a favoured area for duck hunters.
But despite the hunting of ducks, the Anawilundawa sanctuary remained unspoilt
and secretly beautiful. It was former Chairman of CBC Thilo Hoffman who persuaded
the authorities to declare these wetlands of international importance as
a sanctuary by presenting relevant information,” Siriwardene added.
He added that the Anawilundawa sanctuary is a popular nesting and feeding
site for water birds. “A countrywide water bird census is carried out
by the CBC every year. In one such census, more than 100,000 migrant ducks
were recorded. There are 400 species of ducks in the country out of which
200 are migrants. These migrants come to the country in October and leave
by April every year which is why they are called winter migrants,” Siriwardene
According to Siriwardene, the sanctuary consists of many artificial tanks
with unspoilt dry and wetland areas in between. “The resident birds
live in Sri Lanka and breed in the country. The migrants, on the other hand,
leave once the winter season is over. The sanctuary is used as a nesting
site. Several species of egrets, stalks, cormorants, ibises an a large number
of other resident water birds such as the beautiful and graceful pheasant
tailed-jacana and the purple swamp hen, which are two of the most spectacular
birds, can be seen here,” Siriwardene said.
Three major types of ecosystems have also been identified within the sanctuary,
namely, Freshwater wetland systems, Brackish water wetland systems and Terrestrial
and Agricultural systems.
Recent studies have found there are 264 plant species, belonging to 86
families within the Anawilundawa Sanctuary. From the total, 218 are native
while one species namely Pupulu Vernonia zeylanica is endemic to Sri Lanka.
Two species (Aponogeton natans, and Diospyros ebenum) are listed as nationally
threatened plants by the World Conservation Union IUCN Sri Lanka in 2000.
A total of 45 introduced species have been recorded out of which nine are
considered as invasive alien plant species. The list includes 110 woody plant
species, 54 shrub species, 68 herbaceous plant species, 30 species of climbers
and two species of epiphytes. Shrubs (woody multi-stemmed plants) and herbs
(plants with leaves and non-woody stems) are the predominant plant life forms
in the terrestrial habitats of Anawilundawa. The total includes 22 aquatic
plant species. Most of the plant species are of direct or indirect medicinal
value and are used in traditional medicine.
A total of 237 vertebrate species, representing 39% of the native inland
vertebrate fauna of Sri Lanka have been recorded from Anawilundawa. In addition
to this, 37 species of migrant birds have been observed from the sanctuary
totalling up to 274 vertebrate species belonging to 112 families. Ten species
of the native vertebrates are endemic to Sri Lanka.
The IUCN has stated that 19 species are nationally threatened. The vertebrates
include four species of fish, nine species of amphibians, 30 species of reptiles,
168 species of birds and 20 species of mammals. A total of 29 species of
freshwater fish belonging to 11 families have also been recorded from the
tanks canals and other fresh water habitats and 18 species of brackish water
fish belonging to 17 families were documented in the Dutch canal and associated
brackish water habitats. The Flying Barb (Esomus thermoicos), Redside Barb
(Puntius bimaculatus), Filamented Barb (Puntius sinhala) and Walking Catfish
(Clarius brachysoma) are endemic to the island. The Flying Barb is nationally
threatened in the country.
The Anawilundawa Wetland Sanctuary also has nine species of amphibians
belonging to four families. The Sri Lankan Wood Frog (Rana gracilis) is listed
as endemic and threatened. The common amphibians include the Common Toad
(Bufo melanostictus), Six-toed Green Frog (Euphlyctis hexadactylus), Skipper
Frog (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis) and Chunam Tree-Frog (Polypedates maculatus).
The Six-toed Green Frog and the Common Paddy Field Frog (Limnonectes limnocharis)
are the commonest amphibian species in Anawilundawa.
The reptiles recorded from Anawilundawa consist of 30 species belonging
to11 families. These include two endemic species and four species that
are nationally threatened. The reptilian fauna of Anawilundawa include the
Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata), the Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans)
Cobra (Naja naja), Skinks and Geckoes (Hemidactylus frenatus), Green Vine
Snake (Ahaetulla nasutus). A fairly high population of Star Tortoise can
be seen in seasonally flooded grasslands. The Cobra, Russell’s Viper
(Daboia russellii) and the Common Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) known
as three highly venomous serpent species are can be seen at the sanctuary.
Purple swamp hen
The birds of Anawilundawa can be categorised into several groups such as
wetland birds (Waders, Gulls and Terns, Ducks, Herons, Egrets and Storks,
Cormorants, Kingfishers, etc.), Forest birds (Woodpeckers, Barbets, Pigeons,
Raptors), Scrubland birds (Bulbuls, Doves) and Grassland birds (Munias, Prinias,
Pipits, Larks and Raptors). Birds ranging in size from the tiny Palebilled
Flower-pecker to the larger Spot-billed Pelican can be seen at Anawilundawa.
The vast numbers of migratory Stints, Sandpipers, Plovers, Terns, Gulls
and especially Ducks such as Gargonies and Pintails share the wetlands with
resident wetland birds such as Herons, Egrets, Pelicans, Cormorants, Teals,
Storks and Stilts.
The presence of mixed-species feeding flocks of birds is another interesting
highlight in Anawilundawa Sanctuary. A few species that were not included
in previously studies such as the Brown Wood Owl, Brown Hawk Owl, White-naped
Woodpecker, Common Kestrel and Ruddybreasted Crake have also been spotted
at the sanctuary.
A total of 20 species of mammals belonging to 13 families have been recorded
in the Anawilundawa sanctuary. The list consists of one endemic Toque Monkey
(Macaca sinica) and five threatened species of Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus),
Rusty Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
and the (Indian Otter (Lutra lutra). Rats, mice and shrews, bats (Flying
fox), Black-naped Hare, Mouse deer and the fishing cat, rusty spotted cat,
Mongoose, jackal. A small herd of three to four Elephants have also occasionally
visited the sanctuary during the dry season in the recent past and a considerable
high population of Slender Lorises has been reported from the sanctuary.
The sanctuary has also recorded 74 species of butterflies belonging to
eight families This includes the largest butterfly in Sri Lanka, the Ceylon
Birdwing (Troides darsius), which is endemic and a threatened species. A
total of 12 nationally threatened species of butterflies have been recorded
from the sanctuary.
Several areas in the sanctuary have been identified as biodiversity hotspots,
based on criteria such as habitat and species diversity, habitat uniqueness,
species rarity, feeding and roosting sites among others. The main hotspots
identified are the seasonally flooded areas of the Maiyawa tank, the Suruwila
tank, the Anawilundawa tank and the forest patch situated east to the waterway
from Pahiniemba to Anawilundawa tank.
Local communities have practised sustainable traditional farming and fishing
since ancient times, but extension of prawn (shrimp) farms in surrounding
areas has resulted in mangrove destruction and pollution and waste water
releases. Other potential threats include two species of alien invasive fish
and four types of plants and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides
in nearby coconut plantations.
May 5, 2013
Created : November 22, 2009