Anawilundawa Sanctuary – ආනවිලුන්දාව අභය භූමිය

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Anawilundawa Sanctuary

Photo by : Dhammika Heenpella / Images of Sri Lanka licenced under CC BY-NC 2.0

Size1,397 hectares
Main attractionsforested wetlands includes mangrove swamps and freshwater swampsMigratory and local water birds

Anawilundawa Sanctuary is one of the 6 RAMSAR wetland in Sri Lanka, The sanctuary covers 1,397ha lying between the costal line and the Negambo – Putlam railway line. This wetland consist of six large man made tanks and 3 peripheral tanks interconnected to create a complex irrigation system. The larger tanks are Pinkattiya, Maradansola, Anawilundawa, Mayyawa, Surawila and Vellawali.

Anawilundawa Sanctuary

Photo by : Dhammika Heenpella / Images of Sri Lanka licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The history of these tank system goes back to 12th century and sadly the water ways which fed this system is lost without an trace and today these tanks are fed by flood waters of the Deduru Oya brought to the area via the Sengaloya scheme. These tanks has created a natural habitat which is ideal for the birds as well as supplied water to paddy fields around this area for over 800 years.

Today this area is very popular among bird watchers and nature lovers. During migration season a large variery of birds can be seen using this area as feeding ground as well as breeding ground .


“An ancient system of human-made cascading tanks or reservoirs, ranging between 12 and 50 hectares each and totaling some 200 ha, dating back to the 12th century, which help to sustain traditional paddy fields in the area as well as islets of natural vegetation.

In addition to being unique to the biogeographical region, the site harbours quite a few species of threatened fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, and especially reptiles and supports up to 40% of the vertebrate species found in Sri Lanka. The system serves as an important refuge for migratory birds and also supports about 50% of the country’s freshwater fish species, including at least three endemic species. Only 3-4 meters deep, it is a highly productive wetland with an array of zooplankton and phytoplankton, which also makes it extremely important for migratory fish.

The tanks store water, in this dry region, for irrigation purposes, and also play a major role in flood control, aquifer recharge, retention of pollutants and sediments, and nutrient export. Local communities have practiced 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 eutrophication caused by waste water releases; other potential threats derive from the spread of two species of alien invasive fish and four of plants and from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in nearby coconut plantations .. “

Also See

Map of  Anawilundawa Sanctuary and Other Places of Interest


The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Travel Directions to Anawilundawa Sanctuary

Route from Colombo to Anawilundawa Sanctuary

Though : Negambo (airport) Expressway – Negombo – Puttlam
Distance : 100 km
Travel time : 1.45 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Anawilundawa Sanctuary

By Risidra Mendis
April, 2009 –
Anawilundawa Sanctuary

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 bird-watching enthusiasts.

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. [WL]

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 explained.

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.

Anawilundawa 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.

Anawilundawa [3] : I write from the shores of the Sath Korale..

(Translated by Malinda Seneviratne)

Anawilundawa SanctuaryFrom the tank bund one’s gaze sweeps across a line of coconut trees that marks the boundary where the waves relentless break upon the shore. To reach this line, the eyes have to first travel across a keth yaya that stretches right down to the beach.

The natural environment on this North-Western coastal stretch has been significantly altered. The manner in which the waters of the Deduru Oya have been diverted at the tail end of the river into a system of tanks is indeed wondrous.

My thoughts wander among the lyrical remains of a prosperous past. Even today, there is much evidence that point to a splendid civilisation that once existed in the coastal area of the Sath Korale. They speak of a cultural strength that was able to withstand the violence unleashed by three European invasions.

I see before me the nine tanks that make up this unique irrigation system. The six large tanks, three peripheral ones and all the asweddumized fields under these are collectively called Anawilundawa. The six large tanks; Pinkattiya, Maradansola, Anawilundawa, Mayyawa, Surawila and Vellawali; exist as a single system and are located close to Nalladarankattuwa, which is a little beyond Halawatha (Chilaw). Although there is no longer a definite trace of the waterways that fed the system, currently they are watered by the flood waters of the Deduru Oya brought to the area via the Sengaloya scheme launched by D.S. Senanayake.

The history of the tank system goes back as far as the twelfth century. It is a system that is absolutely in concert with nature and even to the untrained eye describe the wisdom of a people who knew how to engage gently with the elements. The Rajawaliya speaks of a yuva raja by the name of Thaniyawallabha who controlled the Madampe area. He was the son of Veera Parakramabahu the Eighth, who ruled from 1477-148921 A.D. It is said that the Madampe Wewa was constructed and the fields beneath assweddumized by him. This resourceful man of resolve who transformed the coastal line into a fertile stretch of paddy land is today venerated as a god by the people. In fact there is even a devale that has been built in his name in Madampe. The aluth sahal of the harvest is even today offered to Thaniyawelle Deviyo.

Thaniyawallabha, according to legend was sent to the area to deal with South Indians who were diving for pearls off the Halawatha coast. From the beginning, then, his work was related to protecting what was ours and this included not just our shores, but the livelihoods and lifestyle of our people. Strong ideas and traditions, they have survived into the twenty first century, largely due to brave and wise people who walked on the path that Thaniyawallabha blazed for his people.

I am tempted to say that there is no example more powerful than this of how a people quietly defend their “ourness” even as the “rulers” of the country connive with foreign powers to destroy everything we own. When the Portuguese invaded and when the Sinhalese elsewhere fled in the face of the cultural onslaught powered by guns, they were stopped at Madampe by the strong cultural traditions and prosperous economy that the Sinhalese had established there. It is true that when the Dutch arrived and after them the British, our strong agricultural base took a severe beating. And yet, there are places and people that were not entirely submerged by those violent flood waters of invasion. Anawilundawa is one such place.

The lifestyle of this people which was built around these integrated system of nine tanks depicts a certain unity with the natural cycles. In many ways, understanding the universe is simply a matter of comprehending its rhythms. This is what is called buddhatvaya. The greatest environmentalist to walk this earth is the Buddha. The ancient Sinhalese villager, who was nourished by the doctrine of the Buddha, was environmentalists of the highest order. He organised his life without disrupting nature’s patterns. The relationship between the villager and nature, therefore, was a spiritual one. Like love.

This dharmatava is also evident in Anawilundawa. The tanks gave rise to rich and verdant surroundings. There developed around the tanks and the paddy fields, thickets. There were also stretches of grass and marshy sections, completing an ecology where diversity ruled. Needless to say, animal life abounds. Over 150 bird species have been identified in this area, a quarter of them migratory.

It is said that there are two main routes that migratory birds take. One is through Chendikulam in the Northern Province. There is also a corridor that passes through the North Western coast. Anawilundawa has always been a pleasant resting place for these birds. Although yet to be seriously studied, the eco system of Anawilundawa has been nominated to be declared a Protected Wetland under the Ramza Convention.

This wondrous eco system was always protected by the ordinary villagers. They cultivated their lands, let loose their cattle on the grass but never harmed any creature or cut any trees. These people provided rice to the national granary.

Anawilundawa SanctuaryTragedies are not always of our own making. Many decades ago, ill-planned irrigation and settlement schemes such as the Katupotha Project robbed water from the ancient Anawilundawa Tank System. The yala-maha cultivation cycles was reduced to just the maha season and here too the yields began to drop. The Sengaloya scheme was supposed to correct all this. Hope tarried but awhile in their hearts. Politicians, as is the custom of that tribe, soon set up things so that racketeers could lay their dirty hands on the sands of the Deduru Oya. The police has continued to turn a blind eye to the illegal extraction of sand from the bed of the river. Backhoe machines and Tippers invaded.

The inevitable happened, there is now a six foot difference between the level of the Deduru Oya and the Sengaloya which was to carry the waters of the river to the Anawilundawa system. A civilisation based on water cannot do without it. Starved of water, a way of life is fast drying up. It is becoming difficult to cultivate even one season. A proud people and a strong economic system is on the verge of erasure.

Lack of water does not only impact agriculture. It effects the entire eco system. It also disrupts the relationship between the community and the natural world. Desperate villagers began laying their hands on trees they once venerated. A people who would not offer a drop of water to those who ate beef, began slaughtering cattle. Instead of rebelling against entrepreneurs who set up prawn farms on the grazing land formerly used by their cattle, they have begun selling or leasing the land they once held sacred. Finally, after polluting the beneficial waters, these racketeers left, leaving the community without clean drinking water.

A civilisation that stood ramrod straight in the face of several violent invasions, is on the verge of perishing under the terrible onslaught of our own politicians and their lackeys. This is how the final chapter of a wonderful story often gets written. And yet, all is not lost. People do not always succumb without a fight, especially those who are descended from a tradition that knows how to fight and survive. They continue to fight, for their lives and their way of life. They stop the Deduru Oya with sand bags so that they can lift one foot of water into the Sengaloya. They know the answer to the question, “what is to be done?” “Stop the illegal sand racket in Deduru Oya for just two years, and the river bed will rise again,” they observe.

Who will hear their pleas? When “the nation” is a term that fails to warm the heart, is it not appropriate to say, “Anawilundawa gena kumana kathada!”? Perhaps someone, somewhere will listen. Perhaps people will realise that it is best to assume that no one will listen. Perhaps it is best that they take the future into their own hands. They are the sons and daughters of gentle and creative people who knew how to fight. These qualities must reside in their genes. Perhaps there will be better harvests.

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