Anawilundawa Sanctuary (ආනවිලුන්දාව අභය භූමිය)

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

Anawilundawa Sanctuary is one of the 6 RAMSAR wetlands in Sri Lanka, The sanctuary covers 1,397ha lying between the coastal line and the Negambo – Putlam railway line. This wetland consists 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.

The history of these tank systems goes back to the 12th century and sadly the waterways which fed this system are lost without a trace today these tanks are fed by flood waters of the Deduru Oya brought to the area via the Sengaloya scheme. These tanks have 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 variety of birds can be seen using this area as a feeding ground as well as a 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 practised sustainable traditional farming and fishing since ancient times, but an extension of prawn (shrimp) farms in surrounding areas has resulted in mangrove destruction and pollution and eutrophication caused by wastewater releases; other potential threats derived 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

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)

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 Northwestern 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 freshwater 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 to 11 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 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 previous studies such as the Brown Wood Owl, Brown Hawk Owl, White-naped Woodpecker, Common Kestrel and Ruddy-breasted 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, and 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, and 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 the Anawilundawa tank.

Local communities have practised sustainable traditional farming and fishing since ancient times, but an extension of prawn (shrimp) farms in surrounding areas has resulted in mangrove destruction and pollution and wastewater 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.


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