Vankalai Sanctuary (වාන්කලයි අභය භූමිය)

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Size4,839 hectares
Main attractionslarge number of waterbird species, including annual migrants

Vankalai, in the Mannar district, with its numerous bird species has been declared a sanctuary by the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWLC), a first in the area since the armed conflict erupted in the north several decades ago.

This sanctuary, partly a Wetland, comprises Puliyantivu island, Tiruketiswaram, Pallimunai, Vankalai and the strips of land on either side of the causeway connecting the island of Mannar to the mainland. Covering about 4,800 hectares, it consists of arid-zone thorn scrubland and pastures, waterholes and tanks, dunes, mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons, sea-grass beds and maritime grasslands.

The sanctuary declared through a Gazette notification dated September 9, 2008, follows recommendations of the Ceylon Bird Club which has worked tirelessly towards making this a reality.

Many birds including the very rare migrants the Spot-billed Duck, the Comb Duck and the Gadwall; the rare migrant Long-toed Stint and the uncommon migrants the Peregrine Falcon, the Common-ringed Plover, Temminck’s Stint and the Red-necked Phalarope have been spotted at Vankalai, says Ceylon Bird Club Committee Member Udaya Sirivardana as has also the very rarely recorded ‘Eastern’ Black-tailed Godwit.

Explaining that the Spot-billed Duck may have crossed over from South India, he says that the Ceylon Bird Club has in its possession valuable photographs providing proof that it is in fact breeding in the Vankalai area. A recent rare photograph (see above) taken by a Ceylon Bird Club member shows a mother duck with a gaggle of ducklings behind her at Vankalai. Only about five Spot-billed Ducks had been spotted in the half-century before 2003.

Thousands of migrant birds arrive in Sri Lanka, making landfall in the Mannar region including Vankalai. Similarly, when leaving the country at the end of the season, they use Vankalai as their last staging point, according to Mr. Sirivardana.

The Ceylon Bird Club has recorded 149 species of birds at Vankalai, keeping numerous records and meticulous notes, going into the area with the cooperation of the army.

Pointing out that at one given time the Ceylon Bird Club has recorded many thousands of birds of one kind, Mr. Sirivardana says that in 2003, it had a record of 5,000 Greater Flamingos being there while the same year there were 95,000 Northern Pintails, 5,000 unidentified ducks, 3,000 Black-tailed Godwits and 10,300 unidentified shorebirds.

Explaining that Vankalai has an abundant bird life because many people couldn’t venture there, the Ceylon Bird Club — founded in 1943 by seven members including two of Sri Lanka’s foremost ornithologists, G.M. Henry and W.W.A. Phillips called upon the DWLC to continue to protect the area once normalcy returns as it was once notorious for duck shooting, although it is prohibited.

By Lankika de Livera
Sunday Times – 2009

The Vankalai Sanctuary was declared as a RAMSAR site in 12th July 2010.  From the Ramsar website:

The site consists of several ecosystems which range from arid-zone thorn scrubland, arid-zone pastures and maritime grasslands, sand dunes, mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons, tidal flats, sea-grass beds and shallow marine areas. Due to the integrated nature of shallow wetland and terrestrial coastal habitats, this sanctuary is highly productive, supporting high ecosystem and species diversity. The site provides excellent feeding and living habitats for a large number of waterbird species, including annual migrants, which also use this area on arrival and during their exit from Sri Lanka. It harbours more than 20,000 waterbird during the migratory season, including the Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) and the Eurasian Wigeon (Anas Penelope), of which Vankalai Sanctuary supports 1% of the population of the latter two species.

The site’s coastal and marine ecosystems are important for over 60 species of fish, marine turtles, and rare species such as Dugongs (Dugong dugon). These ecosystems provide important spawning and feeding grounds for juvenile fish species such as Trevally (Caranx spp.), Snappers (Lutjanus spp.), and also host a number of threatened species, such as the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Dugongs, and Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus).

Vankalai Sanctuary sustains diverse food chains, while also sustaining the livelihoods of fisheries-dependent communities in the area. Civil unrest has kept human activity out of this region for nearly two decades, hence there are only few permanent settlements in the area. Locals engage in small-scale livestock grazing, subsistence and commercial fishing.

Part of the Vankalai Sanctuary is an archaeological site since it is partly located in the major port of ancient Sri Lanka, dated from 6th century BC to 13th century AD. The Department of Conservation is directly responsible for managing this diverse and culturally rich wetland. Ramsar site no. 1910. Most recent RIS information: 2010.

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Map of  Vankalai Sanctuary and Other Places of Interest

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Travel Directions to Vankalai Sanctuary

Route from Colombo to Vankalai Sanctuary Route from Anuradhapura to Vankalai Sanctuary
Through : Medawachchiya
Distance : 108 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on Google map
Through : Medawachchiya
Distance : 108 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map