Yala National Park (Ruhuna) – යාල (රුහුණු) ජාතික වනෝද්යානය
|Main attractions||Yala has the world’s highest concentration of Leopards. crocodile, elephant, deer, sambar, bear, wild bore, wild buffalo and peacock and may varieties of birds including migratory birds such as flamingos..|
Yala National Park was initially started as a Game Sanctuary by the British in 1894 and was established as the Yala National Park in 1938. Yala covers more than 100,000 hectares of wildlife with Kirinda to west, Kataragama to North, Panama to east and the indian ocean to the south. Yala is divided in to 5 areas known as block 1 to 5. The most visited area is block one. The road network is much better on this block and easily accessible even without a four wheel drive. Some parts of the park were closed for visitors due to LTTE Terrorist activities (see www.sinhaya.com) in the past but now most of these area are open to the public.
It is possible to hire jeeps at the entrance to the park. The best time to see these animals (including leopards) are early morning and at dusk. The park of is mostly known for its dense population of leopards. They are quite used to human presence and generally will not run away when a vehicle is encountered. Elephants are the most common sight in the park
Yala West is closed in September and usually part of August and October too. But when it’s open the best way to get there is to catch a bus to the coastal town of Tissamaharama, and then hire a jeep and a driver. If you have your own four wheel drive you can just drive up to the front gate and pay the entrance and tracker fees.
The park is also covers a number of archeological sites including the famous “ Magul Maha Viharaya ” dating back to 1st Centaury BC.
Yala has 8 park bungalows with the sanctuary, which will roughly accommodate 12-14 people. All these bungalows are situated in block I. You need to book these bungalows from Colombo and getting a free day is quite difficult.
Many hotels around the sanctuary (but outside of it) will be happy to provide accommodation
The Yala National Park can be reached through Matara – Tissamaharama Road. It is 305 kilometers away from Colombo.
Map of Yala National Park (Ruhuna) 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 Yala National Park (Ruhuna)
The park can be reached through Matara – Tissamaharama Road. It is 250 kilometers away from Colombo.
Route from Colombo to Yala National Park (Ruhuna) Entrance
Route from Kataragama to Yala National Park (Ruhuna) Entrance
|Though : Ratnapura – Kahawatta – Udawalawe – Thanamalwila – Tissamaharama – Kirinda
Distance : 250 km
Travel time : 6 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Distance : 40 km
Travel time : 45 minutes.
Driving directions : see on google map
Yala NP  : Folklore and wildlife of Yala National Park
Former Educational and Project Officer ,Dept. of Wild Life, Sri Lanka.
An introduction in brief to the history of Ruhuna certainly is pivotal prior to the projection of your mind towards the education of Yala Folklore and its Wild Life. Our Country was constituted of three ruling states namely, Ruhuna, Maya and Pihiti in the past.
These three states were also known as the “Three Sinhalaya” it was so found for the first time in the rock inscriptions originated by Queen Leelawathie. The present history of Ruhuna has its nucleus emerging from Dambadiva (India).
There were several Ambassadors who were in the retinue of Vijaya, who soon after their arrival start building settlements in the country. King Amithodana who happened to be one of them had a son by the name of Pandushakkya, King Amithodana was a brother of King Suddhodana the father of Prince Siddhartha. Pandushakkya became a father of seven sons and one daughter whose name was Bhaddakachchayana. Her mother was Susima Devi.
Bhaddakachchayana was sent on board a ship and floated into the sea proclaiming that she would be married by a suitable one. Eventually Princess Bhaddhakachchayana had been brought ashore and she disembarked at Gokanna in Lakdiva.
Having come to know the incident, Prince Tissa immediately proceeded to the place and took her in marriage. Out of the other seven sons, six excluding Gamini, on information came to Lakdiva and constituted their own Capitals in different places in Lakdiva according to their choices. The names of those capitals were Rama, Guruwela, Anuradha, Vijitha, Deegayu and Rohana.
The ruling state which was constituted by the Prince Rohana was later expanded up to Yala National Park. King Pandukabhaya the son of Ummada Chitra and Deega Gamini ruled Lakdiva for 37 years; King Mutaseeva for 60 years. After his death king Devanampiyatissa was crowned.
The Mahawamsa says that the second brother of Devanampiyatissa built a wewa near Walaskema. His Queen gave birth to a son in close proximity to the Yatala Temple, and named the new born child as Yatalatissa. After the death of King Yatalatissa his son Gotabhaya became the King. Consequently his son Kawantissa was crowned.
During Kawantissa’s reign the great Magul maha viharaya and Situlpawwa cum Chittalapabbatha Temple were built in the outset of Yala which comes under the stage one of Yala. After his passing away, King Dutugemunu brought the country under one Flag. According to the book that contains the plans and boundaries of Ruhuna, said to have been compiled during the Gampola period indicates such information thus:
River Kaluganga from Kalutara and River Mahaveli and University of Peradeniya from Kandy were the boundaries within which the great extent of land of Ruhuna was. As per the rock inscription of the “Galge” (Rock House) at Boatta which is situated in between the Kumana National Park and the second stage of the Yala National Park one Prince that goes on by the name Uthi has been identified as one of the ten brother Kings by Dr. Paranavithana the Archaeologist.
Mahanagahula was the second capital of the Old Ruhuna. It was divided into two “Pattus” again the Magam Pattu was subdivided into “Dolos Rata” and “Atadahas Rata” which means land of 12,000 and 8,000.
Situlpawwa the forest Temple comes under the “Atadahas Rata” and Tissamaharamaya, the village Temple in “Dolosdahas Rata” where their were many historical places like Yodha Wewa (Giant embankment) Yodha Kandiya (Giant Bank), Degundara Wewa, Digan Wawe, Kota Bendi Wewa, Athuru Mithuru Wewa, Buthwa Wawa, Dharshana wewa, Bandu Wewa, Indigolla wewa, Kiri Pokuna, Rakina Wala, Wilapala Wewa, Kirindi Viharaya, Nimalawa, Gigumdara Hill near Situlpawwa the place where the oldest art of swan line pattern is drawn.
Also the Akasa Chaithya, Gonagalla Chaithya, Padikema, Modaragala, Katagamuwa, Nandimittra Chaithya, Kanabis0 Galge, Goyamkola Maya Gala, Mandagala, the holy place which is said to have been the Temple of the great God Kataragama alias the residence of the God of Siyambalewa.
The above shown places would reveal the historical background. The life sustenance plant which comes in the traditional medical prescriptions is a herbal plant that even a patient in his last breath can be cured. This plant is found in the first stage of the great Yala forest.
There are many folklore to the effect that the root cause for the name Patangala was that it was the place where cargo was loaded into ships.
Yala was proclaimed as forestry on 23rd March, 1900. A British prisoner of war by the name of Aengal Brake was brought to Ceylon on 1907. Subsequently he was appointed as the first keeper of the Yala Park.
Later the first Zone of the Yala National Park established on 25th February, 1938, was 14.101 hectares in area. The Second Zone opened on 1934 was 9.31 hectares. The third Zone opened in 28th April 1967 was 40.775 hectares. The 4th opened on 9th October, 1969 was 26.418 hectares the 5th opened in 1969 was 6.656 hectares and further 28.905 hectares were declared as Protected areas.
Kataragama sanctuary assisting 837.7 was Proclaimed 27th May 1928. Katagamuwa area of 1003.6 hectares and Nimalawa area of 1065.8 hectares were proclaimed as Sanctuaries with effect from 27th May, 1928 and 18th March 1993 respectively.
Kudumbigala sanctuary hails in serenity and the fragrance of “Seela” spread over Kumana with the blessing of the Kudumbigala Temple along with the Okanda Devalaya. The Chief Incumbent of the Kudumbigala Temple says, that there had been some Kutumbi families in the Kudumbigala area in the past.
Also the place where the Okanda Devale alias Murugan Devale is treated as the original Holy Land of the deity Kataragama. On February, 25 1938 the Colonials announced Yala Park as the Yala National Park. The department of Sanctuaries was established in 1938 and Mr. A. D. Wijewardane was appointed its caretaker. The folk Life of Yala is filled with a lot of tales, and much literature can be seen both in the past and present.
The Kings and the Ten Fold skilled Giants had built various religious centres in the Holy Land. Situlpawwa, where 12000 Arahants lived was one of them. The fisheries wadies at Patanangala and the hunters from Nimalawa Banduwewa, who are residing in close by Chenas are really a menace to this Holy Land.
While maintaining the above historical and geographical facts on folklore, folk life and wildlife in the Yala National Park as a Photographer and a researcher who read for my masters degree in the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, I would like to point out the following facts also. Chance and tolerance are two important things that a Photographer should possess while in the jungle. I realized it myself when I was engaged in taking the photographs of wild animals.
There are some folk stories in relation to the names given to various wild animals Indian Rolld (Dun bonna) which is given to those who came to peck insects that are attracted to the rising smoke during the burning of Chenas. “Sivuru Hora”, “Diviya”, “Ulama” too are subjects for such folk stories.
Especially the “White Elephant” which I came across in the Yala jungle, has become a popular subject among the folk stories. King Wessantara had given in alms a white elephant, Queen Mahamaya Devi too dreamed of a white elephant, God Saman riding on a white elephant, are some of them.
The white elephant that was caught in my photographs was a unique situation, notwithstanding the fact that the profile seen by anyone from the sea when looking at the minihagalkanda the view resembles a man and it has a long history coming down from Ravana’s period. Those days the area had been thickly populated.
I wish and hope that my endeavour of bringing the Yala National Park which is unique in bio diversity, and historically and geographically important to the readers, local and foreign, and request to consider that it is a responsibility and a duty of everybody to nurture it considering that it is an immeasurably valuable asset that Sri Lanka owns.
Yala National Park  : The Boer Prisoner Who Was Yala’s First Game Warden
National Parks : In the Hambantota cemetery by the sea is a simply engraved stone marking the spot where Engelbrecht, a Boer prisoner of war and this country’s first gamewarden was buried. Thereby hangs a tale!
Along with 5,000 other Boer prisoners of war, Engelbrecht was kept in Sri Lanka by the British until the war in South Africa ended in 1902.
These prisoners were then allowed to go back provided they took an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. All of them complied except Engelbrecht and four others who were not allowed to return.
Engelbrecht was sent to Hambantota and the other four to Jaffna and Batticaloa, where they were maintained on a government allowance of Rs. 1.25 per day, paid on a monthly basis from the respective kachcheries.
After the four Boers in Jaffna and Batticaloa died, Engelbrecht remained to eke out an existence on his measly dole. When he was turned out of the house he was living in because he could not pay the rent, he received a great deal of public sympathy.
His case was accordingly looked on favourably by the Governor, who appointed Engelbrecht gamewarden of the maritime area between the Kumbukkan oya and Menik ganga (the present Ruhuna National Park) which had been declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1899.
Engelbrecht turned out to be a capable gamewarden. Government reports indicated that under his stewardship “a decided increase in all kinds of game and animals”, had been observed.
Engelbrecht was also an excellent marksman, a prowess that he used in a humane way to protect pilgrims using the old trail from the Kumbukkan oya to Kataragama from the threat of leopards.
D. J. Hennessy, a British administrator in Sri Lanka, reported in his book ‘Green Ailes’ that leopards were known to attack and devour pilgrims who fell by the wayside from sickness and exhaustion.
One instance he relates was when Engelbrecht noticed the pug marks of a leopard around a woman who had so collapsed and died.
Only the wailing of an infant clinging to the dead mother’s breast had so far kept the feline from its gruesome meal.
Lying facedown like a fallen pilgrim, cradling the rifle in his hands, Engelbrecht bided his time until the leopard returned and shot it dead.
The gamewarden was quite a flamboyant figure, especially when he left his jungle domain once a month to go into Hambantota to collect his salary and stock-up provisions.
He did it in real Boer style, driving a tented wagon drawn by a team of oxen with staccato cries and a cracking whip.
All went well for this Boer soldier turned gamewarden until war broke out between Britain and Germany. When the German battleship Emden was causing havoc amongst allied shipping in the Indian ocean, Engelbrecht was suspected of treason because he had refused allegiance to the British Crown. Rumor had it that he was surreptitiously supplying fresh meat from the sanctuary to the crew of the Emden off the coast at Potthana.
Potthana is a recognised campsite in block 2 of the Ruhuna National Park today after you cross the Menik ganga from block 1.
It has a fresh water well, cool shady trees and a good view. Pilgrims use it as a stop-over on their way to Kataragama. The height of the pilgrim season is July/August.
Engelbrecht was consequently imprisoned in Kandy. But he was released after three months when the charges leveled against him could not be sustained.
Cleared of treason
He returned to his old job as gamewarden. A claim for compensation made by Engelbrecht’s attorney Lucien Poulier was disallowed under the Defence of the Realm Act. Engelbrecht died in 1922.
It was only a decade or so later that his attorney was able to clear him of the stigma of treason. This was made possible when the new Emden docked in Colombo in 1931.
The captain of the ship, who had been second-in-command on the old Emden, was able to give the attorney a signed clearance that at no time had the old Emden received a supply of meat or anything else from the island during the war.
So ended the Engelbrecht saga. But the cattle that pulled his tented waggon have multiplied and lived on as a wild herd in the Ruhuna National Park.
I once caught a glimpse of them – 25 to 30 animals – in the Yalawela-Pillinawa plains near Potthana. These plains teem with buffalo, deer and pig.
Like the domesticated buffalo that have slunk away from neighboring villages to join their wild relatives, Engelbrecht’s small herd has done the same thing and is no doubt continuing to enjoy its wild freedom even now.