Yala National Park

Yala National Park or Ruhuna National Park is the second largest and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. Yala is situated in the southeast region of the country, as lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and is about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo. It had originally been designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds.

There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala. The park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. The national park hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage to the Yala National park and 250 people has died in the park.

Yala is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala harbours 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. The number of mammals that has been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. The area had been a centre of past civilisations. Two important pilgrim sites, Sithulpahuwa and Magul vihara, are situated within the park. The number of visitors has risen in 2009 since the security situation in the park improved.

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Block Extent Date added to the park

Block I      14,101 hectares (54.44 sq mi)      1938

Block II     9,931 hectares (38.34 sq mi)        1954

Block III    40,775 hectares (157.43 sq mi)    1967

Block IV    26,418 hectares (102.00 sq mi)    1969

Block V     6,656 hectares (25.70 sq mi)        1973

Source: Sri Lanka Wetlands Information and Database

Yala had been a centre of past civilisations. Demon King Ravana established his kingdom here with Ravana Kotte, now submerged in the sea, as its boundary. Seafaring traders brought Indo-Aryan civilisation with them, as Yala is situated in their trading route. A large number of ancient although disrepaired tanks are the evidence of a rich hydraulic and agricultural civilisation dating back to 5th century BC. Situlpahuwa, which was the home for 12,000 arahants, is situated within the park area along with Magul Vihara, which was built in 87 BC and Akasa Chaitiya, which was constructed in 2nd century BC. Agriculture flourished in the area during the period of the Ruhuna Kingdom. According to Mahavamsa, the Kingdom of Ruhuna began to decline by the end of the 13th Century AD. During the colonial period Yala became a popular hunting ground for the Colonial rulers till the park was designated a sanctuary in 1900.The traditional two month long “Pada Yathra” or foot pilgrimage from Jaffna in the Northern peninsula, to Kataragama through Yala National Park in May-June-July annually, attracts in excess of 400 Hindu devotees.