Migratory shore birds from around the globe flock at Bundala National Park, which is one of the most important wintering sites for these remarkable creatures, in southern region of Sri Lanka. Over twenty thousand various avifauna are known to visit Bundala. It was proclaimed the 487th Wetland of international Importance on 15th October 1990. One of the main reasons for the establishment of Bundala National Park was to provide habitat and protection, for the rare and threatened aquatic birds that inhabit its waters.
Situated in the Hambantota District, of the southern province, Bundala was initially declared as a sanctuary on 5′ December 1969 and was upgraded to a National Park on 4′ January 1993, following its declaration as the first Ramsar site in Sri Lanka. The eastern and western peripheries of this national park are defined by the Bundala village and the Hambantota town respectively, whilst a part of its northern boundary is adjacent to the A2 main road.
Historical Value There are clear evidences from excavations that there were pre-historic settlements 125,000 years before present time in Bundala area. These excavations yielded small flake stone tools industry dated I 25,000-75,000 BP from Pathiraja area.
When initially declared a National Park in 1993, Bundala encompassed a total land area of 6216 ha, but on the 28th of July 2004, it was brought down to 3698.01 ha, accounting for just 0.04°/0 of the island’s total land covers. Dry weather prevails from May to September at Bundala, whilst the average annual rainfall and temperature are in the range of 900-1300 mm and 27°C respectively.
The park contains four shallow and brackish lagoons, the Bundala Lewaya, Embilikala Kalapuwa, Malala Lagoon, and Koholanka Lewaya with saltpans in three interconnecting channels, in association with marshes, including the adjacent coast.
The scenic beauty at Bundala is unique and breathtaking, where many lagoons and intertidal mud flats, provide wintering birds with food and shelter. Nesting turtles take refuge in the surrounding beaches and sand dunes, which rise on average up to 15 m in height. The thorny scrub jungle is home to elephants, spotted deer, wild buffalos and many other species of the animal kingdom.
The flora found in Bundala is of four major types. The terrestrial vegetation consist of tall forests that dominate the western region of the park, whilst riverine vegetation is found in abundance along the Kirindi oya. Extensive areas of Hydrilla, phyto-planktons, as well as numerous species of sedges, reeds and grasses, fall under the category of lagoon marsh vegetation. Low crawling sand dune and beach front vegetation consists of Spinifex, 1pomea and some dwarf Salvadora. Cactus (Opuntia dillenii) and Prosopis juliflora, are invasive species that have spread widely in the region.
Blue green alga such as Microcystis, Nostoc and Oscillatoria dominate all the lagoons within Bundala, while Hydrilla grows in abundance in the Embilikala and Malala lagoons. Marshes and streams contains Water hyacinth, Water lilies and Hambu Pan (Typha javanica). Dry thorn scrub forest is predominated by Acacia sp., Andara (Dichrostachys cinerea), Kukuruman (Randia dumetorum), Eraminiya (Ziziphus sp.), and Karamba (Carissa spinarum). Trees such as Maila(Bauhinia racemosa), Malittan (Salvedora persica), Weera (Drypetes sepiaria), Palu (Manilkara hexandra), Satin (Chloroxylon swietenia), Kohomba (Azadirachta indica) and Divul (Limonia acidissima) are scattered in the park.
Sadly the elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) population at Bundala has dwindled in the past years, with migratory herds of up to 80 elephants being spotted on occasion. Of the 32 mammals reportedly found, the endemic Toque Macaque (Mataca sinica), Grey Langur (Semnpithecus priam), Jackal (Canis aureus), Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrius), Striped Nacked Mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis), Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Mouse Deer (Moschiola meminna), Spotted Dear (Axis axis ceylonensis), Indian Otter (Lutra lutra), Leopard (Panthera Pardus kotiya), Black Naped Hare (Lepus nigricollis), Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), and Porcupine (Hystrix indica) are some of those that are noteworthy.
Of the amphibians, the endemic and threatened Athukorale’s Dwarf Toad (Blab athukoralei) is of significant importance. The Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), Esttinrine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) Land Monitor (varanus bengalensis), Star Tortoise (GeocheIone elogans) could be easily observed in the park. Among the reptiles that commonly known to roam in the park are Python (Python molurus), Cat Snake (Boiga spp.), Green Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasuta), Buff Striped Keelback (Amphiesma stolatutm), and Checkered Keelback (Xenochrophis piscator).
The three most highly venomous species in Sri Lanka, namely, the Indian Cobra (Naja naja), Common Kraft (Bungarus caeruleus) and Russell’s Viper(Daboia russelli) can also be observed in Bundala.
Coastal stretch of Bundala National Park is a popular nesting site for four species of turtles, namely Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).
Almost all species of resident water birds in Sri Lanka, including the rare Black Necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), as well as migratory birds looking to escape the freezing winter in the north flock at Bundala. The Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus), Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus), Red Knot (Calidris canutus), Broad Billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus), Buff Breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis), Red Necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), Spoon Billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmaeus), Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), and Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) are vagrant birds that visit Bundala. During the north east monsoon, hundreds of Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus tuber) congregate at Bundala, where one should not pass up on the opportunity to take in the beauty of these graceful and vibrant creatures.
Banks, hospitals, post offices, telephone services, market places and petrol stations are located at Hambantota and Tissamaharamaya. The tourist’s board approved rest houses Hamabantota and Tissa, provide visitors with comfortable lodging. If you are the type who likes to holiday in style, the swanky Hotel Oasis in Hambantota is for you.
On the other hand if you are the nature loving type who enjoys the outdoors, the campsite at Pathiraja, facing the ‘beach, is just the thing for you. Three more sites are scheduled to be opened shortly, more information regarding this and reservations can be obtained at the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Visitors are required to purchase permits before entering the National Park, which is open to the public between 6.00 aim and 6.00 p.m. throughout the week. A guide is a must on all excursions within the park. Keep strictly to the tracks and remain in your vehicles at all times. Refrain from honking, playing loud music, flash photography, and smoking, destroying or collecting wild flowers and ornamental plants, and feeding wild animals.
An excursion to the park clears your mind and brings about a sense of peace that cannot be easily acquired elsewhere. It opens your eyes to the wonders of nature, and makes you realize the best things in life are for free. Bear in mind at all times the purpose of the park is not for your sole enjoyment, but it is home to the animal that inhabit it.
(Photo credit: Kavinda gehan/ Indika kumara)
Thoughtful thoughts to your inbox