Sri Lanka's national parks reopen after 25 years



Colombo: After remaining closed for more than 25 years because of the civil war between the security forces and the Tamil tigers, Sri Lanka's national parks are once again set to see tourists flocking there.

Designated as a sanctuary in 1905 and upgraded to a national park in 1938, the country's largest wildlife area, Wilpattu, had been closed to visitors after the Tamil Tigers killed 23 wildlife officers in 1985.

With the war ending in May 2009, the park reopened to visitors last month.

"With the reopening of this park, all of the island's national parks are now open," Patali Champika Ranawaka, environment and natural resources minister, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Home to more than 30 threatened wildlife species, the 131,693-hectare Wilpattu is located in the northwestern coastal region, 180 km north of Colombo.

Though the park had reopened in March 2003 after the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE, it had to be closed again in 2006 because seven people were killed by a bomb attack.

More than 31 threatened mammals, including the sloth bear, leopard and water buffalo and birds, including painted stork, open billed stork, garganey, pin tail and whistling teal have been identified in the park, warden Weerasinghe Dissanayake was quoted as saying.

Monitor, mugger crocodile and soft shelled turtle are also found in the nearly 60 lakes and tanks at the park, he said.

The park is not only rich in biodiversity but also has historical value, the park warden said.

The climate inside the park is very different, in spite of being situated in a dry zone. It receives 1,000 mm annual rainfall and has an average temperature of 27.2 degrees Celsius.

Heavy rains occur in between September and December and between March and April, with May to early September being the best season for a visit.

IANS