Nearly 2,000 people had visited the Kumana National Park after it was opened to the public on January 30, this year.
Northern Province Assistant Wildlife Director, M C G Rupasinghe, says that upto to June this year the Park generated an income of Rs. 1.2 million. Most of the visitors were locals. "We hope to attract more foreign tourists to the Park.
"Personally, I am very happy that the Parks are under the purview of the Economic Development Ministry. Parks in Sri Lanka, did well when they were coupled with the Tourism Ministry," he added. He says plans are afoot to launch pedal boats in the Kumana Villu to help visitors have close observations of birds.
Economic Development Minister and Senior Presidential Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, had given the green light to the Park officials to rebuild and reconstruct buildings in and around the Park, without affecting the Fauna and Flora Ordinance.
According to officials, Minister Rajapaksa is confident a large number of foreign tourists would visit the Park following the development of the Northern Province.
The Kumana National Park is characterized by having large lagoons and plains along its coast. The lagoons, from north to south, are Bagura (the largest) Andarakaley, Itikala and Yakkala.
The Kumana Wildlife Sanctuary or the Yala East National Park, tagged as a birds’ paradise, was reopened on January 30 by former Environment and Natural Resources Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, after a lapse of nearly six years. The Park was neglected for nearly two decades due to LTTE activities within the Park.
Once known as one of the best, or rather, the best bird sanctuary in Asia, Kumana is now slowly getting back to its past glory.
Located in the southeast corner of Sri Lanka, about 22 kilometers off Panama, the 35,664 hectare Park is a well-known eco-tourism attraction where a multitude of birds breed and roost. After being gazetted in 2006, the Yala East National Park was renamed as ‘Kumana National Sanctuary’ changing the original name and the extent of land, originally gazetted in 1970.
One of the most significant features of the park is the 'Kumana Villu' - a 200 hectare natural swamp lake, fed by the 'Kumbukkan Oya' through a half mile long narrow channel. It is at this mangrove swamp that many water birds nest, during the months of May and June.
Regular sightings of birds include pelicans, painted storks, spoonbills, white ibis, herons, egrets and hundreds of little cormorants. The very rare black-necked stork has also been spotted at the swamp. Nearly 255 species of birds have been recorded in the National Park. During April–July, tens of thousands of birds migrate to the Kumana swamp area annually.
Migrant birds have now started to move out of the region, leaving the endemics to rule the land.
The Mugger Crocodile, the Indian Flap-shelled Turtle, and the Indian Black Turtle are the common reptiles inhabiting the Park.
The vegetation in Kumana consists mainly of mangroves, kumbuk trees and the karan fern, as well as open marsh land. For bird watching enthusiasts, the Park is an 'absolute must' despite the number of birds observed in the National Park having fallen in recent years, due to the damage caused during the last three to four decades.
The country has more than 400 species of birds within it of whom around 230 are resident and 23 considered endemic.
The very rare black-necked stork has also been spotted at the swamp. Besides the prolific birdlife, Kumana is also home to some of the mammals found in the larger Yala (West) Park such as elephants and leopards.
Kiri Pokuna, or small pond, is a small waterhole that retains water during the dry season. About a kilometre to the east of the waterhole there is a rocky outcrop in the forest called Kiri Pokuna Hela. This too has drip ledged caves with ancient inscriptions indicating that Buddhist monks lived here during ancient times.
Kumana village is located near the estuary of the Kumbukkan Oya. The village is said to have been established in 1818 by those fleeing during the Uva rebellion against British occupation. The recent village originally contained about 30 houses and a school- but was abandoned in the early nineties because of the LTTE attacks. The village was self sufficient and had cultivated land and fields irrigated by the Kumana Wewa.
The Kumana National Park, also known as Yala East National Park is located at a distance of 391 kilometers from Colombo. Wildlife enthusiasts can reach the Park using the Moneragala- Potuvil-Panama road. There is one entrance of the Park to Panama. The park office is situated at Okande, and tourists are required to obtain a permit and a guide at this location.
~ www.island.lk ~ By Ifham Nizam