January 2017


The Untamed Wilderness of Wasgamuwa
January 2017




A lone male elephant poses for the camera

The Wasgamuwa National Park is an untamed evergreen wilderness spanning 39,300 hectares. Here gentle giants roam, birds find refuge and crocodiles emerge.


Words: Keshini de Silva | Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


The Wasgamuwa National Park is fenced in by the Mahaweli river on the east and is bordered by the river's tributary, the Amban river on the West. The geography of the park is diverse with the Sudukanda range and reservoirs Dunuwila, Maharotalawa, Kokkabe, Kudaratalawa, Sanstapitiya and Wawul Ebbe.


Situated in the dry zone of the Island, the vegetation in Wasgamuwa attracts the elusive Sri Lankan sloth bear in particular. It is believed that in terms of the sloth bear population Wasgamuwa is second only to Yala Block One. As lore suggests the name Wasgamuwa may have originated from the Sinhalese words ‘Walas Gamuwa' meaning ‘bear gathering'. However, on our trek to the park we were not in luck as we did not spot any of these furry nocturnal beasts.


Declared a Strict Nature Reserve in 1938, it was promoted to National Park status in August 1984; therefore, a limited area of the park is accessible for safaris. It is also home to 145 species of birds and 35 species of reptiles.

The safari paths of Wasgamuwa are mystical, foliage and vines serenading the road while clinging on to a trace of the morning mist.


The safari paths of Wasgamuwa are mystical, foliage and vines serenading the road while clinging on to a trace of the morning mist. Seeing a feathery silhouette of peacocks majestically basking in the morning rays is a mesmerising sight. Little villus emerge through the greenery, during the dry season the wild action is concentrated on these banks. The endemic Sri Lankan junglefowl (Wali Kukula) screeched and scuttled out off the path. Mugger crocodiles slither through the muddy mashes, sneaking up on its prey. Fish eagles are perched overhead, surveying for prey, whistling ducks scamper to the water and wild water buffalo soak in the mud. Herds of spotted deer elegantly dash back and forth. At the sound of approaching humans, a hare crossed the safari path in one leap and a wild boar stopped dead in its tracks and rushed back into the bushes. Within the calm of Wasgamuwa if you loose concentration there is much you will miss.

 

With the cold sweeping over western shores, it is migrant bird season at Wasgamuwa as many have commenced their sojourn to the tropics.

Our journey began early as we hoped to spot elephants. As the sun grew brighter the birds came out to play. Painted storks waded through the water, a woolly-necked stork trudging along the raw earth, a green bee-eater whizzed through the air searching for insects, a red-wattled lapwing, purple heron and Indian darter calmly perched on a tree. Two changeable hawk eagles took flight after spotting prey. A snake bird (Anhinga) swam through the water. Yet, the most mesmerising spectacle was towards the end of route one, beyond a water body glowing purple with water hyacinth. Asian Openbill scattered on the treetops like snow. The usually grey feathers glowed bright white while their beaks were busy making nests, indicating that it is breeding season.


With the cold sweeping over western shores, it is migrant bird season at Wasgamuwa as many have commenced their sojourn to the tropics. Most of the avians seeking refuge from the freeze are aquatic birds, therefore the natural lakes scattered across the Wasgamuwa National Park is to these flying guests a paradise.

Elephants can be spotted
November to May


The park is known for its elephant populations of the Sri Lankan elephant that includes the marsh elephant; however, these herds are evasive and are usually spotted foraging for vegetation at dawn and dusk.

The best time to visit
January to March


We caught glimpse of a lone male elephant, who at the sound of the approaching vehicle disappeared into the forest. A few miles later, we spotted two more male elephants, one sneaked back into the forest, while the other ventured out to pose for a few photographs. Munching on grass it came quite close, twisting out the leaves with its trunk. Although awed, we were on guard as lone males have a tendency to be aggressive. The herds however had avoided us; later we learnt that they had, that morning, travelled to the banks of the Mahaweli near the Sakura (Nippon) Bridge. Once the heat of the sun grows harsh the elephants retreat to the forest cover, where they slumber.


According to our tracker despite a few rumoured sightings of leopards by villagers, there have been no official recent sightings of the Sri Lankan leopards in the park.


Witness elephants in their element, species of birds in flight or if you are lucky the shy sloth bears at the Wasgamuwa National Park.