Wildlife Parks

Sri Lanka has over 20 wildlife sanctuaries – which are home to a large variety of species, including the leopard, sloth bear, elephant, slender loris, numerous other reptiles & amphibians.

Ancient Conservation Techniques It is said that King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka established the world’s first wildlife sanctuary at Mihintale in the 3rd century BC. Certainly the conservation of nature is an ancient tradition in the island, a tradition that is inextricably linked with the adherence of the Sinhala people to Buddhism. At the Ruwanweli dagoba in Anuradhapura there is a stone slab inscribed with a decree issued in the late 12th century by King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa that reads:By the beat of a drum he ordered that no animals should be killed within a radius of seven gau (a measurement of distance equivalent to about 4 miles) from the city, he gave security to animals. He also gave security to the fish in the 12 great tanks, and bestowing on the people gold and cloth and whatever other kind of wealth they wished, he commanded them not to catch birds and so gave security to birds as well . . .

While all animals and plants in these prototype sanctuaries were to be left alone, and violators punished, elephants received the greatest protection, for they were the property of the monarchy. The enlightened kings of the time were also aware of the importance of preserving trees and set aside areas of forest known as thanasikelle or forbidden forest. Some of these ancient reserves exist to this day, such as the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Udawattekelle Sanctuary.

With the arrival of the Europeans, however, in particular the British in the early 19th century, such conservation philosophies were overturned. This affected both the flora and fauna of the island. The systematic slaughter of large game such as elephants took place because they were perceived as a threat to colonial expansion, in particular the plantation industry. One British pioneer alone shot over 1,300 elephants. Then, when tourism started later in the 19th century, the island became a focus for so-called sportsmen in search of big game to hunt.

Depredation of the island’s big game continued into the 20th century even after wildlife conservation came into focus. This was mainly due to human expansion and loss of habitat, although poaching also played a part. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the World Conservation Union lists 43 animal species as threatened in Sri Lanka. They include Sri Lanka’s own subspecies of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) and the leopard (Panthera pardus).

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