Animal haven in ancient capital
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa, the cradle of
Sri Lanka's agrarian economy and Buddhist cultural hub is significant for
many reasons. Its resources are many. Not only does the area produce a
large portion of the country's rice requirements, it is also home to many
Buddhist places of worship, with archaeological value.
But that's not all. The Polonnaruwa district is also a haven for the
wildlife enthusiast. And it is in recognition of its environmental significance
that the government has made a policy decision to declare
Kaudulla as a nature reserve.
"Polonnaruwa has the largest elephant herds besides Uda Walawe. The
ancient tanks and canals provide a perennial water source for elephants,
hence their presence even in the worst drought conditions," explains Environment
and Natural Resources Minister Rukman Senanayake, who lobbied for the nature
reserve. The area is also the refuge of many bird species, especially tank
eagles and cormorants. As the authorities say, the idea is to "promote
an animal kingdom within the ancient capital". Kaudulla, named after the
famous tank from the times of King Mahasen, has been identified as elephant
habitat for a long time. With the population boom and the development of
agriculture in the area, Kaudulla has shrunk in size, but remained a firm
favourite among travel operators and campers.
Minister Senanayake said the popularity of the area made the government
consider it prudent to declare Kaudulla a nature reserve, thereby giving
it recognition and protection.
A senior ministry official explained that there are vast areas within
the Polonnaruwa district that merit legal protection. "Kaudulla is a significant
habitat that has not yet been recognized as an important bird site."
"Polonnaruwa's glory, its historical and archaeological importance often
overshadowed its ecological importance. One finds bird life, massive elephant
herds and valuable medicinal plants there. All these deserve maximum protection,"
The authorities have also declared a new elephant corridor, from Uda
Walawe to Lunugamvehera. Following a 1997 Environment Advisory Committee
recommendation to minimize the conflict between man and elephant and ensure
the continuity of elephant habitat, the corridor is a preliminary step
in "respecting the rights of elephants", said Minister Senanayake.
His contention is that the man-elephant conflict largely stemmed from
human disrespect towards elephants when clearing jungles and taking over
their habitat. The restriction of the elephant habitat could trigger attacks
"This has become one of the most sensitive issues concerning habitat.
With the population boom and the need for agricultural land leading to
the clearing of forests, elephants and other species are losing their habitat.
While in the name of development we clear forests and take over their habitat,
there is a need to conserve them as well. And for that, you have to protect
the remaining habitat which is why we have declared the new corridor,"
Lauding this decision, environment lawyer Jagath Gunawardene said it
was long overdue. Former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake's decision
to declare Minneriya a national park was another commendable policy decision,
Meanwhile, environmentalists advocate the declaration of two more elephants
corridors, from Gal Oya to Lahugala and from Gal Oya to Maduru Oya, known
also as the Nilgala corridor.
This will serve a dual purpose, says Mr. Gunawardene, that of ensuring
the conservation of elephant habitat and conserving some of the last remaining
habitats of four bird species. These are the painted partridge, jungle
bush quail, yellow-legged green pigeon and the broad-billed roller, all