Udawalawe National Park is comparatively one of recent origin. It was only in June 1972 that Udawalawe was declared a national park. Since then it has become a most popular destination, both among local and foreign tourists. One reason is its easy accessibility.
Lying on the boundary of the Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces, Udawalawe Park is situated in the dry and intermediate zone bounded by the Moneragala and Ratnapura districts. It is 30,821 hectares (119.00 square miles) in extent and is one of the smallest national parks in Sri Lanka.
The Udawalawe Park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe reservoir on the Walawe Ganga, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir.
The third most visited park in Sri Lanka, it’s a convenient 165 km drive from Colombo with the roads being quite good. The entrance to the park is near the 11th milepost on the Thimbolketiya-Thanamalwila highway. A number of elephants hovering at the fence near the highway is a common sight today. They have gotten used to being fed by passing motorists with bananas and other fruits. So seeing elephants in Udawalawe is not a big deal!
Udawalawe was featured second in the stamp series of national parks of Sri Lanka. Four popular animal species in the park are featured in the stamps.
The large and powerful water buffalo (bubalus bubalis) is featured on the Rs. 5 stamp. A mature male is about five feet in height and carries much longer and heavier horns than the females. Living mainly in the dry zone, the wild buffalos live in groups with a male as the leader.
Being dependent heavily on water, they spend much of their time wallowing in mud holes and shallow pools. Mainly a grazer, the water buffalo feeds in the morning and evening. A female would have a gestation period of 300-340 days and usually gives birth to one calf at a time. Its lifespan is 25 to 29 years.
The Ceylon ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithil – known as ‘hothambuwa’ in Sinhala) – seen on the Rs. 40 stamp – belongs to the order carnivora family Viverridde. Ash brown in colour, it is normally seen as a single solitary animal or as a couple. A characteristic habit of the mongoose is carrying its tail with a black tip curved upwards. It exists on birds, small mammals and reptiles.
The grey langur (semonopithecus entellus – ‘alu vandura’ in Sinhala) on the Rs. 45 stamp is largely and fairly terrestrial. Grey with a black face, it belongs to the order of primates in Mammalia class. It is mostly found in the dry zone and feeds on leaves, fruit, seeds and flowers.
Seen in medium to large groups, they sleep on branches during the night, usually with one dominant male.
The Rs. 15 stamp features the ‘aliya’ – the Sri Lankan elephant (elephas maximus maximus) belonging to the order Proboscide. The male is larger than the female and an adult male’s height is around nine feet six inches. They are herbivores and eat grasses, leaves, bark and fruit.
They rest during midday after a good feed in the morning. The gestation period is 23 months. The lifespan is around 60 years.
Udawalawe also boasts the elephant transit home set up by the Department of Wildlife Conservation in October 1995.
It provides shelter to destitute, wounded or motherless baby elephants who get shelter, food and security until they are released to the jungle. Udawalawe is an important habitat for water birds as well.
Around Udawalawe, there are several ancient places of religious and cultural value like Veheragaolla and Veheramankada.
Among the ancient villages in the area are Muwanpelessa and Seenuggala, and several tanks have also been found.