Lankika de Livera experiences the unspoilt beauty of Kumana
Kumana is the ultimate dream destination in this country for any wild life enthusiast. An unspoilt park, almost completely cut off from civilization, one needs a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach it as the approach is difficult and the road is in a bad condition.

Kumana was closed for 18 years due to terrorist activity and was opened to the public only two years ago. Located approximately 391 km from Colombo, it is also known as the Yala East National Park and is 18,149 hectares in extent. Situated in the Ampara district with its northern fringes belonging to Moneragala district, Kumana has some of the best camping sites in the country.

Approaching via Wellawaya, Moneragala, Pottuvil, Panama, Okanda and Kumana with our World Travel Centre Colombo Group, we spent the night at Arugam Bay and set off the next morning after breakfast in a four wheel drive jeep to Kumana. Pot holes like huge craters dotted the road and the tsunami damage too was evident. The road is narrow from Arugam Bay and our jeep raised an incredible amount of dust, coating our eyelashes, clothes and heads too. Travelling in an open jeep, one has to go through this experience and it is essentially an integral part of being one with the jungle; the smells, sounds and feel which one would lose out on if one were to travel in enclosed air-conditioned comfort.

The Kumana Park has a small office and inadequate facilities for the staff so much so that Park Warden D.P Seyasingha has no option but to sleep in the office. Staff is very scarce and safeguarding and protecting the animals from poachers is near impossible without adequate resources. However, the park is rich in avifauna for which it is famous as much as the diversity of the other wild life such as leopard, elephants, deer, hare, packs of jackal and huge lazing estuarine and marsh crocodiles.

At every villu we passed there were massive estuarine crocodiles some as big as five metres long lying beside the water in pairs, with their mouths open wide, jagged teeth showing in the heat of the day. Apparently, they cool their systems in this manner by passing out their body heat through their mouths.
The park is divided into two blocks and forms a most fascinating region of scenic beauty, consisting of lagoons, many natural and restored water holes, tanks, natural rock pools, rocky outcrops, ridges, open parkland, scrub jungle and forests.

The Kumbukkan Oya flows 28 km. along the southern boundary to form the Kumana estuary and villu before it flows to the sea. The confluence of the Alakola ara and other streams flow to Kumbukkan Oya and smaller streams such as the Girikula and Bagura ara flow to their respective lagoons.
Fauna International Trust’s book “Yala National Park” records that the forest area in Kumana conceals an ancient civilization dating from about 3rd century B.C. to about the 10th century A.D. Approximately 24 km. of the eastern boundary is sea coast where three species of sea turtles come to nest undisturbed by human activities, but the eggs are preyed upon by natural enemies – wild boar, crab and jackal.

Contiguous with the sea coast are the serene, undulating sand dunes with the vegetation peculiar to such an environment and five lagoon sand spits across the Girikula, Andarakala, Bagura, Itikala and Yakala. These lagoons have a variety of aquatic fauna and flora.

Kumana per se is generally popular for its avifauna. To see the migratory birds coming from overseas, the best season is January and February. The main attraction in viewing the local birds, is to witness the nesting season, at Kumana Villu teaming with nesting birds and their fledglings. There are two nesting seasons, December – April and June –September. One can see the nests and the eggs from a safe distance, without disturbing them.

It was nesting season at the 285.2 hectare Kumana mangrove swamp (which is supposedly world famous) and there was an incessant orchestra in full swing. Squawks, squeaks, chattering, high pitched calls in different tones and tunes assailed our ears.

In the marshy swamp where Kirala and Hambu trees grow, birds like Pelicans, Painted Storks, white Ibis, Spoonbill, Eastern Grey heron, Purple Heron and all species of Egrets nest , lay eggs and look after the fledglings. Occasionally raptors and other birds of prey would swoop down on the unsuspecting chicks and carry them away for food.

A beautiful sight to behold is the floating nests of the Pheasant tailed Jacanas and Black winged stilts. We saw eggs placed neatly on the middle of floating lotus leaves. The Jacana’s eggs were golden yellow and speckled.

In earlier years, there were many more trees in the swamp and the bird numbers were far greater. However, when the park had been closed for 18 years, people from the neighbouring areas of Panama and Pottuvil had taken over the park, and burnt and destroyed many trees. To the dismay of wild life enthusiasts, it was learnt that barbeques had been arranged for foreign tourists coming from Arugam Bay. The live fledglings were snatched from the nests and then thrown into the barbeque spit.

While we traversed the park we saw many elephants, some of them against the backdrop of the beach and sea, making a beautiful sight for photography.
But the grand finale to our Kumana trip was yet to come. It was dusk as we travelled slowly back towards Panama, after passing the famous Okanda Hindu Temple. The journey was long and we started singing to ward off sleep. Suddenly we spotted a herd of elephants by the roadside with a few babies. Almost stopping the vehicle, we were observing the babies on the right hand side of the road when one member of our group just casually glanced to the left and saw a massive elephant charging full speed at us. At the rate she was coming, if she hit us, our jeep would have gone hurtling.

The driver panicked and accelerated, but the beast was getting closer and closing in on us. We were frozen in shock. Suddenly, a huge bus appeared opposite us on the lonely stretch of road and the driver realizing what was happening started tooting his horn loudly. At this point, the pachyderm stopped in her tracks. However our driver who was still in a state of panic, drove frenziedly over the pot holes and was still racing along the bad road until we told him that he could relax. Having gone over the huge pot holes at great speed we soon found that the seat had broken and that we were on the floor of the jeep.

The driver’s fears were quite justified when we heard that just a month before a foreign tourist who got down from her jeep to photograph elephants had been crushed to death by an elephant who had toppled the jeep.
Completely wild, Kumana is a nature lover’s paradise.

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