Somawathiya National Park

Somawathiya National Park is one of the four national parks designated under the Mahaweli River development project. Somawathiya Chaitya, a stupa said to be containing a relic of the tooth of the Buddha, is situated within the park. The park was created on 2 September 1986, having been originally designated a wildlife sanctuary on 9 August 1966. The park is home to many megaherbivores. The national park is located 266 kilometres (165 mi) north-east of Colombo.

Somawathiya National Park lies in the deltaic flood plains of the Mahaweli River and contains the junction where it is forked into two branches. The two branches are the Mahaweli River, which flows north into Koddiyar bay and the lesser Verugal Oya which flows north-east into the sea. The central riparian flood plain is featured by many old river channels and contains dispersed 'villus', the water filled basins around among the grassy plains. There are 20 such villus is located in the park. Somawathiya and Flood plains national parks are important protected areas for the wetland system of Mahaweli River flood plains. The high quality habitat of fertile alluvial underlying layer supports a plentiful wildlife.

The historic Somawathiya Chaitya is located on the left bank of the Mahaweli River. The stupa was named after Princess Somawathi, the sister of King Kavan Tissa, and the wife of regional ruler Prince Abhaya. The prince Abhaya build the stupa to enshrine a relic of the tooth of the Buddha, which was in the possession of Arahat Mahinda, and named the stupa after the princes. Stupa is increasingly popular tourist and pilgrimage destination due to its fame as the site where miracles - beams of light and unusual apparitions - are often reported. The park is one of the four national parks set aside under the Mahaweli River development project. The other three national parks are being Maduru Oya, Wasgamuwa and Flood plains. Somawathiya is contiguous with Flood Plains National Park and Trikonamadu Nature Reserve. Hurulu Forest Reserve, a part of which is a biosphere reserve is linked by the western arm of the park.

The water filled basins in the central flood plain are featured by the richness and predominance of the water-tolerant grasses and aquatic plants. The distribution of floral species in the villus shows a pattern, which is related to the period of inundation and the depth of flooding. On the edges, where wet conditions are temporary and with mild levels of flooding, there are creeping grasses such as Cynodon dactylon. Further towards the centre of the villus where the flooding is lengthier and truly hydrophytic species such as Alternanthera sessilis, Polygonum spp., Jussiaea repens, Ipomoea aquatica, Monochoria hastata, and Scirpus grossus appear. The most widespread grass species include Hygroryza aristata, Brachiaria mutica, Echinochloa colonum, Paspalum vaginatum, Digitaria longiflora, and Paspalidium spp. In a little deeper water, floating aquatic plants occur along with Nelumbo nucifera.

Still in deeper water an association of manel Nymphaea stellata and the submerged aquatic plant Ceratophyllum demersum present. Some floating plants are common in all zones of the villus. Some tree species occur in the edges of the villus are Terminalia arjuna, Madhuca longifolia, Barringtonia asiatica, Mitragyna parvifolia, Erythrina variegata, and Hibiscus tiliaceus. In the northern region of the park, the forest trees teeming with species such as Drypetes sepiaria, Berrya cordifolia, Diospyros ovalifolia, Dimorphocalyx glabellus, Pterospermum canescens, Manilkara hexandra and Mitragyna parvifolia.

The importance of ecology of the park is due mainly to the wide occurrence of elephants Elephas maximus estimated at about 400 within the protected area and adjacent surroundings and the rich avifauna. Although a 2007 study showed a much smaller herd of elephants in Somawathiya, 50-100 of individuals. Other notable mammalian species include jackal Canis aureus, fishing cat felis viverrina, rusty-spotted cat felis rubiginosa, leopard Panthera pardus, wild boar Sus scrofa, sambar Cervus unicolor, water buffalo Bubalus bubalis, porcupine Hystrix indica, and black-naped hare Lepus nigricollis.

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