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Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation

Episode 35 – Mahakanadarava Sanctuary

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Only one child saved from a whole family

I joined the service in the beginning of November 1998 as a Wildlife Ranger in the Department of Wildlife Conservation. I was 20 years old then. First, I reported for duty at the Beat office at the Anuradhapura Division which was located in Anuradhapura Kachcheri. As a new Ranger, I first worked with him senior Ranger Mr. SarathWickramasinghewho was the in charge there. Today my service period is almost 26 years.

This is an experience I received within a month of my first appointment and so farI had never experienced such a serious incident. It was an incident where five people died in one place in one house due to elephant-human conflict. As far as I remember, that incident happened in December 1998. On the said day, my senior Range Officer was on leave due to illness.He lived in Kahatagasdigiliya which is far from Anuradhapura. At that time, only offices were provided with telephones. Mobile phones were limited. On that day, I was in charge of the station and the position had many responsibilities. Our area was coming under the Northwest Wildlife Region. An experiencedAssistant Director, Mr. J.M. Rapasinghawas in charge of this office. I don’t think he is alive today. On the said day, he spoke to our office and told us to get ready to go with the group in view of a person was killed by an elephant attack in Nachchaduwa.

When we go on a mission, usually three or four people accompany with us. I requested the staff to get ready. As far as I can remember, the driver Ariyaratne and the Assistant Ranger Mr. A. Seneviratne, the Wildlife Guards, D.R. Nandasena, RanjithDharmabandhu, LakshmanAtalugamaalso joined with us. Our vehicle was a small jeep bearing No. 31-1064. At that time due to the LTTE* threat, roadblocks were placed on the airport road.We went to Nachchaduwa via Keerakulam from Anuradhapura road. The town of Nachchaduwa was located near the tank and majority were Muslims. Turn from there and went to NachchaduwaTank in front of the said place. We came to the city and inquired whether such an incident had happened. The village is located in front of the Tank. The reservoir can be seen in the distance. When we got there, about 30 to 40 people were gathered around the side of the lake. Two small mud houses were there on the side of the tank and one house was completely destroyed.

That house was built like a hall. The distance between the two houses was about thirty feet. The roof of the broken house collapsed and the clay walls were overturned. Human lives were lost in that house. There were four people in that house: mother, daughter, daughter’s husband and little son. The daughter was nine months pregnant at that time.That’s why I said five lives. Looking at the age, the mother looked about forty years old. The daughter is also about twenty. Her husband is also in his twenties. The dead child was about eight years old. However, there was one child left in that family. Later on, the children of those two houses played together in the morning, but in the evening, that child had gone to the other house to sleep.That’s why life was saved. As the people of the neighboring houses expressed, an elephant came in the morning. Hearing the breaking of the house, the villagers had rushed there and driven the elephants away. Suddenly the elephant overturned the walls and entered the house. All were lost because the walls were knocked down and the elephant walked inside the house. All of them were trampled to death by the elephant in their sleeping position.

We stayed there for a long time with the people. It was around two thirty in the afternoon when the coroner and the police arrived. The investigation was completed after a while and the bodies were taken to Nachchaduwa Hospital. But that day we couldn’t move from there. A big protest in the village. There was a request from the people that it was dangerous for them to stay in their houses as four people died in the same place and therefore the officers should stay there that day.

The man from the next house had seen that this elephant had a radio collar around its neck. About a year ago, the elephants were tied radio collars, and the staff said that there is an elephant wearing that radio collar roaming in this area. According to the footprints, it was a big elephant about ten feet height.Somehow people didnot let us to leave. They want us to stay there that night. When we came to Nachchaduwa from Anuradhapura, we had not even had lunch. We somehow went back to the post office and delivered the message to the office of an Assistant Director. Due to death of those five persons, we were not allowed to leave the village at night. After that we were informed to patrol the area as a mobile unit.

We started searching for the collared elephant. If the elephant is there, we put on the hearing aids, raise the antenna by hand and turn it in the direction of the elephant, and we hear a small ticking sound. If it is near the elephant, its trinity will increase. If it is close, we can find it. We went on a bicycle for an hour or two and looked at the side of the elephant with the help of the device. Whether is it roaming nearby? When we looked, we felt like we were on the other side of the lake.

Then there were villages like Taruvila, i.e., Keertikulama, Nelubewa, Kudanelubewa, Kuluwila, Nellikulama, near Nachchaduwa. The villagers were terrified by this incident. So, even if you touch the antenna and say that there is an elephant on this side, it doesnot matter to people. People expected that at any moment they would come to their house and kill their own people. Because four people are killed, those people think that this elephant is killing people everywhere. But we realized that the elephant is far away. At that time D. R. Nandasena was in the elephant catching group so he is familiar with the subject. Even when we were looking for the elephant, he checked from time to time to see where the elephant was. But we couldn’t make sure about the distance.

This is a scary day for our group as five people died due to an elephant attack. We had only brought two guns and twenty elephant shots. Therefore, I spoke to the staff and asked them what to do. After that we decided to patrol the villages all night. Using the antenna, we always checked to see if the elephant was there. When it covered by the mountains, the signal does not receive. Therefore, we stopped touching the antenna at night. There was no fuel in our vehicle at that time. After that we came to Nachchaduwa town and paid some money in a small shop and bought some fuel. When investigating the deaths, the post-mortem proceedings had not been completed. In the morning, it was said that the body would be taken to a relative’s house in Keerakulam, which is about eight to ten kilometers away from the place where the incident took place.

The elephant is also going in that direction, so police asked us to be vigilant. We visited the Keerakulam side several times during the night. We hadnot even had dinner at that time. All shops in the areawere closed. Not a single person comes out of their houses. Not even a single shop was open in any village. The Wildlife Warden, had a familiar family in the village called Nellikulama. Those people were also afraid that this elephant would come and destroy those houses at any time. Later, those guys made us rice and a sambol. We started to go on mobile patrol again at night. The police did not come. We went all night and didn’t stay for a while. We came back to Anuradhapura around eight thirty in the next morning.

As soon as I arrived, I went to meet the Assistant Director. After a while, he said that the elephant had killed a man in Galkulama village last night as well. Galkulama itself is on the other side of Nachchaduwa. Roughly, it is five to twenty kilometers away. Yesterday we received signals from the same direction. That side is near MahakanadaravaMihintaleaSanctuary.That’s the elephant corridor. We were on the side of Kalavewa. The other death has occurred in the vicinity of the MihintaleMahakanadarava sanctuary. Then Keerakkulam is close to Anuradhapura, about twenty miles away. But there was some connection between the sanctuaries through forest patches so that the elephants could migrate. The Assistant Director asked me to go and sleep. He would send someone else to attend this. I met the Assistant Director and made an explanation. I briefed seriousness of the elephant about the current situation. By that time the Governor had spoken and decided to catch the elephant. But they said it would take about a week. Until then, it was decided to go on a mobile patrol to protect people. I met the Additional District Secretary and asked him to provide a set of speakers and a vehicle. The Additional District Secretary gave me the speaker set.

At that time, if a warning message to be delivered to people on elephant attack it was conveyed as a message from the GAconsidering that there would be a protest by the people if awareness was given by the wildlife. I remember the announcement that I made, ‘Please listen, this is a message from the Government Agent of Anuradhapura. These days, it has been decided to catch and remove the ferocious wild elephant roaming in this area. As it will take a few days to catch the elephant, until then you are advised to stay at home in the evening and refrain from traveling in a hurry, and I inform you that wildlife officers will stay in the area at night for your protection, thank you. I left there and came to the boarding house to sleep a little. But when I was sleeping for about an hour, Mr. Rupasingha, the Assistant Director, came by the car and stood at the gate. I came and rushed by the car to our office. When we got there, we had another site guard, M.D.L Lionel D. R. Nandasena and Atalugama had also come. Mr. Rupasingha said that the graveyard of people who died yesterday is in Keerakkulama village. Still using it today. A message came that the elephant was near the grave and told him to go now. Since Mr. Lionel was a senior, he had taken the responsibility. Later, I, Mr. Lionel, D. R. Nandasena, Atalugama and the driver went to Keerakkulama village by car. When we went to the funeral, the situation was not so good. Therefore, we did not go inside. The grave is about half a kilometer away. He said there is an elephant there. About four boys from the village came to show us the way.

We went to the grave yard. It was an open area where the grave was. But it was surrounded by the forest. Four pits were cut by the villagers to bury the bodies of the four. As we approached there, we heard a sound from inside the forest. It is about two thirty in the afternoon. We had two guns and some ammunition. The two guns were with Mr. Lionel and D.R Nandasena.elephantcrackers were with Atalugamai. Mr. Lionel suggested to throw crackers towards the elephant. I also threw the elephant shot in the direction of the sound. Suddenly, at the sound of the gunshot, the elephant screamed and emerged from the far corner of the grave yard. Chasing elephants in daylight is something that is not done in our wildlife management. But it had to be done with the conditions here. As soon as the shot was fired, the elephant came towards us. At that time, we were concerned about the presence of the elephant at the place where four bodies were to be buried. The elephant emerged from the forest fifty or sixty meters away. The elephant chased towards us. It is actually a collared elephant. At that time, we did not have time to shoot elephants. The people who came with us started running. Atalugam and I started running, but D.R.Nandasena and M.D.L Lionel, the site guard who were on the side of the elephant who were senior officers, did not even move. Those people took their guns and fired towards the elephant. At that time the elephant came nearby. The elephant was shot. The elephant turned and left. If the elephant had not been shot at that time, several of us would have died that day. We were saved by the experience of senior officials.

At the same time, we fired two or three thunder crackers. After some time, we realized that the elephant had moved away. We have heard the story that the elephant visits to the dead person who killed by the elephant. I got to experience it. This elephant had come to the grave before the body was buried. Later, an information came that the funeral was arriving. After about an hour we were told that there would be a protest, and when the funeral procession was approaching, we came from there to Anuradhapura.When they came to Anuradhapura, the other group was ready to go to the village with the speakers in the jeep. It was announced that day from five to seven in the evening. After that, mobile patrols were conducted at night. On such days, we usually slept a little in the afternoon. After these five or six days, groups of elephant catchers came to erect camps. The camp was made in the vicinity of TaruvilaNachchaduwa.Anyway, in four days, the elephant was caught and tied. Our senior veterinarian Mr. NandanaAthapattu caught the elephant. Dr. Tharaka Prasad, Director Health Management, leid. At that time, it was decided to bring the elephant to Yala. After that, this elephant was loaded in the elephant truck to be released from to Yala. About a week later, it was heard that the it had come to breach a bunker in Yala and the elephant had been shot because it was chased after a civil security guard. I think the elephant was killed within a day or twoafter placing there.

However, lives were lost due to human-elephant conflict, a child lost his entire family, and the elephant that caused those deaths died due to human-elephant conflict in this short period of time. Then elephants were restrictedto the middle of few sanctuaries. Their habitats have been lost due to development activities. Even today, the sanctuaries of Mahakanadarava, Mihintale, and Kahallapallakele have been protected. I am happy about that. Today, elephant management methods have changed and methods like electric fences have been added. Most of the development activities have ended up losing the habitats of these wild animals.

*Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam

Mr. Bhathiya Madugalle

Mr. Bhathia Madugalle joined the Department of Wildlife Conservation on November 9, 1998. He joined the Department of Wildlife Conservation as the youngest when a group of Wildlife Rangers joined the Department for duty. At present, he is working as the park custodian of Wasgamuwa National Park.

Mr. Bhathia Madugalle studied at Wattegama Madhya Maha Vidyalaya and Kingswood College, Kandy. After passing Advanced Level science subjects, he joined the Department of Wildlife Conservation. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the Open University while in service. Furthermore, he participated the wildlife conservation and management diploma course conducted by the Department of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Colombo and won the gold award for the best diploma holder in that group.

Mr. Bhathia Madugalle is the wildlife Ranger at the Anuradhapura Division, Tanthirimale Division, Wilpattu National Park Headquarters, Galgamuwa Elephant Management Unit, Nuwara Eliya Haggala Division, Randenigala Division, Kalpitiya Division, and the Park Warden of Maduruoya National Park, Minneriya National Park. He has also performed the duties of the Park Warden.

Mr. Madugalle said that he is very satisfied with working in the Department of Wildlife Conservation and has gained a lot of experience so far.

He is married and is currently the father of two boys. Both the children are studying in the 11th and 10th classes of St. Sylvester College.

Mahakanadarava Sanctuary

Randiya Dahara or Golden (kanaka) Stream was built by King Mahasen with the aim of keeping the underground water level high in the area and enriching the fields of the farmers who supply staple food rice to the country. The purpose of keeping the ground water level high is to make it easier for the people to get water as drinking water through small wells. Therefore, the water of the Kanaka stream was used only for the purpose of nurturing the fields and bathing. The Kanaka Stream of King Mahasen is today the Mahakanadara Reservoir. The total extent of the reservoir  Mahakanadarava  is 400 hectares.

The fact that there are many large tree trunks and boulders in the lake catchment increases its beauty even more. Many mammals such as Spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonensis), Sambar (Rusa unicolor) live in the forest around the lake and occasionally Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) can be seen here.Due to the importance of the surrounding environment, under Gazette No. 414 on December 9, 1966, Mahakandara Lake was declared as a sanctuary.

Spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonensis)
Asian elephant(Elephas maximus)

A large number of farming families live near this lake, which has hidden historical value. Agriculture is the main livelihood of most people. The tank can hold a water capacity of 36,000-acre feet and the stored water is released during both Yala-Maha seasons. The Mahakandara Reservoir, which survived despite being affected by various foreign policy conspiracies, was reconstructed in 1959 as a large irrigated farming colony and has settled farming families in two phases. In the beginning, 6100 acres of paddy fields were fed by the Mahakandara Reservoir and supplied rice to the nation.

This lake, built by King Mahasen, has got its water by blocking the KanadaraOya. At that time, it was known as Kanavapi. King Sena 1 (833- 855) donated it for the Mihintale temple of Kanavapiya. It is mentioned in the Mihintale inscriptions that the successive king, Sena II, raised the dam to increase the water capacity here, and the King Mahinda IV entrusted the water here to the use of the Mihintale temple. An inscription of King Parakramabahu states that after the restoration of Mahanakandara by kings Vijayabahu and Parakramabahu during the Polonnaru period, the Kanavapi lake embankment was extended 1600 cubits.

Bathing in the lake is also a wonderful experience.For that, care should be taken to use a bathing ferry used by the villagers.We have no idea about the depth of the lake so it is advisable to be careful there.

A beautiful view of the Mihintala mountain range can also be seen on the lake embankment. The surrounding area of the lake is also an ideal place to watch the various birds that grace the skies above the sanctuary. Peacocks are a common bird that can be seen here in flocks and comorants roam here in hundreds. Great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), Great egret (Casmerodius albus), Indian pond- horon (Ardeola grayii), Purple heron (Ardea purpurea), Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala), Asian openbill (Anastomus oscitans), Woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus),Purple coot (Porphyrio porphyria), Lesser whistling teal (Denbrocygna javanica) Lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), Blue tailed bee eater (Merops philippinus), Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)live here.

Great egret (Casmerodius albus)
Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)
Blue tailed bee eater (Merops philippinus)
Purple coot (Porphyrio porphyria)
Lesser whistling teal (Denbrocygna javanica)
Lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus)

In the month of August, the water level of the Mahakandara Lake starts to decrease rapidly with the onset of drought in Rajarata. Due to this, the ruins of the old Anuradhapura-Trincomalee road are visible on the northern side of the road, while on the southern side the dried-up water bodies are visible.

Mahakanadarava is the largest among the lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see when climbing the Mihintale Mountain. Seeing this lake and the ruins around it is sure to give you an amazing experience. You can also easily visit the ruins of the Mahakanadara Lake after worshipping Mihinthale. Pass Mihintale Junction and cross the fields on Trincomalee Road.  Mahakanakadara Lake is found after about 3 minutes. This highway runs through a bund that divides the lake into two and was built on earth during the English era. To enter the lake embankment, you turn from the Kandara junction and go further 3Km pass through villages.

The Mahakandarawa Circuit Bungalow run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation is located within the Mahakandarawa Sanctuary. A group of ten people can easily be accommodated there and the bungalow bookings can be done from the head office.

List of animals in the Mahakanadarava Sanctuary

 Sinhala Names

Tamil Names

English Names

Scientific Name


புள்ளி மான்

Spotted deer

Axis axis ceylonensis




Rusa unicolor


ஆசிய யானை

Asian elephant

Elephas maximus

මහ දියකාවා

பெரிய நீர்க்காகம்

Great cormorant

Phalacrocorax carbo




Anhinga melanogaster

මහ සුදු කොකා

பெரிய கொக்கு

Great egret

Casmerodius albus


குளத்துக் கொக்கு

Indian pond-horon

Ardeola grayii

ලතු වැකියා

மஞ்சள் மூக்கு நாரை

Painted stork 

Mycteria leucocephala

විවිර තුඩුවා

 நத்தை குத்தி

Asian openbillstork

Anastomus oscitans


வெண்கழுத்து நாரை

Woolly-necked stork

Ciconia episcopus

රජ සියක්කාරයා

அமெரிக்க பூநாரை

Greater flamingo

Phoenicopterus ruber


நீலவால் பஞ்சுருட்டான்

Blue tailed bee eater

 Merops philippinus

බත් කූරා


Damsel fly

Suborder zygoptera


நீலத் தாழைக்கோழி

Purple coot

Porphyrio porphyrio



Lesser whistling teal

Denbrocygna javanica



Lesser adjutant 

Leptoptilos javanicus



Sri lanka jungle fowl

Gallus lafayettii

පළා පොළඟා

பச்சை விரியன்

Green Pit Viper

Trimeresurus trigonocephalus

සර්ප රාජාලියා

கொண்டை பாம்புண்ணிக் கழுகு

Serpent Eagle

Spilornis cheela

කරවැල් කොකා


Purple heron

Ardea purpurea

Editor– Dammika Malsinghe, Additional Secretary,Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation (MWFRC)

Article on park written byHasini Sarathchandra, Chief Media Officer, Department of Wildlife Coservation(DWLC), Mahesha Chathurani Perera, Development Officer, (DWLC)

Tamil TranslationsA.R.F. Rifna, Development Officer, MWFRC

English Translations Asoka Palihawadana, Translator, MWFRC

Web DesigningN.I.Gayathri, Development Officer,MWFRC -C.A.D.D.A. Kollure, Management Service Officer, MWFRC

PhotographyDepartment of Wildlife Conservation