Villus- What are they? Why are they important?


Wilpattu ("land of the lakes") is very much in the news these days with the controversy associated with attempts at establishing new settlements in the vicinity of the Wilpattu National park. A unique feature of this national park is the presence of over 50 "villus" containing fresh water. I was curious to find out more about the origin, morphology and location of villus in Sri Lanka, and decided to consult Dr. Chris Panabokke, elder statesman of Sri Lanka’s earth science community on the subject.

"There are basically two types of villus in Sri Lanka", he said. "The type found in the Wipattu area are ‘sink holes’ or depressions in the landscape caused by weathering and dissolution of underlying ‘karstic limestone’ deposits. They are unique natural formations which tend to fill-up with rainwater during the North- east monsoon, but dry up rapidly during the dry months of June, July and August. The other type of Villu occurs in the flood plains of the Mahaweli, in the Manampitiya and Tamankaduwa area (Polonnaruwa district), extending up to Kantale and beyond. They constitute the flat land lying below the levee of the Mahaweli Ganga. They are alluvial in nature and subject to frequent flooding during the rainy season when the river overflows its banks.

Locations of both types of Villu are clearly demarcated in the one inch to the mile ‘topo- sheets’ prepared by the Survey Department.

"Ah! I am now running out of breadth", said the venerable 89 year old scientist. "But before I conclude, I would like you to stress the fact that both forms of villu are unique natural ecosystems which must NOT be tampered with by human activity. They are a valuable refuge for wildlife. They must also not be confused with our dry zone tanks or ‘wewas’, which are manmade structures constructed on the undulating landscape of the dry zone.

Ranjit Mulleriyawa



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