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Mihintale Sanctuary

  Province North Centrel
  District Anuradapura
  Nearest Town Mihintale
  Area 999.6 hectares
  Period -
  Ruler -

The Mihintale Wildlife Sanctuary, which is believed to be the first sanctuary in the world, is today in a rather neglected state. There are no proper borders demarcating the sanctuary and no measures have been taken to protect its biodiversity. However, the Government has now taken steps to restore this sanctuary to its former state, in connection with the 2550th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.

Buddhism has a strong link with trees and the environment, with the Buddha being born, attaining Enlightenment and Parinibbana (passing away), all under the shade of trees. By paying His gratitude to the bo tree, which helped Him attain Enlightenment, through the Animisa Lochana pooja, the Buddha displayed the importance of trees, to the whole world.

The first lesson on protecting animals and trees was given to the world by the Buddha. Through the first pansil 'Panathipatha Veramani Sikkhapadan Samadiyami', He showed the importance of protecting all living beings. In the Vana Ropa Sutra, the Buddha has explained the importance of planting trees and forests, and the benefits thus accruing.

In His sermons, the Buddha has said that the forests don't seek anything from us for their survival, while generously donating their produce for our benefit. Forests protect all living beings; they give shade to even those who cut them down.

Therefore, the Buddha can even be described as the world's first environmentalist. So it's opportune that we concentrate on the conservation of trees and animals in this 2550th Buddha Jayanthi year. The link between Buddhism and the environment in our country grew even stronger with the arrival of Arahat Mahinda Thera in the third century BC. On this day, Sri Lanka's king, Devanampiya Tissa was deer-hunting in the jungles of Mihintale, Anuradhapura. The sight of the king pursuing a deer greeted Mahinda Thera on his arrival in Sri Lanka.

The Thera, who stopped the king in his tracks, preached to him that all mammals, birds and other creatures enjoy an equal right to live in this land, wherever they may want.

The land belongs to all the people and animals. The king is only the ruler and not the owner of this land, the Thera said. With that, Mahinda Thera advised King Devanampiya Tissa to designate Mihintale and the surrounding jungle areas as a sanctuary for wildlife.

Thus, the area became the first sanctuary, on a Poson Poya day in the third century BC. This fact has been accepted by all environmentalists and archaeologists, based on facts in the Mahavamsa and other available documentation.

According to the Director of the Biodiversity Unit of the Environment Ministry Dr. Gamini Gamage, a sellipi (stone inscription) found at Mihintale stablishes the fact that the king did command the people of the area not to kill animals or destroy trees in this area.

Going by all these facts which proves that this area was declared a sanctuary as far back as more than 2,200 years, and that to date there are no known records of other wildlife sanctuaries in the world, it would not be wrong to state that the Mihintale Sanctuary is not merely the oldest, but perhaps the first such sanctuary in the world.

May be it's time to look into this matter seriously and take necessary steps to declare it as the world's first wildlife sanctuary, if there are no other claims from other parts of the world.

The Mihintale Sanctuary is also a part of the area demarcated as the first sanctuary during the third century BC. It comprises 999.6 hectares or 2,500 acres.All the mountains and hills of Mihintale, the Kaludiya Pokuna, Mihindu Guhava, Ambasthala area and the Amba Vanaya, which belong to the Forest Department, come within this sanctuary.

The biodiversity of this area is high

It comprises trees such as palu, weera, burutha (teak), ebony and milla and mammals such as elephants, deer, sambhur and bears. Although the area is legally protected, due to various reasons, such protective measures are not properly enforced. There aren't even boards designating these two areas as the first sanctuary