Nature & Wildlife
Though Sri Lanka is very small in land area, the great diversity in habitats is a rich and diverse fauna and flora, with many species endemic to the island. Sri Lanka has strived to provide sanctuary and protection to it's beautiful wildlife. There are many wild life reserves, nature parks and sanctuaries established throughout Sri Lanka and extremely popular with local and overseas visitors and the strict natural reserves such as Sinharaja rainforest are also available and open only to specialist visitors.
There is no need to book entry and a guide in advance but it is best to plan ahead for a half day or full day safari, those who wish to stay all day inside the park for both morning & evening safari tours, can enter the park with picnic lunch. The guides are employed by the conservation and wildlife societies and must accompany all visitors to the park.
Most of the parks close in September during mating season, so October-December is a super time to catch the cubs.
Yala National Park
Situated in the southeast region of the country, is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public; and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names also, like Ruhuna National Park for the (best known) block 1 and Kumana National Park or 'Yala East' for the adjoining area. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds.
There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala. The Yala National park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and has a variety of ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water and marine wetlands, and sandy beaches. Yala harbours 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka.
Including Sri Lankan Elephant, 44 species of mammals are resident in Yala National Park, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. 25 individual leopards are estimated to roam in Block I. Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Elephant, Wild water buffalo indigenous to Sri Lanka, are threatened species that Yala is harbouring. Toque Macaque, Golden Palm Civet, Red Slender Loris, and Fishing Cat are among the other mammals that can be seen in Yala.
Yala is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka. Of 215 bird species of the park, six are endemic to Sri Lanka. Number of waterbirds inhabiting wetlands of Yala is 90 and half of them are migrants. Thousands of waterfowls migrate to the lagoons of Yala during the northeast monsoon. Crested Serpent-eagle and White-bellied Sea Eagle are the raptors of the park. The forest birds are Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Hornbills, Old World flycatchers, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Asian barbets, and Orioles.
The reptile fauna recorded from the park is 46 and five of them are endemic. The coastal line of the park is visited by the all five globally endangered sea turtles that visit Sri Lanka. The two breeding crocodile species of Sri Lanka, Mugger crocodile and Saltwater Crocodile inhabit the park. There are 18 amphibians species that have been recorded from Yala while Bufo atukoralei and Adenomus kelaartii are endemic to Sri Lanka. In the water courses of Yala, 21 fresh water fishes are found.
Bundala Nature Reserve
One of most Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka, situated near Tissamaharama on the south coast, is an important wetland sanctuary combines 20km of beach, lagoon and scrub sheltering about 150 species of birds. It is a popular spot for birds that have flapped their way down from Siberia to avoid the winter and 2000 great flamingos which it is the winter home to. From October to January, 4 species of marine turtle lay their eggs on the coast. Two endemics, the brown capped babbler and the Sri Lanka jungle fowl and wetland birds such as the intermediate and great egrets, Asian spoonbill, black-winged stilt, and yellow-wattled lapwing are also on show while Crocodiles, elephant and giant squirrels live amongst the scrubby jungle, lagoons and beaches.
Udawalawe National Park
Lies on the boundary of Sri Lanka's wet dry zones and was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir. The reserve covers 30,821 hectares (119.00 sq mi) of land area. Species recorded from the park include 94 plants, 21 fish, 12 amphibians, 33 reptiles, 184 birds (33 of which are migratory), and 43 mammals. Additionally 135 species of butterflies are among the invertebrates found in Udawalawe.
Udawalawe is an important habitat for variety of birds including water birds & endemics and Sri Lankan Elephants which are relatively easy to see in its open habitats with a herd of about 20 -50 and other wild animals such as Sambur, Deer, Wild boar, Jackals, Wild buffalo, Mongooses, Water monitor lizards, Crocodiles, Sloth bears.
Wilpattu National Park
(Willu-pattu; Land of Lakes) is located in the Northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka. The unique feature of this park is the existence of "Willus" (Natural lakes) - Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. The park is 131, 693 hectares and ranges from 0 to 152 meters above sea level. Nearly sixty lakes (Willu) and tanks are found spread throughout Wilpattu that is the largest and one of the oldest National Parks in Sri Lanka. Wilpattu National park is among the top national parks world renowned for its Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) population. The Leopard population in Wilpattu is still not yet known.
31 species of mammals have been identified within Wilpattu national park. Mammals that are identified as threatened species living within the Wilpattu National Park are the elephant (Elephas maximus), Sloth bear, leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) and water Buffalo. Sambhur, spotted deer, mongoose, mouse and shrew are more of Wilpattu's residents.
Birds along with many species of owls, terns, gulls, eagles, kites buzzards are to be found at Wilpattu National Park and a lot of Wetland bird species who are resident in the park.
Minneriya National Park
Is situated in dry zone in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. The park is a dry season feeding ground for the elephant population dwelling in forests of Matale, Polonnaruwa, and Trincomalee districts. Along with Kaudulla and Girithale, Minneriya forms one of the 70 Important Bird Areas of Sri Lanka. The national park's faunal species include 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies.
Large numbers of Sri Lankan elephants are attracted to grass fields on the edges of the reservoir during the dry season. The Minneriya tank contributes to sustain a large herd of elephants. Individuals of elephants gathered here is numbering around 150-200. Some reports account number of elephants to as high as 700. They migrate here from Wasgamuwa National Park and benefited from food and shelter of the park's forest. Tourists visit Minneriya largely because of elephants, especially in dry season.
The park is also important habitat for the two endemic monkeys of Sri Lanka, Purple-faced Langur and Toque Macaque. Large herbivorous mammals such as Sri Lankan Sambar Deer and Sri Lankan Axis Deer also frequent the park. Rare and endangered species such as Sri Lankan Leopard and Sri Lankan Sloth Bear also inhabit in Minneriya and that is one of areas that the Gray Slender Loris is reportedly found in Sri Lanka.
The Minneriya reservoir is an important habitat for large water birds and a dormitory for many resident as well as migrant bird species. Instances of occurring a flock of 2000 Little Cormorants have been reported. Among the endemic birds are Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Brown-capped Babbler, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Black-crested Bulbul and Crimson-fronted Barbet. The number of threatened birds recorded from national park is 11. Amphibians of Fejervarya pulla and Polypedates cruciger have been recorded from the area and there are eight species of endemic reptiles and all of them are considered threatened.
Kaudulla National Park
Situated in dry zone in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, was designated a national park on April 1, 2002 becoming the 15th such area on the island. Kaudulla was one of the 16 irrigation tanks built by King Mahasen and now attracts and supports a variety of plant and animal life, including large mammals, fish and reptiles. Many plant and grass species grow well during the rainy season whilst an abundance of food and water, even in the dry period, attracts a large number of herbivorous mammals to the park.
The faunal species recorded in the park include 24 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 160 species of bird. In the drought period around the month of September Sri Lankan Elephants move to the Minneriya tank in search of more water and food. Sri Lankan Sambar Deer, Sri Lankan Axis Deer, Chevrotain, Wild boar, Sri Lankan Leopard, and Sloth Bear are other mammals found in the park. Kaudulla National Park is also one of the sites in which the Gray Slender Loris is reportedly found. Following the discovery of a two month old albino Sri Lankan Axis Deer calf abandoned by her mother, it is supposed that Kaudulla is probably the only national park in Sri Lanka to have albino Axis Deer.
Large water birds such as Spot-billed Pelican and Lesser Adjutant visit the Kaudulla tank. Fish species in the tank include the freshwater Oreochromis mossambicus. Fejervarya pulla is an endemic amphibian to Sri Lanka that inhabits the National Park. Freshwater turtles, Indian Flap-shelled Turtle and Indian Black Turtle are the noteworthy reptiles
Wasgamuwa National Park
Is a natural park in Sri Lanka. Originally it was designated as a nature reserve in 1938, and then in the early 1970's the area was regarded as a strict nature reserve. Wasgamuwa is one of protected areas where Sri Lankan Elephants can be seen in large herds. It is also one of the Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka.
July-September is the dry season. The forests of Wasgamuwa represent Sri Lanka dry-zone dry evergreen forests. The park consists of primary, secondary, riverine forests and grasslands and exhibits one of the highest biodiversity among the protected areas in Sri Lanka. More than 150 floral species have recorded from the park. Cryptocoryne walkeri and Munronia pumila are two plants with economic value. Reservoirs and riverine forests support large number of fauna species. Some 1,700 years old tamarind tree, "Oru Bendi Siyambalawa" (Sinhala for Canoes-moored-Tamarind) was situated in the park.
Wasgamuwa National Park is home to 23 species of mammals and is inhabited by a herd of 150 Sri Lankan Elephants. Marsh elephant (Elephas maximus vil-aliya) roams in the Mahaweli river area. Both monkeys, Purple-faced Langur and Toque Macaque are endemic to Sri Lanka found in the park while Water Buffalo, Sri Lankan Axis Deer are common to observe, Sri Lanka Leopard and Sloth Bear are rare. Small Golden Palm Civet is another rare endemic mammal.
Number of bird species recorded from the park is 143 inc including 8 endemic species. The Endemic and endangered Fejervarya pulla is one of the 8 species of amphibians of the park. Of 17 reptile species recorded in the park 5 species are endemic. There are endemic Garra ceylonensis and Combtail are among the 17 fish species reside in the aquatic habitats of the park. Of the park's 50 butterflies, 8 species are endemic.
Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya National Park is 260 sq km of scrub and open countryside around an artificial reservoir. Vegetaion in the park comprises both evergreen jungles and grasslands. The reservoir has been named Senanayake Samudra (Senanayake Sea), after first post-independence prime minister of Sri Lanka. About 30 species of beasts are found here including leopard, sloth bear, elephant, wild boar, water buffalo, various species of deer, common langur and endemic toque macaque. About 150 species of birds also reside in this park. June through September, the dry season is the best time for viewing Elephant, Deer, Macaques mainly with many birds.
Lahugala National Park
Situated 14km west of Pottuvil on the east coast, has been declared a national park with the aim of providing a safe corridor to the elephants moving between Yala and Gal Oya national parks. Particularly in the dry season the tiny park has number of elephants who come there attracted by the abundance of reservoirs and grazing ground. This small park is home to the Ceylon blue magpie and the Red-faced malkoha and a host of water birds, is also good for good bird watching.
Horton Plains National Park
Located on the southern plateau of the central highlands of Sri Lank, is a protected area and is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. This plateau at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres (6,900–7,500 ft) is rich in biodiversity and many species found here are endemic to the region. This region was designated a national park in 1988.
The plains' vegetation is grasslands interspersed with montane forest, and includes many endemic woody plants. Frequent cloudy cover limits the amount of sunlight that is available to plants. The mean annual temperature is 13 °C (55 °F) but the temperature varies considerably during the course of a day, reaching as high as 27 °C (81 °F) during the day time, and dipping as low as 5 °C (41 °F) at night. Although some rain falls throughout the year, a dry season occurs from January-March. The ground frost is common in February. Mist can persist in the most of the day during the wet season. Many pools and waterfalls can be seen in the park, and Horton Plains is considered the most important watershed in Sri Lanka.
The vertebrate fauna of the region includes 24 species of mammals, 87 species of birds, nine species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians. The Sri Lankan Elephant disappeared from the region in the 1940s at the latest. At present, the largest and the most commonly seen mammal is the Sambar Deer.
Large herds of Sri Lankan Sambar Deer feature as typical mammals, and the park is also an Important Bird Area with many species not only endemic to Sri Lanka but restricted to the Horton Plains. The sheer precipice of World's End and Baker's Falls are among the tourist attractions of the park.
Horton Plains contains 21 bird species which occur only on Sri Lanka. Possibly about 15 amphibian species inhabit the park and two fish species found in the park, common carp and rainbow trout, both are introduced species. Horton Plains is also home to many endemic crustaceans species. The endemic freshwater shrimp Caridina singhalensis is found only in streams that have a temperature of less than 15 degrees C and is now restricted to only a stretch of 10 km of one stream.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka with international significance. The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests ecoregion, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988.
The reserve is only 21 km (13 mi) from east to west, and a maximum of 7 km (4.3 mi) from north to south, but it is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. There are about 3 elephants and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen.
The commonest larger mammal is the endemic Purple-faced Langur and rusty spotted cats, deer, squirrels, porcupines, pangolins, 45 species of reptiles, 147 species of birds and many stunning butterflies. The drier months of August-September and January-April make best viewing but you will still need your waterproofs and cover up your ankles and skin to avoid leeches.
The Forest reserve is an Important Bird Area and an interesting phenomenon is that birds tend to move in mixed feeding flocks, invariably led by the fearless Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and the noisy Orange-billed Babbler. Of Sri Lanka's 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie.
Reptiles include the endemic Green pit viper and Hump-nosed vipers, and there are a large variety of amphibians, especially tree frogs. Invertebrates include the endemic Common Birdwing butterfly and the inevitable leeches.