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National Parks and wildlife in Sri Lanka

Go on safari and get up-close to the diverse wildlife in Sri Lanka's national parks including leopards, elephants and sloth bears

© BT Images

Sri Lanka is a wild life hotspot with countless national parks and forest reserves. And if you happen to be here in the paradise island, an experience that you cannot miss is a visit to a national park. Safaris can be arranged from any hotel or you can simply hire one of the many safari jeeps to take a wild ride into a park to see, up close the many amazing beasts that roam the island. Yala National Park, well known to have the highest leopard densities in the world is a must in your travel itinerary while the Udawalawa National Park with its magnificent tuskers and elephants in large numbers will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Chundikulam bird sanctuary

The peninsula has a natural heart that throbs wildly, and you can discover it at its pristine best at Chundikulam. The name may ring a bell only for a few people. But Chundikulam National Park became a bird sanctuary as far as 1938. It is the best place to capture birds in their most unguarded, spontaneous, intimate or dramatic moments. Throw in some rare and elusive mammals like the fishing cat, the sloth bear and the jungle cat, and you will agree it is a naturalist’s paradise. Chundikulam sits in the middle of the strip of land that joins the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the island. At its east is the Indian Ocean and at its west the Jaffna lagoon. In this arid, wild land, many kinds of habitats have evolved: beaches with sand-dunes, salt marshes, wetlands, thorny scrublands, dry forests, tanks, mangroves and of course the lagoon. This means that a great number of birds, favouring a great number of terrains, can flock and thrive within the area. 

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By: Time Out editors

A safari to Yala

YALA is Sri Lanka’s most emblematic national park, set in the ancient Ruhunu kingdom in the Southern Province. Remnants of past civilizations, covered with the jungle tide, form the stamping grounds of wild animals of a great variety. Established as a national park in 1938, Yala comprises five blocks sprawling over 979 square kilometres. The attraction of the park lies in the arid, wild, open land which is punctuated by grasslands, shrubs, tanks, lagoons, water holes and sand dunes. Water gathers in the forms of streams, tanks, waterholes, rock pools, and lagoons. Each terrain, different in character, provides glimpses into wildlife in their most intimate, beautiful and dramatic moments. The most charismatic and sought after animals in Yala are the leopard, the elephant and the sloth bear. But there are 41 other mammal species, among them the jackal, the sambhur, the spotted deer, the loris, the crocodile, wild cats, wild boar and buffalo. Of birds there are 215 varieties, seven of them endemic to Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Sri Lanka jungle fowl, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, crimson-fronted barbet, black-capped bulbul, blue- tailed bee-eater and brown-capped babbler. During the migrating season, birds flock in plenty and jostle for space in waterways, a display of rare, beautiful and unusual plumage. Raptors like the crested serpent eagle can be seen wheeling in high skies, perpetually looking for prey. There is also a teeming reptile population, the most charism

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By: Time Out editors
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Kumana National Park

Once known as Yala East National park, this naturally evergreen area situated in the district of Ampara was made into an independent wild life reserve fourteen years ago after being closed for an extensive period. Since then it has come to be considered one of the most important nesting and breeding grounds in the country with an awe inspiring 255 bird species having either been photographed or recorded there including a variety of rare species like the Black-necked stork and the Eurasian spoonbill. In addition to this Kumana National Park is also home to a large variety animals such as elephants, An elephant family On alert, a herd of deer, leopards, deer and mugger crocodiles. All wildlife at Kumana National Park as well as the extensive flora that grows there are supplied water by the Kumubukkan Oya that borders the western region of the park as well as 200 hectares mangrove swamp called Kumana Villu. The latter provides an excellent feeding and resting habitat to the various water birds that migrate to this place from April to July. The park also holds over 20 lagoons and man made tanks often used by the animals as watering holes. While not as well known as its neighbour Yala National Park, Kumana nevertheless provides its visitors with an authentic wildlife experience devoid of any artificiality. It is also a preferable spot for those who do not want to deal with large crowds. Kumana is the best place to observe animals in their natural habitat.

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By: Time Out editors

Spot the sloth bear

The recluse of the jungle, the nocturnal sloth bear is scruffy in appearance. With much ado, grunting and snorting it goes about its daily chores of breaking down branches of fruit and searching for termites and beetles. The sloth bear can only be enticed to come out of hiding during the Palu berry season.  Springing forth in abundance, Palu season starts in May and goes on till end July, coinciding with the sloth bear watching season as this bear has a large appetite for the small fruits. Palu is a yellow fruit with a thick pulp that has an extremely sweet flavour the bears simply cannot resist. They will climb the tall trees in search of these berries and gobble as many. Dizzy from over-indulging, especially young greedy bears can be found slouched below these trees.  Yala is one of the best places to watch sloth bears in action as they are usually  seen picking fallen berries. Sri Lanka’s national parks have long attracted hordes of tourists for leopard and elephant sightings. The sloth bear is yet to receive such fame as it is difficult to spot these furry bears, a sighting during the day is rare unless during the Palu season. Unlike the leopard that has acute senses that help it to track a human from a distance, the sloth bear relies mostly on its eyesight and realises human presence, only when it is very close. The animal panics if it does not see a clear route of escape, and attacks as a defence mechanism. It has been listed as an endangered species by the Internati

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Wild world in a park

Set in the deep south of the country, in Ridiyagama Hambantota is Sri Lanka’s first man-made safari park, where animals from around the world roam freely while visitors travel around the landscape in guided tours. The Hambantota Ridiyagama Safari Park is 500 acres in extent and divided into several sections for different animals. The first segment of the park now opened to the public, has a 16-acre service station, a 35-acre lion enclosure, a 54-acre Sri Lankan elephant enclosure and 80 acres for herbivorous animal species of the world. Around 22 species of animals including African lions, zebras, giraffes, Bactrian camels, Arabian orix, lechwe, Indian blue bulls, African cape buffaloes and large birds such as ostriches roam freely in the park. Watching the king of the jungle cautiously treading the new found habitation while zebras and ostriches seemed to be quite at home. Reminiscent of the African savannah, the ever-vigilant lion roams while the zebra watches its back for the king of carnivores to pounce at any moment. The Hambantota Ridiyagama Safari Park has been carefully arranged to allow maximum view for visitors without the exhilarating game of the hunter and the hunted. It will be a leisurely trip of observing the animals behaving uninhibited in a natural surrounding created in the new park. Four of the park’s six zones have been reserved for carnivorous animals while the remaining two zones host the herbivores. Two zones of the carnivore section will be exclusive

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By: Time Out editors
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Bundula: indulge in bird watching

Bundala provides a tranquil environment for bird enthusiasts, with a diverse list of species of birdlife that include grebes, cormorants and darters, herons and bitterns, ducks and geese, snipe, plovers, curlews, sandpipers, terns and stilts; not forgetting the raptors, bee-eaters, parakeets, kingfishers, swifts and shrikes. A visit to the Bundala National Park in January is worth a trip to see migratory birds from Russia, Eastern and Northern Europe and the Himalayas, Mongolia and from across Asia beating the winter blues in sunny Sri Lanka.

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By: Time Out editors

An extraordinary world

Named after Sir Robert Wilmot Horton, British Governor of Ceylon in the 19th century, Horton Plains is a beautiful paradise of diverse visions and nature’s marvels. Known as the ‘Roof of the Island’, it contains the most extensive area of cloud forest in Sri Lanka. The Horton Plains National Park at an altitude of 2,100 metres above sea level and spread over 3,169 hectares, along with the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary and Knuckles Mountain Range comprises the Central Highlands World Heritage Site. The landscape is covered in a tropical cloud of forest or lush montane savannah grasslands known as ‘patana’.  It’s almost an Eden where every perfect blessing of nature including exist in peace and tranquillity. A popular tourist destination in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, it is situated 165km from the capital Colombo.The plains provides excellent hiking tracks, which include the main circuit Nature Trail that takes the visitor through grand views of the Small World’s End, the Big World’s End, Baker’s Falls and Chimney Falls. The World’s End is the most dramatic finale to a long hike, with a 1,000 metre abrupt vertical drop, that would certainly make the faint hearted a bit dizzy. One can choose the more adventurous nature trails to Thotupolakanda and Kirigalpoththa as well.  The Main Trail starts at Farr Inn, which houses the Horton Plains Information Centre. Only eco-friendly material is allowed to be taken into the park from the entrance. Plastic bottles must be brought ba

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By: Time Out editors

Yala National Park

Wild yet powerfully majestic, Yala National Park is leopard country and is believed to have the highest concentration of these apex predators on earth.

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The magical wilderness of Wilpattu National Park

Located in the dry zone environs of Northwest coast Wilpattu is a famous wildlife destination accessible via Anuradhapura or Puttalam. With over 1,300 sq km of wild expanse this National Park is so named for its 60 natural lakes or ‘villu’. This feature also gives the park its natural charm and beauty and each villu has its own name and distinguishable traits lending themselves as markers to navigate the expanse. The villus are naturally occurring depressions in the ground that collect rainwater, and are places of gathering for birds and mammals alike. February to October is the best period to visit the park with safari jeeps available for hire at the entrance. The park is open 6am to 6pm and usually morning and late afternoon are the recommended times to spot the elusive inhabitants.   

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By: Time Out editors

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