Sri Lanka is a heaven for wildlife enthusiasts. This tropical island is home to some of the best national parks in the Indian subcontinent and is home to a staggering variety of plants and animals. Numerous species live there, including the elusive leopard, majestic elephant, blue whale, and unusual birds.
1) Yala National Park.
The second largest and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. Located on Sri Lanka’s south east coast and is a vast expanse of dusty woodland and grasslands punctuated by towering boulders. The park is home to some 44 species of mammals and 215 species of birds though its popularity with visitors is due largely to the fact that the park has one of the highest concentrations of leopard in the world and around 350 resident Asian elephants. Also present are sloth bears, golden palm civets, Sri Lankan krait and crocodiles. The coastline around the park is visited by leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. Yala National Park 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.
2) Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
A UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last viable area of primary tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka featuring tumbling waterfalls, bubbling pools and emerald ferns. Situated in the south west of the island. However, one of the main reasons to visit Sinharaja is for the excellent birdwatching. The reserve supports over 80% of the island’s bird species as well as being a habitat for endemic birds such as the green-billed coucal, the blue magpie and the red-faced malkoha. Butterflies, insects, amphibians and reptiles also live in this rich biodiverse reserve as well as mammals such as the rare leopard, purple-faced langur, rusty spotted cat and three types of squirrel.
3) Udawalawe National Park.
The third most visited National Park on the island. Udawalawe National Park just south of Sri Lanka’s central mountains, is a large reserve made up of 119 square miles of grassland, scrub jungle and riverine forest. The main attraction of the park is the large concentration of Asian elephants found here, Udawalawe is home to over 400 of these gentle giants and it is almost guaranteed to see them whilst on safari. A favourite hangout for the herds of elephants is the Walawe Reservoir where the creatures come to drink during times of water scarcity. Udawalawe National Park is also home to some other exciting wildlife including the mugger crocodile, sambar, spotted and barking deer, wild boar, water buffalo and jackal whilst the birding is excellent with nearly 200 species recorded. November to March is the optimal time for birdwatching expeditions with the chance to spot exciting raptors such as the changeable hawk-eagle, serpent eagle and grey-headed fish eagle.
4) Horton Plains.
The Horton Plains, located almost 2,000 meters above sea level, seem to exist in a different universe from the rest of Sri Lanka. The park’s southern limit is marked by sharply sloping cliffs and large expanses of pure cloud forest. It’s one of the best locations for bird watching and is home to a variety of indigenous species. The elephant vanished from this area in the 1940s, but a variety of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles still call the Horton Plains home. The sambar deer, which wanders in vast groups and weaves through the tall grass, is the most frequent creature seen. Among the 24 species of mammals that may be found here are giant squirrels, wild boars, rusty-spotted cats, and purple-faced langurs. The Horton Plains slender loris, one of the most endangered primates in the world, can also be found in the highlands. The cloud forests are home to rare reptile species like the rhino-horned lizard, and bird watchers can observe a wide variety of migratory and indigenous birds.
5) Minneriya National Park.
Minneriya National Park, which is located in the north central province, is one of Sri Lanka’s tiniest parks at slightly over 300 square miles. Despite the reserve’s tiny size, it is home to a variety of landscapes, including ponds, dry tropical forest, grasslands, and dense scrub. In addition, Minneriya has a man-made tank that filters water for the reservoir and provides food for the park’s animals in the dry seasons. Deer, purple-faced langurs, macaque monkeys, sloth bears, and about 20 leopards are among the mammals that may be seen in Minneriya. The park also has a wide variety of migratory and native birds, such as the hanging parrot, brown-capped babbler, and green bee-eater. While nearly 300 elephants gather at the Minneriya reservoir during the dry season (July to October) in search of water and new grass, “The Gathering” is the reserve’s main draw. The largest gathering of Asian elephants ever is taking place at this fantastic occasion.
6) Wilpattu National Park.
Situated in the dry lowlands the North West of Sri Lanka, Wilpattu is the country’s Largest National Park. Translating to ‘Natural Lakes’ in Sinhala, Wilpattu’s most prominent feature is its wetlands. Known as ‘Villu’, the park has over 50 lakes surrounded by grassy plains. Visitor numbers remain low and give the park a true sense of wilderness. Wilpattu National Park is a wonderful expedition and the promising fauna is some of the best Sri Lanka has to offer. Regal leopards prowl through the scrub, crocodiles bathe in the many lakes, deer roam and peafowl parade throughout the park. Other interesting wildlife that can be spotted include monitor lizards, tortoises, flycatchers and jungle fowl.
7) Bundala National Park.
The Bundala National Park stretches over 20km of Sri Lanka’s south coast enclosing five shallow lagoons. One of Sri Lanka’s best destinations for bird watching, Bundala protects an important area of coastal wetland. Almost 200 bird species have been recorded here, including ibis, pelicans and huge flocks of greater flamingos. The reserve is home to a wide range of terrain including scrub jungle, salt pans, sand dunes and wetlands which allows for a rich diversity of wildlife. The park’s beaches play habitat to all five species of turtle who lay their eggs here. Visitors can also spot crocodiles, elephants, turtles and a variety of other fauna.
8) Gal Oya National Park.
The only national park in Sri Lanka where you can take a boat safari, Gal Oya protects the vast Senanayake Samudra Reservoir. Gal Oya National Park is often referred to as one of the best places in the world to see the Asian elephant in its natural habitat. The park is also home to over 150 different species of bird and in the middle of the lake lies Birds’ Island where exotic colonies of birds jostle for nesting space. Wild boar, deer, leopard, sloth bear and mugger crocodiles can also be seen at Gal Oya.
9) Kumana National Park.
Kumana National Park sits on the south east coast of Sri Lanka and is made up of wetlands and dry tropical forest, all of which is supported by the 20 lagoons and tanks in the park. Elephants, crocodiles, wild buffalo, and turtles can still be seen, even if the animal density is lower than Yala. Although sightings are extremely rare, this area is also home to a dozen bears and a leopard. One of Kumana’s best attractions is a 200-acre bird sanctuary that sits on a rich mangrove swamp. Visitors can have a great view from watchtowers and use them as a vantage point to spot the extremely rare black-necked storks and other rare indigenous birds.