The island nation of Sri Lanka is home to an exciting range of animal species and is among the top five biodiversity hot spots in the world. As an alternative to an African safari, Sri Lanka is an amazing destination, offering elephants, leopards, and so much more.
The national parks of Sri Lanka host around 91 species of mammals, including the more well-known Asian elephants, Sri Lanka leopards, wild buffaloes and sambar. However, there are rarer and more fascinating animals to be found, including the red slender loris, purple-faced langur and toque macaque, all rare and endangered species due to habitat loss in the country.
According to Sri Lanka Tourism, the country offers almost 433 bird species and around 106 species of amphibians, with Sri Lanka claiming to have the highest amphibian species density in the world, especially in the Sinharaja rainforest.
Not to be outdone, the ocean surrounding the island country hosts a multitude of cetaceans, including blue whales, dolphins, and sperm whales. There is reportedly a total of 26 species of cetaceans in the waters around the country, making Sri Lanka one of the best locations for whale and dolphin watching.
According to a blog on Adventure Lanka Tours, it is important to always bear in mind the time of year when visiting Sri Lanka, as the island country is influenced by monsoons, giving two distinct seasons: wet and dry. However, while some national parks are only open in the dry season, some do stay open the whole year around.
The following are recommended national parks in Sri Lanka for the best wildlife experience both on the land and in the water.
Yala National Park is possibly the most well-known and combines a strict nature reserve, within a national park. Yala has been divided into five blocks, two of which are currently open to the public. The best time of year to visit Yala is between February and July, when water levels are reasonably low in the park, thus bringing the animals out into the open.
The park is situated in the south-east of Sri Lanka, bordering the Indian Ocean and was designated a national park back in 1938. Rather ironically, Yala was originally used as a hunting ground by the elite when the country was under British rule, but now is dedicated to protecting the animals rather than killing them. Yala has 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species.
The most famous residents in the park include the world’s largest concentration of leopards, as well as Sri Lanka elephants, jackals, spotted deer, sambars, sloth bears, crocodiles and vibrant peacocks.
Bundala National Park, while less visited than Yala close by, is a wonderland of lagoons, dunes and waterways, offering a home to thousands of colorful birds. The park hosts almost 200 different bird species in a 62 square meter area. Some are local, others migrate from Siberia and India to winter in the park, including the greater flamingo.
Besides the birds, the park has between 15 to 60 elephants, depending on the season, along with giant squirrels, many crocodiles and civets. It is also home to the cute, but rare, toque macaques.
Of interest, between October and January four of Sri Lanka’s five species of marine turtles arrive on the beaches in Bundala to lay their eggs. The species are the olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles. While visiting time to Yala is confined to only the dry months, Bundala is open all year around.
The third most visited park in Sri Lanka is Udawalawe National Park, situated on the boundary of Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces. The park was created as a sanctuary for wild animals displaced during the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir.
Situated 165 kilometers (103 mi) from the capital, Colombo the park is an important habitat for Sri Lanka elephants and water birds.
If keen to go on safari, make a change this year and instead of heading to Kruger National Park, try Sri Lanka instead. Enjoy a brief video tour below.
[Images: Featured image elephants in Yala CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 AlGraChe – Dolphin CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Gaurika Wijeratne – Blue whale CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Michael Bamford – Sri Lanka elephant CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Ronald Saunders – Leopard in Yala CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Danushka Senadheera – Toque Macaque family CC BY-ND 2.0 Jan Arendtsz – Peacock in Udawalawe CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Gaurika Wijeratne]