WILD TIME IN SRI LANKA

When we imagine tropical islands we think of blue oceans, lush green palm trees, spectacular sunsets, and golden beaches as far as the eye can see. The island of Sri Lanka has all that and much more. With its rich flora and fauna Sri Lanka far exceeds our imagination and provides us with a unique opportunity to experience safari like nowhere else in the world outside of Africa.

SAFARI IN SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka may be a small island, but it is also a big game safari destination that is home to some of the most magnificent species on earth. Sri Lanka has 21 protected National Parks where animals including elephants and leopards can be found living free in the wild.

Yala National Park is the largest and the oldest in Sri Lanka. It was set aside as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and declared a National Park in 1938. Yala is the most popular National Park in Sri Lanka and is in the southeast of the island.

YALA NATIONAL PARK

Yala National Park is 978.807 sq km or 377.919 sq miles in extent and is divided into 5 blocks or zones. Not all the blocks are accessible to visitors. Block 1 which covers a land area of over 14,000 hectares is the oldest and most popular part of the park. It has the highest concentration of animals, so Block 1 provides visitors with the best chance of spotting big game animals such as leopards and elephants.

Yala has a wide range of landscapes including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, marshes, marine wetlands, lagoons, and sandy beaches all packed into a compact area. These varied landscapes and ecosystems enable mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and fish to coexist side by side as nature intended.

WHAT ANIMALS CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE AT YALA?

Elephants & Leopards

There are at least 44 species of mammals at Yala. The biggest of them is the Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), a sub species of elephants’ endemic to the island. They inhabit the jungles of Yala and can sometimes be seen walking along the golden beaches on the southern border of reserve where the green jungle ends, and the blue ocean begins.

The top predator at Yala is the leopard, also known as Panthera pardus kotiya. The leopard is referred to as Kotiya by the locals. The Kotiya is a sub-species native to the island of Sri Lanka and is the largest leopard species found on earth.

In addition, Sloth Bears, Sri Lankan Buffaloes, Spotted Deer, Toque Macaque, Golden Palm Civet, Red Slender Loris and Fishing Cats are among the other mammals that can be seen at Yala National Park.

Crocodiles & Giant Turtles

As with any tropical jungle there are a variety of reptiles at Yala. It is believed that there are at least 47 types of reptiles of which, six types are endemic to the island. Crocodiles, snakes and turtles are among the species of reptiles that populate the park.

Crocodiles are most often spotted in and around the numerous lakes and lagoons of the park. The two most common types of crocodiles found at Yala are the Mugger Crocodile and the Saltwater Crocodile. The snake species found at Yala are highly dangerous, they include species such as Vipers, Pythons and Cobras.

Since Yala is bordered by the ocean to the south, giant sea turtles can also be seen on the white sandy beach at the edge of the jungle at various times of the year. Several endangered sea turtle species including Leatherback Turtle, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and Green Turtle have also been observed.

Birds & Butterflies

There are 215 species of birds at Yala of which seven, namely Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Crimson-Fronted Barbet, Black-Capped Bulbul, Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater and Brown-Capped Babbler are endemic to Sri Lanka. The biggest bird found at Yala is the magnificent Pavo Cristatus or Peacock which is endemic to South Asia.

Plenty of butterfly species are also found at Yala including, the Common Bluebottle, Common Lime, Crimson Rose, Common Jezebel and Common Mormon.

Aquatic life

In the lakes and reservoirs of Yala at least 21 varieties of freshwater fish are found while numerous types of crabs and prawns inhabit saltwater lagoons of the park.

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT YALA NATIONAL PARK?

Yala is open to visitors most of the year, but the park may be closed during the driest months to prevent visitors from becoming an obstruction to the activities of the animals as they travel long distances in search of water.

According to the guides the best time to visit is between February and June as the highest number of animal sightings are reported during that time of the year.

For those interested in bird watching, the period between November to late December is ideal as it is the time of the year when migratory birds from various parts of the world fly to Sri Lanka in order to escape the cold weather and monsoons in their native countries.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SEE YALA?

Think safari and all sorts of images spring to mind, tents, dusty tracks, off-road vehicles, vast areas devoid of human settlements and a feeling that one is truly in the wild. A safari at Yala offers all of that and more to the visitor. The best way to see Yala is to go on a jeep safari organised by a reputable tour operator. They provide 4WD vehicles, drivers and guides. The experience of a good guide is invaluable because they will possess extensive knowledge of the fauna and flora of the area.

Visitors who are prepared to spend a little more money can engage the services of specialist safari companies that provide all-inclusive luxury glamping expeditions in one convenient package.

Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris is one such specialist company. It is a family run business operated by Noel and Cecile Rodrigo that hosts many visitors from Britain.

To learn more about Leopard Safaris visit: www.leopardsafaris.com

CAN WE FEED THE ANIMALS?

Feeding the animals is strictly prohibited. The animals at Yala live in the wild and feed in the wild as nature intended.

CAN WE PHOTOGRAPH THE ANIMALS?

Cameras, video-cameras, mobile phones and other electronic devices must be used with great care and visitors must keep in mind not to use flash photography under any circumstances. Mobile phones should be always set to ‘silent’.

CAN WE PLAY MUSIC WHILE INSIDE YALA?

It is recommended that car stereos and other audio equipment be kept switched off as some animals can clearly hear low frequency sounds even at reduced volume.

IS YALA DANGEROUS?

Yala National Park is a real jungle area and not a man-made park designed for entertainment. The animals at the park are wild animals living in their natural habitat. Therefore, visitors must accept the fact that there is an element of risk involved. Although animal attacks are rare, visitors must remember that such things can happen. Animals are highly unpredictable, temperamental and may easily be provoked, causing them to spring into action without warning. However, the park rangers and guides have the knowledge and experience to ensure that visitors come to no harm while they are inside the park.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?

Yala is a beautiful place, so there are lots of visitors at popular times. Some people prefer to avoid the crowds and visit outside of the peak season or at off-peak times. The period from mid-December to late January can be particularly busy.

Visitors must also keep in mind that there are rules and regulations put in place to ensure the safety of the animals and to protect the natural environment of the park itself. Matches, lighters, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, knives, guns and weapons are strictly prohibited. Therefore, possession of illegal items can result in visitors being prosecuted, fined or even being sent to jail.

IS IT REALLY WORTH A VISIT?

Sri Lanka has the best big-game safaris outside of Africa. Whether it’s a five-star luxury all-inclusive safari experience or a standard safari, Sri Lanka offers the most bang for your buck. So, no visit to Sri Lanka would be complete without an excursion to one of the island’s 21 National Parks. If there is only time to visit just one of them, the best option must be Yala, it is simply like going on a day trip to the wilds of Africa without having to leave paradise.

YALA WEATHER

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