The Call of the Wild in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka not only has an exiting and varied range of animal and plant live with elephants and leopards to the fore but also an impressive national parks and reserves system.The world's first wild life sanctuary was set up by royal edict in the 3rd century B.C. and today Sri lanka's natural and protected areas account for 14% of the total land area.
The jungles of Sri Lanka abound in a variety of wildlife, wich is surprising for an island of its size in the tropics. From ancient days the elephants and peacocks from the Sri lankan jungles were prize exports to the Kingdoms of East and West. But apart from these well know examples of the fauna, a visit to the Sri lankan jungles is to enter a whole new world where nature has largely stayed still.
There are several National parks, of these the best know is the Ruhunu (Yala) National park in the deep south of the island. The other parks are Gal Oya, Udawalawe, Wasgomuwa, Minneriya, Wilpattu and Horton Plains. The topography and vegetation change from park to park, even the flora and founa. Most common in these parks are elephants and birdlife.
Yala National Park:
Is famous for its elephant population, seen in small and large herds. Spotted deer, Sambhur, Barking deer, Monkey, Wild Buffalo, Wild bear, Sloth bear, and inumerable varieties of birds, endemic and migratory. Peacock is the most famous of the birds at Yala. The mating dance of the male with its colourful plumes fully spread is a photographer's delight. It is possible to take full day jeep safaris or to split your day into morning and afternoon drives. Your best chance to see a leopard is generally early in the morning and then again at dusk. You can stay until just after dark inside the park, thus maximising your chances of a leopard encounter.
The male leopards in Yala are very confident and are often seen walking the tracks during the day. Young males in particular seem to have no fear of the jeep, which can lead to some excellent photographic opportunities.There are similarities between Yala and the best National Parks in India for photographing tigers, in both cases the big cats have become habitualised to the jeeps thus enabling us to enjoy a privileged view of these magnificent animals.
The bird life comprises over 120 species, and ranges from lesser flamingos to Paradise Flycatchers, Crested Hawk Eagles, and Black Bitterns. Outside of the park are several other fascinating birding locations, including the ancient hermitage of Sithulpahuwa, Debarawewa wetland and Palatupana saltpans. The coastline forms a major nesting ground for marine turtles.Jeeps here have 'soft-tops' to provide a degree of camouflage to humans, as well as cover from the regular showers. The drier season falls between May and August, and the park closes for a short time during September and October.
Wasgamuwa National park:
Situated in the North Central province closer to the ancient cities especially Polonnaruwa at Wasgamuwa wild elephants could be easily sighted. It is also rich in other large mammals, The size of the park is 37062 ha enclosed by River Mahaweli & River Amban, northeastern edge of the hill country elevation 76m to 500m. The best time to visit is June to September (dry season in the dry zone) when the mammals & birds roam around the tank. Herds of elephants up to 150, leopards, fishing cats, sambar deer, the endangered rusty spotted cat, sloth bear (23 species) Birds: 143 species.
Minneriya National park:
Circling the beautiful Minneriya Tank, the green surroundings are strikingly different to the arid landscape. Being part of the elephant corridor which joins up with Kaudulla and Wasgomuwa you are sure to sight elephants, especially during the dry season June - September when the water filled in the tank attracts them. A variety of bird life could be spotted including some endemic to Sri lanka. herds of elephants up to 150. We can also see elephants on the Habarana road, leopards, fishing cats, sambar deer, the endangered rusty spotted cat, sloth bear. Cormorants, grey herons, spot-billed pelicans, painted storks, Sri Lankan hanging parrot & crimson-fronted barbet .
Udawalawe National park:
The Udawalawe National Park situated in the dry zone of the country and belonging to Sabaragamuwa & Uva provinces. The park area is 30,821 ha. The park was established in 1972. The park lies within dry zone and small segment lies within intermediate zone. The long dry season is characteristic feature. Main source of rainfall is southwest monsoon (May - September) and mean annual rainfall is about 1520mm. the mean annual temperature is around 29C. Park consists of dry lowland forest, riverine forest, thorny scrublands and grasslands. One special attraction of the park is the Udawalawe reservoir and the Walawe River which flows through the park. Udawalawe National Park is world famous for its large elephant populations. In this park one can observe elephants at any given time of the day. Other than Elephants water buffalo, spotted & barking deer, wild boar, sambhur, jackal & ruddy, grey & striped necked mongoose are also found in this park. Though the leopard, jungle & fishing cats have recorded in the park sightings are very rare.
Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe National park is a centre for Rehabilitation and Re-integration of orphaned wild elephants has been established at Udawalawe National Park by the deapartment of Wildlife Conservation. Increase of the country's population, large scale irrigation and agricultural projects have fragmented the former habitat of elephants resulting elephant mortality and decrease of population. Despite the mitigation measures to control human elephant conflict considerable numbers of elephant calves were recovered as orphans. The DWLC pioneered a research project in 1995 at Udawalawe to rehabilitate and supplement wild elephant orphans back to wild. It has been succesfully caried out with four releases in 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004, 2007, 2008. Visitors could enjoy the antics of these babies from a viewing platform at the Centre.
Wilpattu National Park:
The Wilpattu National Park and its surrounding are steeped in history and covered with legend. Popular legend says that in 543 BC King Vijaya landed at Kudrimalai and that he married Kuweni. According to some ancient ruins identified, it is said that Kuweni lived in the place now identified as the Kali Villu. Both Kudrimalai and Kali Villu are found in the Wilpattu. Furthermore history shows that Prince Saliya, son of King Dutugemunu, lived with Asokamala in Maradanmaduwa in Wilpattu over 2000 years ago. Pomparippu too is of historical value as urns containing the remains of those belonging to pre Vijayan times have been excavated from that site. Also between Palangaturai and Kollankanatte are the remains of an old harbour. Annual temperature in the Park is around 27.2 Celsius and its annual rainfall is approximately 1000 mm. Though situated in the dry zone, the climate inside the Wilpattu National Park is very unlike that of the dry zone. Upon entering the densely wooded Park, a feeling of going to a forest with abundant water is what enters the mind. This is perhaps explained by the patterns of rainfall it experiences. The period between September to December is known as the rainy season at Wilpattu with the north eastern monsoon falling heavily. Inter monsoon rains come to Wilpattu between March and April. The period of drought extends from May to early September. It is the domain of the exlusive leopard. Bear and herds of deer and sambhur are common. The vegetation is lush and wide changes of vegetation can be experienced in different sections of the park.
Bundala Bird Sanctuary:
The Bundala National Park is located about 250km south east of Colombo in the Hambantota District. Park covers the area of 6,216 ha in Arid Zone of Sri Lanka, the climate classified as hot and dry. Record of the mammals in Bundala is 32 species, including 1 endemic and 5 threatened species. You can see elephants, deer, sambur, fishing-cat, rusty-spotted-cat, mongoose, jackals, wild boar, black bear and water buffaloes. Most of them can be seen near the seasonal waterfalls frequently. The elephants some are residence and some are seasonal migratory herds from nearby sanctuaries. The complex system of wet land made it a paradise for birds. Total of 197 species of birds have been recorded in the park including 139 residence and 58 winter visitors. Among them 3 species are endemic and 10 species are nationally threatened. Wetland birds, forest birds, scrub land birds and grassland birds can be seen here. The lagoons, inter tidal mud-flats and slatterns provide ideal resting and feeding habitants for numerous species. Migrants arrive here in mid-August with the commencement of the harsh winter and continue to stay in Bundala until late April.
Horton plains & World End:
The Horton plains plateau is a sanctuary 2130 meters high offers you Sri Lanka’s most unforgettable views. Here the land plunges down a dizzy gorge to the southern foothills and on a clear day can see the glimpse of the sea more than 80 kilometers away. Many endangered montane species and endemic species can be seen here with the crystal clear water streams. Horton Plains are the habitat of giant rhododendron a flowering flora and kind of daffodils and orchids. You can see variety of birds such as Ceylon whistling thrush. The shaggy bear monkey and the blue Mormon butterfly listed with the endangered montane species.This is named as a sanctuary under the mist with the virginal landscaping which gives you the real smell of Sri Lankan climate, flora and fauna. Park consists of montane cloud forests embedded in wet montane grasslands. Horton Plains has rich bio diversity. Most of the fauna and flora found in the park are endemic and furthermore some of them are confined to highlands of the island. The plains are beautiful, silent, strange world with some excellent walks. The most famous and stunning feature is World's End, where the southern Horton Plains come suddenly to an end and drop almost straight down for 700 metres. It's one of the most awesome sights in Sri Lanka
Entrance Fees National Parks:
The entrance fee is US$ 14 per Adult & US$ 7 per Child at Yala, Wilpattu, Udawalewe, Minneriya & Horton plains. Other park US$ 8 per Adult & US$ 4 per Child. A four wheel drive is recommended. Private Jeeps are available at the entrance at rates varying from Rs. 4000 - Rs. 5500. You are not permitted to alight from your vehicle within the park except at specially marked locations. You must always be accompanied by a tracker provided by the park authorities. Please refrain from disturbing the peace of the wild with the use of radios, cassette and cd players or loud music of your own. And as in any other place, but more so in the wild, do not leave any litter behind.