For a small country, slightly smaller than Ireland, Sri Lanka is abundant with wildlife. They also have many national parks and protected areas where safaris are offered allowing visitors to see everything from elephants and leopards to hornbills and peacocks.
Yala National Park and Uda Walawa National Park are less than a hundred kilometers away from each other and offer some of the best wildlife safaris available. Yala is located along the southern coast and is mostly filled with thick, tall vegetation. There a few open areas with shrubs and a few brackish lagoons but it’s mostly considered a dry terrain. Safari trucks travel on a network of dirt roads that wander all through the park. The tall trees mean that most of animals were either close to the truck or completely hidden in the thick jungle. As we drove through the forest, wild animals were often crossing right in front us. Their trampled paths can be seen coming out of the thick jungle from their frequent use to cross the roads. It was as if they wanted to be seen.
Yala has a large population of leopards and is supposed to be a great place to see them in the wild. Unfortunately for us we didn’t even get a hint that the shy cat was around, but we were able to see a lot of other animals. We watched large herds of elephants trample though the forest, knocking over several bushes and trees as they went.
At one large lagoon we watched hundreds of Malabar Pied Hornbills soar in the sky and land on tall, bare trees only to take off again. Although we have tried to see various types of hornbills at other parks in Asia, we had yet to get a good view of the impressive birds. Finally, in Yala we had amazing views of hundreds of them.
We left the park at dusk and were treated to a gorgeous sunset over the plains.
Just outside of the park is the town of Tissamaharama (called Tissa by locals). Tissa Wewa is a large lake on the edge of town which is a great place for bird watching. There’s a walking path that goes half way around the lake. We were able to see many egrets, herons, kingfishers and other water birds. At one end of the lake we found a group of trees that were covered in hundreds of fruit bats. There were many large Buddhist dagobas (stupas) in the parks around the lake. The Sri Lankan dagobas are usually white with big, round bases with a tall steeple on top.
Further inland is the wetlands park of Uda Walawe National Park. With 600 or more elephants residing in the park, we knew we’d have no trouble finding them. In fact, the day before when we were riding on a local bus, we passed by the park and saw at least 6 elephants standing along the highway. A few Sri Lankan women on the bus were having fun pointing the elephants out to us.
Uda Walawe has a lot of lagoons and lakes which is what elephants require. We learned that they drink up to 98 L of water a day to wash down the 160 kg of food! The vegetation in Uda Walawe consists of low shrubs, small trees and grass, making it easier to spot wildlife from further away. We arrived at the park at sunrise and within a few minutes, we saw our first elephant family. We continued to see many elephants that morning. One family was so close to our truck we could have reached out to touch it. It was very tempting, but we managed to keep our hands inside.
At one of the large lagoon we found dozens of wild water buffalo submerged in the water to cool off. After looking more closely we saw small crocodiles quietly gliding though the water and large ones sunbathing on the shore. There were at least 8 crocodiles within our view and many more further away.
At both parks and in many areas in Sri Lanka we saw the beautiful bee-eater birds. They appear very nervous as they are constently on the move, never staying in one spot for long
Not far from Uda Walawe is an elephant orphanage. They have approximately 40 elephant calves whose mothers were either killed or they were left abandoned. The orphanage takes care of the calves until they are ready to be reintroduced into wild. Even then, they monitor the elephants until they have successfully joined an elephant family. Visitors are allowed to watch feeding time when the elephants march in 5 at a time and take their turn at the milk bar. A few were more hungry than others and tried to sneak a second funnel of milk. One even tried to jump up on the counter to get more milk. After their milk, they eat from piles of elephant grass. Some of the young ones are just learning how to effectively use their trunks, while others have figured out how to hold the grass in place while they tear a piece off. It was a really fun afternoon.
Sir Lanka has been a great place to see beautiful wild animals in their natural surroundings/environs.
Coming up next: Ceylon Tea in the Sri Lankan Highlands
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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