Wild Life In Sri Lanka
Blessed with a stunning floral and faunal wealth, Sri Lanka is one of the finest Asian countries for the best wildlife watching even for a just causal nature-explorer. No wonder how a small island country like this is home to such a variety of vibrant habitats and wildlife prosperity! The geography and landscapes of Sri Lanka are quite mesmerizing that range from coastal areas and plains to highland mountain regions with a high amount of vegetation featured everywhere that shall make animals feel perfectly at home. Studded all across the island, Sri Lanka has a handful of wildlife reserves, national parks, sanctuaries, protected zones and jungle corridors where nature-lovers with varied tastes and interests of eyes shall be overawed by the sight of great herds of a plethora of animals, bird and plant species with much of them being endemic to this tropical island country.
The biodiversity observed in the wildlife of Sri Lanka is highlighted for the high proportion of its endemic contributions. It showcases over 125 species of mammals (21), 122 species of amphibians (112), 183 species of reptiles (113) and 227 species of birds (26) while the marine environment has the world's largest population of sperm whales and blue whales (the domestic measures in the bracket). Speaking about the flora, there are 3,210 flowering plants as in 1,052 genera of which 916 species and 18 genera are endemic to the country. It is also assumed that the tradition and religious customs prevalent in the country have a lot to do with the still-protected jungle regions of Sri Lanka.
Administered by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, there are currently a total of 61 protected wildlife sanctuaries in Sri Lanka which together form an area of 2,780 km2 (1,073 sq mi), with many of them recognized as UNESCO world heritage sites. Most of these sanctuaries allow entering inside and several activities, like trekking, jeep safari, and birdwatching. Remember in all of them, activities that harm the wildlife and destroy the habitats, like hunting any wild animal, destroying eggs/nests of birds and reptiles and disturbing their habitats are strictly prohibited. Here we would like to introduce you to you 15 most prominent animal sanctuaries in Sri Lanka that best portrays the rich wildlife (faunal and floral) belongings of the country.
Gal Oya National Park
Stretching over 23,900 hectors of land at an elevation of 30 meters, Gal Oya National Park is the main catchment area for Senanayake Samudra, Sri Lanka's biggest reservoir that is constituted of Gal Oya river and two other streams. With the help of nearby Senanayake Samudra Sanctuary, Gal Oya Valley North-East Sanctuary, and Gal Oya Valley South-West Sanctuary, the whole Gal Oya Reservation amounts to a total area of 62,937 hectors of stunning wildlife conservation. Gal Oya National Park, established in 1954, is home to several towering peaks, like Danigala, Nilgala, and Ulpotha.
Setting up evergreen foliage across 45% of the park with rare herbal plants, Gal Oya Wildlife Sanctuary houses about 150 species of birds and 32 species of mammals with the highest population contributed by common Langur, endemic Toque Macaque, Leopard, sloth bear, Elephant, Wild Boar, three species of deer and Water Buffalo. Boating and jeep safari are two activities you must enjoy here. Gal Oya National Park is positioned 376 km northeast from Colombo in Badulla District.
Horton Plains National Park
Country's popular jungle tourist destination, Horton Plains National Park is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka blessed with tropical montane cloud forest that is home to quite a splendid wildlife wealth. Horton Plains has large herds of Sri Lankan sambar deer strolling everywhere as the featured animals. Being an important Bird Area as well, many bird species are not only endemic but unique to these plains. Apart from an amazing wildlife expo, the Horton Plains has several tourist attractions like peaks and waterfalls. The famous World's End, a steep sheer cliff suspended is a wonderful place for trekking and hiking.
Located around 200 Kilometers away from Colombo, the Horton National Park is reached by the Nuwara Eliya-Ambewela-Pattipola and Haputale-Boralanda roads, and also by trains. around 750 species of in 20 families while the faunal record marks 24 species of mammals, 87 species of birds, 9 species of reptiles and 8 species of amphibians. Other major mammal species found in the park include rusty-spotted cat, Sri Lankan leopards, wild boars, stripe-necked mongooses, Kelaart's long-clawed shrews, toque macaques, purple-faced langurs, Sri Lankan spotted chevrotains, Indian muntjacs, and grizzled giant squirrels.
Kanneliya Forest Reserve or KDN Forest Reserve (Kanneliya-Dediyagama-Nakiyadeniya) is one of the largest rainforest areas in Sri Lanka positioned between two rivers - the Gin Ganga and the Nilwala Ganga. Featuring natural vegetation constituted by lowland wet evergreen forest, the region has been identified as one of the floristically richest areas in South Asia and designated as a biosphere reserve in 2004 by UNESCO.
Scrawling across a series of parallel mountain ranges and valleys extending to an area of approximately 5306 hectares of land at 60 to 425 meters above sea level, the Kanneliya Rainforest harbors a plethora of animal and plant species quite endemic to Sri Lanka. The wildlife belongings have over 220 faunal species recorded which account for 86 species of mammals, 100 bird species, 23 species of lizards, and 36 species of snakes. The forest complex is positioned 35 km northwest of the city of Galle.
Kithulgala Forest Reserve
Located in Kitulgala, a village town in the west of Sri Lanka, regarded as the wettest part of the country, Kitulgala Forest Reserve, otherwise known as Makandawa Forest Reserve, is the secondary lowland rainforest, spanning across 1155 hectors of land with untouched endemic flora and a plethora of indigenous fauna. Acting as the catchment area for the grand Kelani river, Kitulagala Rainforest premises are pulling hoards of adventure-seeking travelers for its clear trails for hiking and trekking and thrilling water stretch ideal for white water rafting. The forest that merges onto higher elevations is also home to several scenic falls, like the Makulu Ella and Lenakiri Ella.
Accessed by crossing the Kelani river by boat, this rainforest nurtures a stunning avifauna including 54 rare species, like Yellow-fronted barbet, Ceylon jungle & spur fowl, Green billed coucal, the Chestnut-backed owlet, Ceylon blue magpie, Sri Lanka spot-winged thrush, Grey hornbill, Layard’s parakeet, Ceylon lorikeet, Ceylon rufous babbler, Red faced malkoha, and Common hill mynah. If you are in pursuit of Serendib Scops-Owl, one of the most-demanded bird varieties, this ecosystem is the right choice. Commonly seen mammals are the Grizzled-tailed giant squirrel and the rarely seen Red slender loris.
Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery
The finest illustration of the vibrant marine ecosystem around the beaches of Sri Lanka, Kasgoda Turtle Hatchery, established in 1981, is the oldest of 18 sea turtle conservation centers along the southern coast of the country. You can see several tanks comprising of several varieties of turtles of various ages - from one-day-old ones to those of 20 years of age. The volunteers here collect the eggs every night, place them safely in the sand until they hatch. After that baby turtles are set open to the light until they are ready to depart into the sea after three days onwards. The authorities shall let you touch and hold the turtles to help you have more awareness and fun. There are only seven species of sea turtles alive today. All five out of them are showcased at Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery - namely, Leatherbacks, Green Turtles, Loggerheads, Hawksbills, Olive Ridley Turtles.
Millennium Elephant Foundation
A family-run non-government organization set up in 1999 in memory of Samarasinghe, Millennium Elephant Foundation, stretching across 15 acres of coconut estates in the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka, is an animal welfare shelter dedicated to improving the welfare of domesticated Asian elephants throughout Sri Lanka. Funded by both tourists and locals, the Millennium Elephant Foundation takes care of medical treatments, total care, food, and shelter of the elephants housed here. The sanctuary also runs an on-call mobile vetenerary to raise funds for functioning.
Catering to both the ethics regarding the wildlife and the fun moments of travelers, the MEF authorities provides a much more interactive elephant walk experience for you, which would be a personal safari with its sheltered elephants. Near this elephant care center, accommodation with dining is possible in a convenient way. Positioned midway between Colombo to Kandy, it shall be reached by A1 Kandy Road.
Minneriya National Park
Nestled in the dry zone of the country, Minneriya National Park is yet another popular wildlife reserve in Sri Lanka, that was designated as a national park in 1997, having been previously declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938. Nurturing a vibrant wildlife surrounding, the park serves as the catchment area for Minneriya tank, hence chosen to be protected by the government. The Minneriya tank is of notable historical importance since having been built in the 3rd century by king Mahasen. Located near the Polonnaruwa city, the park is 182 Kilometers away from Colombo.
Making it one of the 70 Important Bird Areas in the country, several kinds of habitats flourish in the park, like low-canopy montane forests, intermediate high-canopy secondary forests, scrublands, abandoned chena lands, grasslands, wetlands, and rocky outcrops. As for the faunal wealth. Minneriya National Park has in possession 24 species of mammals, 9 species of amphibians, 160 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, 75 species of reptiles, and 26 species of fish. During the dry season (May to October), the premises of Minneriya National Park is blessed to have the world's largest gathering of elephant herds, up to 300 of them. Jeep safaris and camping are some of the activities you shall experience here.
Positioned in the southern portion of the Negombo lagoon, Muthurajawela Wetlands is the largest and notable saline coastal peat bog in Sri Lanka, that, together with the Negombo Lagoon, gives birth to an extremely integrated coastal wetland eco-system where quite diverse and vibrant biodiversity exists. Declared as a sanctuary in 1996, this marvelous wetlands that stretch over an area of 1,777 hectors, is a major marsh tourist attraction where travelers shall enjoy worthy sightseeing, boating tours and walking through the marshy sanctuary.
With a considerable proportion of endemism, Muthurajawela Wetlands possess over 194 species of flora in 66 families further distributed over seven major vegetation types which include marsh, lactic flora, shrubland, reed, swamp, grasslands, stream bank, and mangrove forest. As for the faunal wealth, there are 22 species of mammals, 102 species of birds, 40 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles, and 14 species of amphibians. The invertebrate fauna has 48 species of butterflies and 22 species are dragonflies.
The Monkey Kingdom Polonnaruwa
An archaeological site in the city of Polonnaruwa, The Monkey Kingdom introduces you to the country’s three diurnal primates: the grey langur. purple-faced leaf monkey, and the toque macaque. Take a keen interest in the affairs of monkey communities and observe their unhindered life in the most natural environment! The Monkey Kingdom expedition is a much enjoyable activity for those who would like peeping into the animal habitats and observing wildlife. Apart from some sightseeing moments, a visit to this animal kingdom shall enlighten you on the family relationships, friendships, and habits of monkeys, the featured attraction here. Get stunned by the mature, sometimes naughty, social interactions and behaviors of these primate hosts while you walk around the area.
Perched in the hub of six national conservation areas of the country, you are having high chances of seeing large herds of elephants within a short term drive distance from the monkey camp.
Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home
Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home is a special facility arranged in Udawalawe National Park with the aim of sheltering orphaned elephant calves for proper caring and nurturing until their ultimate release back into the wild habitats of Udawalawe National Park that was set up in 1995. Normally, around 40 juveniles are cared at here at one time. The records show that more than 100 elephants have been rehabilitated here and gifted back to the wildlife of Sri Lanka.
Riding or other more intimate activities are not entertained at this sanctuary but approves of watching them at a distance and adopting them. As the humans' encroachment increases on animal habitats, such care homes are really blessing to preserve the ecosystem and wildlife - especially elephants. Located on the main lakeside road, the transit home is just around 5 Kilometers west of the entrance of Uda Walawe National Park - 10 to 20 minutes' drive away.
Uda Walawe National Park
One of the popular jungle tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park, stretching over 30821 hectors of land, is the main catchment area of the Udawalawe reservoir, positioned on the fringes of Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces in the south. The sanctuary was actually meant to protect the wildlife presumable hindered and affected due to the building of the Udawalawe reservoir on the Walawe river. Thanks to the reservoir, the park is home to numerous free-roaming Sri Lankan elephants, with many of them sent back from the elephant transit home nearby.
There is estimated to have around 700 elephants inside. Plus over 10 leopards are residing on the premises. Your eyes are having the high chances to come across water buffaloes, crocodiles, wild boars, peacocks, and spotted deers. The biodiversity in Udawalawe National Park in total features 184 species of birds, 33 of reptiles, 43 of mammals and also 135 different species of butterflies. Guides shall take you on interesting jeep safaris across the planes of the park. Plus fishing is possible in the reservoir.
Wasgamuwa National Park
Located in the Matale and Polonnaruwa districts, around 225 Kilometers away from Colombo, Wasgamuwa national park is one of the strict nature reserves in Sri Lanka especially notable for the presence of large herds of Sri Lankan elephants - up to 150 of them. Encircled by Mahaweli Ganga and Amban Ganga rivers, this magnificent natural sanctuary of Sri Lanka spans across 36,900 hectares of land with a special designation to preserve the wildlife. Assisted by reservoirs and riverine forests, the protected areas of Wasgamuwa National Park feature stunning biodiversity with a large number of wildlife varieties.
It showcases over 150 floral species along with those of high economic value, like Cryptocoryne walkeri and Munronia pumila. There are 23 species of mammals, 17 reptile species with five of them endemic, 50 butterflies with eight of the endemic. Being one of the Important Bird Areas in the country, this jungle park is home to 143 bird species as well with 8 endemic species, such as red-faced malkoha and junglefowl. In the aquatic environments, 17 fish species enlengthen the list of belongings.
Whale Watching in Mirissa
Mirissa, in the west of Sri Lanka, is a perfect place for watching curious marine wildlife. Acrobatic-skills performing dolphins and gently moving whales shall pop up of the elegant marine stretch of Mirissa giving you one of the most cherishable spectacles for your Sri Lankan expedition. Blue whales being the most seen variety, there are assumed to have about 26 whale species visiting this region, like Bryde´s whales, Sperm whales, Fin whales, Killer whales.
Several dolphin varieties, like common dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, Spinner dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins and other aquatic species like turtles and flying fishes shall interest your attention during your whale watching boat excursions. The best time to enjoy whale watching in Mirissa is months from November through April when it is the time for whales to switch between the southern hemisphere and northern hemisphere. There are various tour agents to facilitate whale & dolphin watching trips.
Wilpattu National Park
Highlighted for the presence of natural lakes, Wilpattu National Park of Sri Lanka is perched in the northwest coastal lowland dry zone of the country, stretching over 131, 693 hectares at a sea level of 0 - 152 meters. The featured attraction of the Wilpattu forest is around 106 Willus or natural lakes (sand-rimmed water basins of rainwater) that are dotted all across its landscapes. Declared as a national park in 1938, tt is the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka and globally renowned for its high leopard population.
The mammal varieties that are generally idenified as threatened species, like sloth bear, elephant, leopard and water buffalo, are seen in abundance in the habitats of Wilpattu National Park. With the help of those Willus, this thickly grown forest is home to a wide variety of resident and migratory birds, including water ones. Guests are offered jeep safaris across the park for perfect sightseeing and exploring its biodiversity. Although an year-round tourist destination, the ideal time to visit Wilpattu National Park is months from February through October. 180 Kimolters north of Colombo, the park is positioned 30 Kilometers west of Anuradhapura or 26 Kilometers north of Puttalam.
Yala National Park
The second-largest in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park with an incredible possession of wildlife species, consists of several individual blocks and adjoining parks with each named separately. Positioned in the southeast portion of the nation, this stunning jungle shelter, with diverse habitats, spreads across 979 square Kilometers area bordering the Indian Ocean as well. The ecosystems found in the region range from moist monsoon forests to marine wetlands and freshwater portions. Water bodies come in shapes of streams, waterholes, tanks, rock pools, and lagoons.
Renowned for the preservation of the species, like Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan leopards, and aquatic birds, Yala National Park has 44 mammals species, 18 amphibian species, 47 reptile species, and 21 freshwater fish species. Being one of the Important Bird Areas of the country, Yala sets home for 215 bird species wit seven of them being endemic. Designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, it is one of the first two national parks of Sri Lanka.