Sri Lanka despite being an Island, offers many wildlife attractions to visitors that are looking for adventures in the wild. With a rich history of conservation efforts in Sri Lanka dating back to the 3rd Century BC with the first recorded protected reserve in Mihintale, the country today is home to many National parks, protected Rain Forests and scenic Forests & Mountainous Reserves. With some accessible by Safari Jeeps and others by foot with varying difficulty, wild life expeditions are available to the young and the old, to the fitness buff or an amateur.
Sri Lanka is popular for its large population of Leopards and Elephants as well as many other mammals such as wild boar, spotted deer, barking deer, jackal, sambar water buffalo, sloth bear, giant squirrel, crocodiles and monkeys amongst many others. There are over 400 varieties of known bird species with some being migratory birds. The national parks are also known to have a variety of reptiles and fish life.
The following National parks and Protected Reserves in Sri Lanka offer the experiential traveller much to marvel at.
Yala National Park – Located within a 6 to 8 hour drive from Colombo/Airport.
Yala National Park with a protected area of 126,768 hectares consisting of shrubs, lagoons and rocks, is home to Elephants, Crocodiles, Wild Boar, Deer, Sambar, Peacocks and hundreds of birds. Known to have the highest density of Leopards in the world, the Park is also home to Sloth bears. The second largest National park and the most popular one in the country, Yala also offers the wild life enthusiasts with overnight camping experiences.
Udawalawe National Park – Located within a 4 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Udawalawe national park consists of over 30,000 hectares of wild nature reserve bordering the dry zone, and is known for its herds of Elephants that roam in the wild. In addition, the park is home to Wild boar, Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, Jackal, Sambar and Water Buffalo as well as migratory birds. Udawalawa also contains a transit home for baby Elephants that are disabled or orphaned.
Wilpattu National Park – Located within a 4 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Wilpattu national park, so named for its abundance of lakes ("Villu"s) is located off the main town of Puttalam. The largest National park in Sri Lanka covers 131,693 hectares of land, and contains over 60 lakes and tanks. "Residents" of the national park include the popular Mammals: Sri Lankan elephant, sloth bear; leopard; spotted dear and water buffalo. The lakes attract a range of water-birds and wildlife that makes it easier to spot them than in any other national park in the country. The residents of the park also include some of the magnificent birds; the painted stork, the Sri Lankan jungle fowl, owls, eagles etc. The park is also known for its share of reptiles with the most common being the monitor lizard; mugger crocodile; common cobra and the soft shelled turtle amongst a host of others.
Minneriya National Park – located within a 3 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Located between Habarana and Polonnaruwa, the Minneriya National Park covers over 8,000 hectares of land with mixed scrub and evergreen forest. The park is a natural habitat for the Sri Lankan elephant, deer and leopards. Popularly known as the "gathering" of elephants, Minneriya is most known for the sighting of these giant primates in herds that are not seen at other parks.
Sinharaja Rain Forest – located within a 5 hour drive from Colombo/Airport A UNESCO world Heritage site, Sinharaja Rain Forest Reserve is spread over 18,000 hectares of virgin rain forest, and is the largest remaining rain forest reserve in Sri Lanka. The 21km long 7km wide (at the widest) and 3km wide at the narrowest points, Sihnaraja, consists of several rivers and streams. The area has a height range of 270 to 1,060m and a slope range of 100 to 350. The recorded rainfall has been in the range of 3,000 to 6,000mm. This natural beauty can be explored by trekking through the tropical lowlands where you will discover many of the over 147 recoded bird species and 45 recorded reptile species of which 21 are endemic. Horton Plains National Park – located within a 6 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Horton Plains is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. This plateau that is at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres (6,900–7,500 ft) and rich in biodiversity, will give sightings of wild life, a glimpse of rare mountain grassland and misty valleys as you climb up to the Planes and on to the World's end. Your encounters with wild life could include herds of Sri Lankan Sambar Deer, exotic birds not only endemic to Sri Lanka but restricted to the Horton Plains and others mammals. Horton Planes is considered to be one of the coldest locations in Sri Lanka with considerable rain fall thus making overnight frost a common occurrence.
Wasgamuwa National Park – Located within a 5 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Wasgamuwa is a protected area that was declared a national park in 1984. Though the park's name means Bear-woods, the sloth bear and leopard are rare in this parkland. The park which consists of primary, secondary riverine forests and grasslands contains ruins of lakes and canals. The Sri Lankan elephants can be seen in large herds as well as monkeys, deer and water buffalo. The park is also home to 143 species of birds of which 8 are endemic.
Knuckles Mountain Range Nature Reserve – located within a 6 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Knuckles Range is a mountain with five peaks that looks like the knuckles of a clenched fist when seen from various locations. Known as the Misty Valley ("Dumbara Mitiyawatha" in Sinhalese), the untouched nature reserve is a paradise for trekkers with an abundance of flora and fauna that are unique to this region and waterfalls and streams running though the mountains. The mountain range is occupied by 31 species of mammals including monkeys, Jackal, wild boar; 20 species of amphibians including 12 that are endemic and endangered; 53 species of reptiles and over 130 species of birds of which 20 are endangered.
Bundala National Park –located within a 4-5 hour drive from Colombo/Airport Bundala is a 6,216 hectare scenic National Park that borders a coastal lagoon and is less commercialized than many of the other national parks in Sri Lanka. It is an important wintering ground for migratory water birds. Known to be home to 197 species of birds of which 100 are species of water birds, the most spectacular ones that visit Bundala are the Greater Flamingos. Bundala is the only National Park in Sri Lanka that is home to the estuarine and the fresh water crocodiles - the two species of crocodiles endemic to the country. Bundala which was first designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1969 was re-designated as a national park in 1993. In 2005 the national park was named as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, making it one of four such biospheres reserves in Sri Lanka. Kumana National Park Located within a 6-7 hour drive from Colombo Also known as Yala East, Kumana is a bird sanctuary due to the 'Kumana Villu' - a 200 hectare natural swamp lake that is present inside the park. Fed by the 'Kumbukkan Oya' through a narrow channel, the mangrove swamp attracts many water birds to nest in the months of May and June. Kumana offers sightings of pelicans, painted storks, spoonbills, white ibis, herons, egrets and little cormorants amongst 255 recorded bird species. The very rare black-necked stork also is known to have visited the swamp on a few occasions. Kumana is also home to some of the same wild life found in the Yala west national park (known as Yala), such as elephants, leopards, deer, wildboar and others. The Park covers over 18,000 hectares of land and is open throughout the year. However, April to July is when tens of thousands of birds migrate to Kumana and therefore the best time to experience the varieties of birds that "holiday" in Sri Lanka.