Yala (Ruhuna) National Park

tigerYala (Ruhuna) National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park covers an area of 151,778 hectares comprising of five blocks, which includes a strict nature reserve. Currently only Block I, covering 14,100 hectares, is open to the public. It is situated in the dry semi- arid climatic region of Sri Lanka’s South East region which extends from Trincomalee to Hambantota. Topographically the area is a flat and mildly undulating plain that runs to the coast with

is a flat and mildly undulating plain that runs to the coast with elevation is 30 metres to the coast while rising in the interior to 100–125 metres. The best time of year to visit is February-July when water tables are Yala is located about 300 kilometres (190 miles) from Colombo. There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala.

Yala contains the remains of a once-thriving human community. A monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa, appears to have housed 12,000 inhabitants. Now restored, it’s an important pilgrimage site. A 1st- century BC vihara (Buddhist complex), Magul Maha Vihara, and a 2nd-century BC chetiya (Buddhist shrine), Akasa Chetiya, point to a well-established community, believed to have been part of the – ancient Ruhunu kingdom.

Mammals

Yala’s varying habitats, which consists of dry monsoon forest, scrub jungle and plains, rocky outcrops, fresh water lakes, rivers and beaches, provides home to many species of animals including Sloth Bear, herds of Asian Elephants, Buffalo, Monkeys, Sambar, Mongoose, Deer, Toque Macaque, Golden Palm Civet, Red Slender Loris, and Fishing Cat, Crocodiles and the endangered Leopard sub-species, Panthera pardus kotiya, which is found only in Sri Lanka. It is home to the greatest variety of Sri Lanka’s wildlife Yala West has one of the world’s densest leopard populations and is renowned as one of the best places in which to see a leopard in the world. The best time to spot Leopards, Asian Elephants and Sloth Bears is February to June or July, when the water levels in the park are low.

Birds

The dry season in the park is from May to September. Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. Rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala has 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka.From October to April during the Northern Hemisphere winters, Yala becomes home to many species of migratory birds and is a hot spot for bird watching. There are over 130 species of birdlife reported in the Yala National Park including the Crested Serpent Eagle and the White Bellied Sea Eagle.

Udawalawe National Park

elephantUdawalawe National Park was created in 1972 to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe Ganga, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir. Udawalawe covers 30,821 hectares of land and lies on the boundary of Sri Lanka’s wet and dry zones.

Mammals

Udawalawe is an important habitat for Sri Lankan elephants, which are relatively easy to see in its open habitats. Many elephants are attracted to the park because of the Udawalawe reservoir, with a herd of about 250 believed to be permanently resident. Other mammals also inhabit the park are Rusty-spotted Cat, Fishing Cat, Leopard, Axis and Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Water Buffalo Golden Jackal, Asian palm Civet, there species of Mongoose, Toque Macaque, Tufted Grey Languor and Black- naped Hare

Birds

Udawalawe is a good birdwatching site. Endemics such as Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Brown-capped Babbler, and Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl are among of the breeding resident birds. White Wagtail and Black-capped Kingfisher are rare migrants. A variety of water birds visit the reservoir, including Cormorants, the Spot-billed Pelican, Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis and Eurasian Spoonbill. The open parkland attracts birds of prey such as White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle,Booted Eagle, and Changeable Hawk-eagle. Landbirds are in abundance, and include Indian Roller, Indian Peafowl, Malabar Pied Hornbill and Pied Cuckoo.

Reptiles and fish

Oriental Garden Lizards, Painted-lip Lizards, Mugger Crocodiles, Water Monitors, Bengal Monitors and 30 species of snake are found in the park. A variety of endemic fish species and over 135 species of butterflies are found in the park.

Flora

The park is mainly thorny-shrub jungle with grasslands. The savannah grasslands are dominated by Mana, Illuk and pohon. There are remnants of the Teak plantations that were planted during the time the Uda Walawe Reservoir was built. In the riverine forest Kumbuk and the endemic mandorang trees are dominant.

Bundala National Park

BirdsAccessed around 15km east of Hambantota (and a similar distance west of Tissa), Bundala National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost destinations for birdwatchers, protecting an important area of coastal wetland famous for its abundant aquatic (and other) birdlife, as well as being home to significant populations of elephants, crocodiles, turtles and other fauna. Although it doesn’t have quite the range of wildlife or scenery of nearby Yala National Park, Bundala is much quieter, and makes a good alternative if you want to avoid Yala’s crowds.

or scenery of nearby Yala National Park, Bundala is much quieter, and makes a good alternative if you want to avoid Yala’s crowds.

The park stretches along the coast for around 20km, enclosing five shallow and brackish lagoons, or lewayas (they sometimes dry up completely during long periods of drought) separated by thick low scrubby forest running down to coastal dunes. Almost two hundred bird species have been recorded here, their numbers swelled by seasonal visitors, who arrive between September and March. The lagoons attract an amazing variety of aquatic birds, including ibis, pelicans, painted storks, egrets and spoonbills, though the most famous visitors are the huge flocks of greater flamingoes.