Situated at the centre of the Cultural Triangle, Minneriya is a good alternative to the busier parks in the south and it is easy to weave in jeep drive here between visiting the ancient sites in this area. The dry season, from June to September, is the best time to visit the 8,890 hectare park, when the ancient tank that dominates the area dries out and the grasses and shoots push through – during this time it is possible to see herds of up to 150 elephants feeding and washing, as well as toque macaques, sambar deer and leopards, as well as many different species of bird including flocks of cormorants and painted storks. When the large numbers of elephants come together it is an astonishing sight and is a recognised wildlife event known as ‘The Elephant Gathering’, the largest assemblage of Asian elephants in the world.
Minneriya mainly consists of tropical dryzone evergreen forest, abandoned chena lands, grasslands and wetlands which are home to a variety of shrubs. 24 species of mammals have been recorded here, including leopards, sloth bear, spotted and sambar deer, wild buffalo, wild boar, three species of mongoose, porcupine, Indian pangolin, grey langers and purple-faced leaf monkey. There is also a large population of elephants in the park, which sometimes converge in great numbers (up to 300) around Minneriya Tank. Nine species of amphibians have been seen in the park, among them the native red-lipped lizard, water and land monitor lizards and mugger crocodiles.
Due to its many different types of vegetation and habitat, the park is also home to over 170 species of birds, including: migrant waders such as wood and common sandpiper and Kentish plover; forest birds like the Malabar-pied hornbill, Rufus woodpecker and the globally-endangered lesser adjutant, and endemic species including Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Sri Lanka green pigeon, brown-capped babbler and Sri Lanka jungle fowl. The orange-breasted green pigeon, emerald dove and green imperial pigeon can also be seen, as well as a host of other migrating forest birds.