The Sri Lanka Travel Specialists
Yala National Park is one of the largest and certainly the most popular national park in Sri Lanka, and has the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world. Hidden away in the far south-east of the country, it comprises five separate blocks covering 141 sq kms. Its varying habitats – consisting of scrub plains, jungles, rocky outcrops, forest, mangroves fresh water lakes, rivers and coastal lagoons – provide homes for many species of animals including sloth bear, herds of elephants, buffalo, monkeys, sambar, deer, crocodiles. For many, though, the chief attraction is the endangered leopard sub-species Panthera pardus kotiya, which is found only in Sri Lanka. You may see it slinking in the undergrowth or lolling on one of the rock boulders which dot the park. Yala has some the best accommodation options of Sri Lanka’s national parks, but can be busy in peak season.
Yala receives an annual rainfall of less than 1,000 mm from the north-east monsoon from about November to January. The rest of the year remains dry with the period from July to September showing severe drought conditions. Mean temperature is around 27C. The dry months from May to September are the best time for viewing big game in Yala, including leopards and sloth bear. From October to April, Yala becomes home to many species of migratory birds and is a hotspot for bird watching. The first few months of the year are also good for observing leopard cubs.
Yala is home to 32 species of mammals. There are around 400 Asian elephants – and among them many tuskers – as well as spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, mouse deer, wild boar and water buffalo. Yala National Park also boasts the highest density of leopards of anywhere in the world, so your chances of a sighting are high. Early morning and evening are the best times of day to see leopards. Other cats which roam through Yala include fishing cats, rusty-spotted cat and jungle cat, although these smaller species are just as elusive as the leopards. Yala National Park is also home to three types of mongoose and two types of civit, as well as toque macaque and grey langurs. Those seeking out a sloth bear should go during June and July when the Palu fruit is in season.
The two endangered species of crocodile (Estuarine and Mugger) can be found in Yala basking in the noon heat. All five species of sea turtles which come to nest on the shores of Sri Lanka (all of which are endangered) can be seen here, as well as two types of freshwater terrapin and the beautiful star tortoise. Many species of snake also can be found in the park with the Indian rock python being the most common. Three endemic geckos and fives species of skinks are found in the park, along with land monitors and a few other lizards including the commonly-sighted painted lip lizard.
Yala National Park is an excellent place for birdwatching in Sri Lanka – over 100 species can be easily spotted in a full day’s visit to the park. Around 230 species of resident, migrant and endemic species of birds have been recorded in Yala. Endemics include: the Sri Lankan jungle fowl, that can be seen along the edges of the roads any time of day; brown-capped babbler; Sri Lanka grey hornbill; Sri Lanka wood shrike; Sri Lanka green pigeon, and Red-faced Malkoha. Resident dry zone species include Malabar-pied hornbill, blue-faced and shirkeer malkoha, yellow-wattled lapwing, great and Eurasian thick-knee, the globally endangered lesser adjutant and the extremely rare black-necked stork.
Many water birds can also be found in the park including painted storks, the globally threatened spot-billed pelican, Indian and little cormorants, Indian darter, little grebe, Asian open-bill, Eurasian spoonbill, woolly-necked stork, purple and grey herons and five species of egrets. Migrating waders include the marsh, common, wood and green sandpipers, curlew sandpiper, little stints, common redshank, common greenshank, Kentish plover, lesser and greater sand plover, golden plover, grey plover, pintail snip, back-tailed godwit, ten species of terns and two species of gull. Yala has many excellent places to observe diurnal birds of prey, including the endangered grey headed fish eagle, crested serpent eagle, crested hawk-eagle, white-bellied sea eagle, Brahaminy kite and Shirkra.
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