Like the majority of big cats around the world, leopard sightings tend to increase in the hotter, drier months when only a few remaining water sources are available for the resident leopards. Not only does this allow wildlife photographers and guides to predict more accurately the daily movements of the leopards, but it also presents the rare opportunity to witness a leopard kill; as prey species such a grey langurs and spotted deer become slightly less cautious due to their need to visit the water bodies on a regular basis
When we are contacted by wildlife enthusiasts and wildlife photographers about organising a Sri Lanka safari, one national park is always on the ‘must visit list’. Yala national park is world famous for leopard sightings and any Sri Lanka wildlife holiday must include several days of safaris in this beautiful wildlife sanctuary on the east coast. However not many people are aware that Yala national park is closed for the whole month of September and first 2 weeks of October and even fewer are aware of the reason why. So to understand this we first need to look at the Sri Lank weather over the course of a year.
When people hear that Sri Lanka is affecting by two different monsoons and these both affect different parts of the country, planning a Sri Lanka safari suddenly appears more complicated; but actually if you focus your mind on when is the best time to visit Yala national park or any other wildlife sanctuary you are interested in, you will soon come up with the answers. In Sri Lanka January to March is the relative dry season, when most of the country sees plenty of sunshine and you are only likely to experience the odd heavy shower during the day and evening. This is also a very popular time for foreign tourists to visits Sri Lanka, so expect the most famous parks in Sri Lanka to be busy.
By April the heat is starting to build in Sri Lanka and exactly as with India and tiger safaris there, this is a great month to see leopards in Sri Lanka. We then enter the south west monsoon in May and June, but just as the name suggests this affects that part of the island. So you may well get the odd heavy rain shower in Wilpattu national park but Yala national park will stay relatively dry and again, this is an excellent time to see leopards in Sri Lanka.
The heat returns in what is known as the inter-monsoon period which roughly covers the months of July to September. Due to the lack of water and the park not looking at its best, Yala is normally closed in September and the first 2 weeks of October – so by definition, this is not a good time to see leopards! Although the park soon re-opens as the north-east monsoon starts to build and provides life giving rains to many of Sri Lanka’s national parks.
It is one thing to look at general weather patterns in Sri Lanka when planning your leopard safari to Yala national park, but you need to take your research to a whole new level if you want to experience the best possible big cat safari in Sri Lanka. Let’s assume that you are in the enviable position to choose to travel to Sri Lanka whenever you want. We have already discussed the best time of year, but we now need to think about the best time of the week to visit Yala and how major festivals and weekends have a negative effects on the leopard viewing experience in Yala. Sadly until the park authorities in Sri Lanka introduce sensible vehicle limits in each zone (I hope this blog is now old and this has happened!); you are going to see significant increases in personal vehicles and local jeeps on the weekends and during national holiday. You simply must try to avoid visiting Yala on the weekends and during festivals and you will have made one of the most important decisions to ensure you have an enjoyable leopard safari in Sri Lanka.
In this respect we can say that the leopard safari experience in Sri Lanka, is no different from India or Africa. Although due to the fact that the leopards in Sri Lanka are the dominant big cat, they exhibit more diurnal behaviour compared to some of the leopards found in India’s national parks. Nevertheless if you want great light for photography and to catch a leopard returning for a ‘night patrol’ or about to start one, then first thing in the morning and the last hour of the afternoon leopard safari are the optimum times. Enter the park with optimism and a joyful heart and you never know what luck you will have.
If you would like us to organise a tailor-made leopard safari in Sri Lanka then please contact us at asia(at)wildlifetrails.co.uk or click on this bespoke leopard safari to Yala national park.