In the mid-2000’s Sri Lanka tourism was trying to re-position to country to help it tap into the rapidly growing wildlife safari market. Up until then, Sri Lanka had been mainly known for its beach holidays; with charter aircraft full of holidaymakers looking to enjoy beautiful beaches, friendly locals and the chance to top up their tans with some winter sunshine. However wildlife entrepreneurs such as the famous author of bird book, Mr Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, had realised that the potential for wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka was much greater than the industry had realised and set about promoting this in publications such as the BBC Wildlife Magazine. He focused on the most charismatic wildlife that Sri Lanka had to offer – both marine and terrestrial – and came up with the Big 5 of Sri Lanka.
Although leopard researchers have shown reasonable populations of leopards are present all over the island, from the beaches of the south, to the Jaffna peninsula. Yala national park and Wilpattu national park are the two best places in Sri Lanka to see Leopards. Wilpattu is more easily reached from Colombo than Yala and has made a strong recovery since the terrible days when the park was subject to guerrilla war fare and attacks which affected both visitors and the resident wildlife. There are now 1 or 2 simple wildlife lodges to stay at in Wilpattu and some excellent small scale wild camping options. Because Yala national park is more established for leopard safaris you will find a greater number of hotels, wildlife lodges and tented camps to stay in.
It is a regular occurrence to see sloth bears on wildlife safaris in both Yala and Wilpattu and occasionally you may even see one in Uda Walawe. Sloth Bears are fiercely protective of their young and have successfully fought off both leopards and tigers when fearing for the safety of their cubs. Sloth Bears have a great fondness for certain trees and their fruits, so sightings of them can increase during the summer months where you might see them feeding on trees such as Palu and Weera.
Although rarely publicised in wildlife magazines or featured in nature documentaries, the great elephant gathering in Sri Lanka which occurs in the months of July and August is one of nature’s great wildlife spectacles. During the dry season the waters of a huge manmade reservoir in Minneriya national park recedes dramatically. The nutritious mud left on the shoreline is quickly replaced by incredibly nutritious grasses which have attracted hundreds of Sri Lanka elephants for generations. This water body commissioned by a Sri Lankan king nearly 2000 years ago, has probably witnessed this great Elephant migration for more than a millennium. So why not visit Minneriya for the elephant gathering and witness hundreds of elephants enjoying this seasonal feast, with the backdrop of the beautiful nearby mountains.
Observing Blue Whales by boat from Mirissa in Sri Lanka is a real feel good story, as it involves local fisherman – some of who lost everything in the 2004 Tsunami – refitting their boats (with the support of international NGO’s) and starting a sustainable whale watching business. The fact the Blue Whales are relatively easy to spot near the famous Dondra Point on the southern tip of Sri Lanka is a happy coincidence. With the support of conservationists like Mr Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, increased publicity brought more whale watching enthusiasts to Sri Lanka and Mirissa and whale watching became a ‘must do’ activity for wildlife travellers on a Sri Lanka safari.
For many years the Kalpitiya Peninsula on the west coast of Sri Lanka was famous for seeing Dolphins close to the coral reefs and close to the shore. It was only relatively recently when the same dolphin boat operators headed further off shore to the deeper waters, that they realised that various species of whales were present. After a few years of regular whale watching safaris and research, we can now say that Kalpitiya is one of the best places in the world to see Sperm Whales; whilst the Blue Whale, Minke, Melon-Headed and Dwarf Sperm whales can also be spotted surfacing from time to time.
So if you are after a new wildlife adventure and want the chance to see the Big 5 of Sri Lanka then why not speak to one of our wildlife specialists at asia(at)wildlifetrails.co.uk or click on our bespoke Big 5 Sri Lanka safari.