Five exciting wildlife experiences in Sri Lanka


Anuja Pradhan


Widely known for the leopard population of Yala and the elephants of Udawalawe, Sri Lanka makes a prominent mark on any wildlife lover’s map. However, there’s more to this island country than just traditional safaris. Here are five different things to do and places to see to explore Sri Lanka’s wildlife heritage.

1. Camping within nature reserves

Sri Lanka has plenty to offer and is a remarkable destination for wildlife lovers. Planetwildlife is introducing a truly unique camping experience that is a treat for your senses. The camps are set up within some of Sri Lanka’s best nature reserves – Wilpattu, Yala, Minneriya, Sinharaja, etc and are excellent for wildlife & bird watching.

The tents are luxurious and come with carpeted floors and each tent features a living room, bedroom and a bathroom that is fitted with all the facilities. Cold beers are brought right up to your hammock and the evenings are just magical when you sit by the campfire and watch the golden flames of the barbecue cook your dinner. Above all, this is the most fantastic wildlife experience these jungles have to offer and the safaris with an experienced naturalist are sure to be exciting and action packed.

2. Whale watching at Weligama

98 ft in length and weighing more than 400,000 pounds, the blue whale is the largest animal known to man and Sri Lanka happens to be bang in the middle of the migration path of these giants. Blue whales can be sighted off the coast of Weligama from the end of December right up to the first half of April and are often spotted very close to the continental shelf.

Along with blue whales, you can also spot pods of sperm whales, spinner dolphins, striped dolphin, Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphin etc. If this is on your bucket list, a word of advice - there are many travel companies offering this amazing experience, but please be sure to choose companies that follow safety & eco-friendly practices while taking you on a whale watching expedition. Having basic guidelines like no-feeding, no-littering, maintaining safe distance from the whales are important both for your safety and to conserve these fascinating species.

3. Butterfly spotting

With over 250 species of butterflies, including 23 endemic ones, Sri Lanka is truly a butterfly-watcher's paradise. Travel to Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens renowned for its species of orchids (over 300) and butterflies. Look for the metallic cerulean, plumbeous silverline, yamfly, Indian red admiral, common banded peacock, and common blue bottle here.

For a more rugged experience you can visit the Knuckles range of mountains to look for rare and endemic species of butterflies such as the common line blue, Indian dart, Ceylon tiger, Indian fritillary, and common banded demon.

If you wish to combine butterfly watching with a visit to a biosphere reserve known for its large endemic population of plants, trees, birds, amphibian and wildlife, do visit the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Endemism is high in this Reserve, particularly for birds, mammals, and butterflies. Mammals such as the leopard and Indian elephant can be spotted here and those interested in birds can spot rare species like green-billed coucal, Sri Lanka white-headed starling, Sri Lanka broad-billed roller, etc.

4. Kinchigune Nature Trail

Open topped, 4-wheel drive safaris are certainly exciting but a few hours of hiking through the countryside can leave you feeling refreshed and with an insight on the country’s culture. The Kinchigune nature trail is one such hiking experience that begins at the River Garden Resort in Belihuloya and the trail is about 6km. Hike across paddy fields, rivers, and walk through local villages. Learn about the life in the village and the local agricultural systems. This hike takes you through idyllic spots and several waterfalls and you are sure to spot different species of birds and butterflies that are endemic to this region. The trail ends at a picturesque spot where the Belihuloya River meets the Samanala Wewa Reservoir.

If you feel like some adventure, you can go canoeing in Samanala Wewa with our expert guide. The Samanala Wewa Reservoir derives its name from the Sinhalese word for butterfly - ‘samanala’. This hints not just at the various species of butterflies in the area but also the actual shape of the Reservoir!

5. Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

The Sri Lankan elephant is a subspecies of the Asian elephant and is now endangered. Most of the population is restricted to Udawalawe, Yala, Wilpattu, and Minneriya National Parks. However, Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage claims to have the world’s largest herd of captive elephants. The orphanage cares and protects many orphaned elephants found in the jungle. Established in 1975 by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation, it is also a breeding ground for wild elephants. The elephants are taken to the nearby river twice a day for baths; this procession is amazing to watch! All the babies under three years of age are still bottle fed by the mahouts and volunteers. Each animal is also given around 76kg of green manure a day and around 2kg from a food bag containing rice bran and maize. Here, you will be allowed to get up close to the elephants, interact with them, and feed them.

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