Yala National Park

Yala Natiional Park-2917

With monkeys crashing through the trees, peacocks in their finest frocks and cunning leopards sliding like shadows through the undergrowth, Yala National Park (also known as Ruhunu) is the Jungle Book brought to glorious life. This vast region of dry woodland and open patches of grasslands is the big draw of this corner of Sri Lanka.

Yala combines a strict nature reserve with a national park, bringing the total protected area to 1268 sq km of scrub, light forest, grassy plains and brackish lagoons. It’s divided into five blocks, with the most visited being Block I (141 sq km). Also known as Yala West, this block was originally a reserve for hunters, but was given over to conservation in 1938.

With around 25 leopards thought to be present in Block I alone, Yala is considered one of the world’s best parks for spotting these big cats. Panthera pardus kotiya, the subspecies you may well see, is unique to Sri Lanka. The best time to spot leopards is February to June or July, when the water levels in the park are low. Despite having around 300 elephants, they tend to keep away from the most visited parts of the park and Yala is not that well regarded for elephant sightings. With luck you’ll get to see the shaggycoated sloth bear or some of the fox like jackals. Sambars, spotted deer, boars, crocodiles, buff aloes, mongooses and monkeys are here in their hundreds. Around 215 species of birds have been recorded at Yala, many of which are visitors escaping the northern winter. These birds include white winged black terns, curlews and pintails. Locals include jungle fowl, hornbills, orioles and peacocks by the bucketload. Despite the large quantity of wildlife the light forest can make spotting animals quite hard; fortunately help is at hand in the form of small grassy clearings and lots of waterholes around which the wildlife ongregates.
The end of the dry season (March to April) is the best time to visit, as during and shortly after the rains the animals disperse over a wide area.

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