Wildlife in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Wildlife Tours and Eco holidays

Sri Lanka is a Nature's wonder. The little island 270 km by 140 km in size has everything a nature lover will look for. The highly diversified island differs from city to city, district to district and province to province. Mountains, Plains, Water Falls, National parks, Sea, Beaches Rocks, Paddy fields, Tea Gardens, Rain Forests, Rivers, Landscapes, Streams all are beautiful. The Sri Lankan nature's beauty blends in its wild life of elephants, birds, animals, flowers and trees.

Though Sri Lanka is very small in land area, the great diversity in habitats harbors are a rich and diverse fauna and flora, with many species endemic to the island. Historically as well as in the modern era, successive rulers and governments of Sri Lanka have strived to provide sanctuary and protection to our beautiful wildlife and Nature.

Udawalawa National park

Is situated in the dry zone and is a large area of scrub, grass and old plantation around a large reservoir. Udawalawe National Park is very well known for its outstanding scenic beauty and wealth of fauna species, particularly mammals and birds. One of the main attractions of this park is the opportunity to view elephants at a really close range.

Herds of elephants, populations of sambar, spotted deer, barking deer, wild boar, water buffalo common langur, jackal, sloth bear, leopard, black napped hare, endemic golden palm civet and mongoose are some of the animals that can be sighted at this national park. Udawalawe is also a great place to watch water birds. Rare visitors and breeding residents such as the Indian cormorant and osprey can be found on the reservoir. Notable endemic species are the Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka spurfowl, malabar pied hornbill, Sri Lanka grey hornbill and brown-capped babbler.

Wasgomuwa National Park

Also located in the dry zone, Wasgomuwa National Park is almost completely surrounded by large rivers on all its sides. Probably one of the best places in the island for near wildlife fanatics as it contains more wildlife, in terms of both wild fauna and flora. 23 species of mammals, 143 species of birds (5 of which are endemic), 35 species of reptiles (of which 7 are endemic), 15 species of amphibians, 17 species of fish and 52 species of butterflies are known to be found here.

Populations of around 150 elephants freely roam the park. Other interesting animals you could catch a glimpse of include the leopard as well as other endemic animals such as the purple faced langur, sloth bear, spotted deer, sambar and birds like the painted stork, oriental darter, purple swamphen, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka grey and malabar pied hornbills, white-rumped shama and in winter many migrant waders and ducks.

Both the saltwater and the freshwater crocodiles take refuge in the waters of this national park. The park also harbors some reptiles and amphibians like the endemic skink and the rare endemic palm frond frog.

Bundala National Park

A simply picture perfect national park bordering the ocean fringed with sand dunes, and dotted with numerous lagoons. The five lagoons of this park are some of the most important wintering areas for migratory shore birds in the country, regularly accommodating over 15,000 at any one time! This park is the last refuge of the greater flamingo and during the northeast monsoon up to 2000 flamingoes have been seen.

You don't have to look too hard to spot elephant, spotted deer and wild buffalo among the thorny scrub jungle in the park. The open habitat makes it ideal to spot other mammals such as the endemic toque macaque, common langur, jackal, leopard, fishing cat, rusty spotted cat and porcupine. Sea turtles love the golden beaches and sand dunes of Bundala, and frequent here often to nest. Among reptiles' the mugger crocodile, estuarine crocodile, common monitor, python, endemic flying snake and beautiful star tortoise can be sighted here. The park is the home of every species of water bird resident in the country and during the northern winter, it is the final destination for countless numbers species. It is also home to several species of migratory waterfowl. The rare black necked stork is said to be a breeding resident in Sri Lanka.

Bundala's richness in birds' species is why it was declared a Ramsar Site in 1990, having international significance for wetland birds.

Yala National Park

The largest national park in Sri Lanka formed by a completely diverse landscape ranging from the ocean to jungles, scrubland, freshwater rivers and lakes, which support a large variety of wildlife. Over 30 species of mammals are known to be found here, including threatened species such as the sloth bear, leopard, elephant and water buffalo. You'll probably have the best chance of sighting a leopard here than anywhere else on the island.

Some 120-130 birds' species can be seen at Yala. Raptors like the crested serpent eagle, and white bellied sea eagle and water birds including the lesser flamingo, pelican, painted stork and night heron can be spotted in the lagoons. The north-east monsoon is seen to attract thousands of migrating waterfowl including, pintail, white winged black tern and eurasian curlew which mix with residents such as whistling duck and yellow wattled lapwing. Other interesting birds' species you could spot at Yala are the Sri Lanka junglefowl, black-necked stork, and pompadour green pigeon, three species of bee-eaters and large flocks of flamingoes.

Yala is also home to a variety of reptiles such as crocodiles, the venomous Russel's viper and a variety of sea turtles. The endangered olive ridley and leatherback turtles return to the Yala coastline often for nesting.

Minneriya National Park

Virtually built around the Minneriya reservoir, this park is certainly one of the most scenic in the island. During the dry season from June to September, the reservoir becomes a favorite gathering place for scores of elephants who get together to eat, drink and be merry. Many species of mammals such as sambar, spotted deer, leopard, sloth bear and endemics like the toque macaque and purple faced langur are favorite attractions.

Minneriya is full of a vast number of birds. 160 species are found here. Look out for the Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka hanging parrot, Sri Lanka brown capped babbler, crimson fronted barbet, black crested bulbul, all of which are endemics. Nine species of amphibians have been reported to live in this park and among them are endemic and endangered slender wood frog and common tree frog. Endemic and endangered lizards like the red lipped lizard are also found here. 26 species of fish are found in the reservoirs.

Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla is the newest national park and forms a corridor for elephants migrating between Somawathiya National Park in the north to Minneriya National Park, further south. Is a very popular place for elephant lovers, as you get to see large numbers of elephants close up. Leopards, sambar deer and the occasional sloth bear are also interesting animals to watch out for. If you’re looking for new and exciting ways to see and photograph wildlife, then a catamaran ride on the expansive Kaudulla reservoir is something that just shouldn’t be missed. Kaudulla is also an excellent location for bird watching.

Horton Plains National Park

Strikingly different from the other national parks in that, visitors to Horton Plains are allowed to walk on their own on the designated tracks. The scenic beauty and wildlife of Horton Plains which is a remote 2000m high plateau just south of Nuwara Eliya is set to impress even the most discerning traveler. Most habitats and endemic plants and animals representative of our wet and montane zones are sure to be found here. This national park is abundant with some of the smaller endemic mammals like sambar, endemic toque macaque, purple faced langur, leopard, wild otter, long tailed giant squirrel, horned lizard and bear monkey. If you are really keen on seeing the Sri Lanka whistling thrush, Sri Lanka magpie, dull-blue flycatcher, orange-billed babbler and the black-throated munia then Horton Plains is definitely worth a visit, as this is one of the best places in the whole island to see them. This park is a paradise for butterflies as well. Various raptors such as crested serpent eagle and mountain hawk eagle can be seen circling over the plains. Among reptiles are snake and the wide spread agamid.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve or ‘Kingdom of the Lion’ is located in the south-west part of the island and is one of the last remaining areas of tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. Sinharaja was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. You won’t find any elephants and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen. The commonest larger mammal is the endemic purple faced langur. An unusual and fascinating spectacle is when birds from many different species move together in mixed feeding flocks in search of food. As the flock approaches you’ll see and hear the noisy calls of orange-billed babblers and a greater racket-tailed drongo. As the birds pass, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the quieter, more inconspicuous, members of the flock. Some of the fascinating birds found in Sri Lanka you can find right here at Sinharaja include the Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka junglefowl, green-billed coucal, red-faced malkoha, blue magpie, spot-winged thrush, scaly thrush, white-faced starling, chestnut-backed owlet, black-throated munia and the Sri Lanka myna.

Sinharaja is an absolute treasure trove of endemic species. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. There is much endemic wildlife, especially birds but the reserve is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians.

Udawattakele Bird Sanctuary

This is the only reserve in the whole of Sri Lanka to be situated in the suburbs of a city. The Udawattakele Sanctuary rests on the northern edge of the Kandy city just above the Temple of the Tooth. The forests are a haven for birds and some of the birds sighted here include the layard’s parakeet, Sri Lanka hanging parrot, yellow-fronted, crimson-fronted and brown-headed barbets; golden-fronted and jerdon’s leafbirds; stork-billed, common and oriental dwarf kingfishers.

Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary

Situated just a short distance off the coastal road on the south coast of the island between Tangalle and Hambantota. The gorgeous Indian Ocean and rich lagoons and mangrove swamps characterize this bird sanctuary. The Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary is an ideal location for undisturbed bird-watching. Interesting birds like the asian openbill, eurasian spoonbill, egrets, purple swamphen, black-winged stilt and many winter migrants can be sighted here.


Bodhinagala is quite a small area of secondary rainforest only about a two hour drive from the city of Colombo. Located in a tropical rainforest surrounding a monastery and rich in flora and fauna Bodhinagala is a great place for bird watching. Some of the birds found here include the green-billed coucal, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka hanging parrot, layard’s parakeet, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, barbets and the malabar trogon

Muthurajawela Marshes

Situated toward the southern part of Negombo, the Muthurajawela marshes meaning “swamp of royal treasure’ more than does justice to its name. Home to a staggering number of species of flora and fauna, these marshes have been declared as a sanctuary due to its high bio diversity. Water birds such as herons and egrets can be seen in abundance in the marshes. Boat rides through the marsh and the lagoon are a brilliant way of experiencing the wildlife.

Bellanwila–Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

The Bellanwila-Attidiya marsh is a precious residual fragment of the once extensive marshlands around Colombo. Rich in species it is of major importance as a wildlife refuge and well worth a visit. This urban wetland is famous for its abundant bird life. It consists of fresh water marshes, and a natural and man-made canal system. A walk along the edge of the canals or marshlands will allow you to observe many aquatic birds including the lesser whistling duck, purple swamphen, white breasted waterhen, whiskeredtern, pin tailed snipe and little green heron. Apart from aquatic birds, raptors such as brahminy kite and the marsh harrier can be commonly observed.

Kitulgala Rainforest

Situated in the wet zone of our island, the Kitulgala Rainforest is a beautiful forest reserve adjoining Peak Wilderness Sanctuary in Adam’s Peak. An absolute birder’s paradise, this rain forest is home to birds such as the Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka woodpigeon, white-faced starling, black-throated munia, dollarbird, blue magpie, chestnut-backed owlet, shy-headed laughing thrush, yellow-fronted barbet and the  Sri Lanka hanging parrot. To add to the appeal of the Kitulgala town, it is famously known for being a filming location for the epic “Bridge on the River Kwai”.

Hakgala Botanical Gardens

Located within a strict nature reserve just 10km away form the picturesque Nuwara Eliya town, the Hakgala botanical garden was once a Cinchona plantation. The name Hakgala or “Jaw Rock” comes from the story in the epic Ramayana in which the Monkey God takes back a part of the mountainside in his jaw when asked by Rama to seek out a special herb! This delightful garden is now famous for its roses. There are monkeys here which are quite used to visitors. The different sections covering the hillside include a plant house, Japanese garden, wild orchid collection, old tea trails, arboretum, fruit garden, and oaks. Also famous for the interesting birdlife, Hakgala Gardens is home to birds like the Sri Lanka woodpigeon, bar-winged flycatcher-shrike, black bulbul, Sri Lanka whistling thrush, Sri Lanka bush warbler, dull-blue flycatcher and the Sri Lanka white-eye.

Knuckles / Corbett’s Gap

Lying 25km east of the city of Kandy, the Knuckles mountain range exists as a unique ecosystem separate from the rest of the central hills. True to its name this mountain range consists of five peaks and resembles the knuckles on a persons folded fist. Covering a distance of about 12 miles Knuckles extends roughly from the northwest to the southwest of Sri Lanka. The elevation of these peaks range from about 1500m to 1800m in height. The Knuckles Range is home to a wide variety of forest types in close proximity to each other making it exceptional. These forests in turn harbor wildlife including leopard, sambar, barking deer, mouse deer, wild boar, giant squirrel, purple-faced langur, toque macaque and loris as well as the otherwise rarely seen otter. Over 120 bird species recorded here include many endemic ones including the yellow-fronted barbet, dusky-blue flycatcher, ceylon lorikeet, ceylon grackle, yellow-eared bulbul and Layard’s parakeet. In addition endemic amphibians and reptiles include the kirtisinghe’s rock frog and leaf-nosed lizard, which are only found here.

Peak Wilderness Sanctuary (Adam’s Peak)

The Peak Wilderness Sanctuary is a long strip of wet zone forest and is situated in the Ratnapura District. The key attraction of this sanctuary is Adam’s Peak itself, which is the second highest summit in Sri Lanka and is a deeply religious place of worship among Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims alike. In addition to Adam’s Peak, this sanctuary offers some superb nature trails through tropical rainforests, across rivers and past lush tea plantations. Birds such as the Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka woodpigeon, white-faced starling, black-throated munia, Dollarbird, Blue Magpie, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Ashy-headed laughing thrush, yellow-fronted barbet and the SriLanka hanging parrot.

Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve

The Ritigala Nature Reserve is a beautiful unexplored thick forest situated right in the midst of the dry zone found just off the Anuradhapura-Habarana road. Rising 600m above the surrounding plains, Ritigala is the highest peak in the entire area and enjoys it’s own micro-climate with relatively more rainfall and a cooler climate than the rest of north central part of Sri Lanka. The area rich in unusual plants and herbs is associated with the Ramayana story in which Hanuman dropped a section of herb covered Himalaya here. Wildlife includes elephants, sloth bear, leopard and varied bird life like the Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka junglefowl, malabar hornbills and the spot-winged thrush. Deep inside the reserve you will find partially excavated ruins of an extensive Buddhist monastery which is a popular archaeological site. There are many natural caves on the mountain slopes, some quite large in which priests would meditate. Brahmi inscriptions here date the site from the second and third centuries BC. This mysterious and exciting remote site in the jungle is definitely worth visiting, especially for those who like to venture off-the-beaten path.


Site for roaming Leopard

Being the largest in extent, Wilpattu National Park (Willu-pattu; Land of Lakes) is one of the foremost wildlife Reserves of Sri Lanka, located in the North western part of the country, bordering the sea coast. The unique feature of the topography of this park is the existence of Willus (Natural lakes) - Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions - of fresh and salt water. Total extent of the park is 131, 693 hectares and the altitude ranges from 0 to 152 meters above sea level.

Falling within the lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka, Wilpattu NP is home for a rich diversity of wildlife including  leopards, elephants, sloth bear and all dear species found in the dry zone. Diversity of  habitat types  favorable for dense populations of prey species, supports a high density of leopards, for which Wilpattu is world renowned.

Well established network of roads provides access to the important areas within the park, especially to the core area where there is a better opportunity to observe wildlife, due to concentration of water bodies. Four park bungalows located at picturesque settings, provide overnight accommodation within the park.

'Kudiramalai Point' on the western coast where one can have a birds eye view over the sea from a rock cliff, is a place where a day visitor would love to visit. 'Kuveni's Palace' has a legend to say that it was built by King Vijaya for Kuveni.

Wilpattu is located approximately 180 km north of Colombo, and can be reached via Puttalam. Ancient city of Anuradhapura is within one hour drive from the park. Park bungalows can be reserved at the Head Office of the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Colombo, while the park entry permits are issued at the park entrance at Hunuwilagama.

Lunugamvehera National Park

Corridor for elephants

Lunugamvehera National Park, which is a contiguous stretch of forests of famous Ruhuna (Yala) National Park, was declared in 1995, with the objectives of protecting the catchment area of Lunugamvehera reservoir and wildlife resources therein. Protection of this catchment area is vital to maintain the water levels of five other reservoirs downstream Kirindi Oya river and wetland characteristics of Bundala National Park, too.

The national park is a significant part of the jungle tract, which pave way for the seasonal movement of the  wild elephants in the area.  It ensures the continuous movement between  Yala  and  Udawalawe  National parks, which is quit important for the long term existence of elephants. Lunugamvehera is a ideal habitat for water birds, too.

Park entrance is situated 261 km (162 miles) down south from Colombo, between Thanamalwila and Thissamaharama.

Maduru Oya National Park

Travel to history

Maduru Oya National Park, declared in 1983, lies in the lowland dry zone, 314 km away from Colombo, within  Polonnaruwa and  Ampara Districts. Prime objectives of the park was to protect the catchment area of the large scale reservoirs constructed under the Mahaweli Development Project, and to provide alternative habitats for the populations of elephants and other species of wild animals, displaced due to vast clearing of forests, under the said development project.

Elephant being the most significant animal species of Maduruoya NP, it is inhibited by the other large mammals such as leopard, sloth bear, sambhur, spotted deer, barking deer, wild boar and wild buffalo too.  Torque Macaque, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and nocturnal Slender Loris also are recorded n the park. Lesser Adjutant, Wooly-necked Stork, Open-bill Stork, Painted Stork, Racquet-tailed tailed Drongo, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Jungle fowl are the common species of birds, among the over 100 species of birds found within the park.

Ruins at Henanigala, Kudawila, Gurukumbura, Uluketangoda, Werapokuna and several other places within the park can be identified as those of ancient Buddhist shrines of different eras of Sri Lankan history. An ancient sluice dating prior to the 6th century BC was discovered recently on the old breached earthen bund of the Maduru Oya. Early Brahmin inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BC are found at Kandegamwila.  A few families of Veddas, a vestige of an aboriginal tribe believed to be descended from King Vijaya and the Yaksha (demon) princess Kuveni, live in their traditional lifestyle, at Dambana.

Maduru Oya can be reached through Polonnaruwa and Manampitiya.

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