sri lanka wildlife

A Guide to Sri Lanka for Wildlife Enthusiasts

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The island nation of Sri Lanka may be small in size, but when it comes to exciting animal encounters the country is second to none. So whether you want to go leopard spotting in Yala or watch massive elephant herds in Gal Oya, here is a complete rundown of all the parks where to find all the iconic wildlife Sri Lanka is famous for.

Asian Elephants

To see where these gentle giants truly belong, there is no better place in the country than the Gal Oya National Park. This park has few visitors but is the best place to see Asian Elephants in the wild. Located around the remote but expansive Senanayake Samudra reservoir, Gal Oya is a beautiful park with vibrant landscapes teeming with other animals like leopards, sloth bears, wild boar, and around 150 species of birds, apart from vast herds of elephants. You can book your wildlife holidays with Naturetrek to watch these gentle giants in their natural habitat. 

Another protected area where visitors can enjoy elephant encounters is the impressive Minneriya National Park where herds are known to congregate for their ‘annual gathering’, a unique event that takes place every year in the dry season from May to October. Herds, some of the largest in the world, head here from all over the North Central Province of Sri Lanka to feed on the fresh green grass and bathe in the waters of the wetland swamps. Other wildlife which can be spotted here is leopards, buffalo, sloth bears, monkeys, and marsh crocodiles.


The world-famous Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is known to have the highest density of leopards anywhere else on earth. Still, because of their elusive nature, spotting these striking cats is a bit of a challenge. However, the guides of Yala are so skilled and adept at their task of leopard spotting, few visitors return back disappointed.

Yala is basically divided into five blocks, out of which only two, Kumana and Ruhana, are open to tourists for game drives. The stunning 979 square kilometers park has a varied landscape of forests, wetlands, and savannah and extends right up to the sea. During the dry season from May to October, the grass dries out and when animals congregate to the waterholes the sightings are relatively easy. This is the best time to see leopards in Yala National Park.


The south coast of Sri Lanka, near Tangalle, is a stretch of rugged cliffs and lovely sandy bays, adequately protected by a vast reef. This has made the area a haven for marine life, as a result, some truly blissful resorts have sprung up in Tangalle for nature enthusiasts. While the clear waters are perfect for surfing and diving, wildlife lovers will be able to share this place with a variety of turtles, which have made Tangalle their nesting site.

During the hatching season, large numbers of Green, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and Hawksbill turtles arrive here to breed and lay their eggs. The south coast as it at its peak from November to March for whale watching as well, as this is the time the seas are rough and both blue and sperm whales migrate out at Mirissa, Galle, and off the Kalpitiya peninsula in large numbers to feed and breed.

Grey Slender Loris

The private nature reserve of Vil Uyana comprises mainly wetlands and scrub forest, a habitat that is ideal for loris spotting. Located in the so-called Cultural Triangle, where three former Sinhalese capitals of Kandy, Polonnaruwa, and Anuradhapura meet, Vil Uyana is the only place on the sub-continent where these adorable nocturnal primates can be observed in their natural habitat.

An hour’s walk through the scrub jungle, in the company of a resident naturalist, takes guests past streams and bamboo bridges to the natural habitat of the Grey Slender Loris. Headlamps emitting red light are used so as to not cause any disturbance to the primates. Visitors may also be rewarded with views of other nocturnal creatures like the scope owl, palm covers, Indian nightjar, and fishing cats among others.


The Knuckles range of Sri Lanka has got its name from the distinctive rock formation which resembles the knuckles of a clenched first. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site way back in 2010 because of its biodiversity, the valleys, forests, and peaks of this incredible place is home to 120 species of birds and 50 species of mammals and reptiles.

The city of Kandy is a convenient entry point to Knuckles, from where a picturesque journey of one and a half hours will bring you to this pristine birding spot. Some of the endemic bird species one can hope to find are rare Sri Lanka whistling thrush, the Sri Lanka green pigeon, and the dull-blue flycatcher.

Sloth bear

Lanky in build and with a black shaggy coat the sloth bear is a lot different than its cousins the brown and the black bear and is an extremely difficult animal to spot. Sloth bears are found in almost every park in Sri Lanka, but the place to find them is in the Wilpattu National Park, where they come in numbers to feed on the many fruit trees.

Sloth bears may look clumsy, but they are extremely quick on their feet and are excellent tree climbers. Time your visit to Wilpattu during the months of June and July when the trees are in full bloom and bears come out to feed.

Blue whales

A rare delight for wildlife enthusiasts, the Blue whale is considered to be the king of the seas and the largest animal on the planet. These beautiful mammals are seen best only in the waters of Sri Lanka and nowhere else in the world. The sheer size of these magnificent creatures is a joy to behold, especially if you plan a trip during their migration period.

The northeast coast of Trincomalee is the best spot to watch blue whales between the months of June to October when whale watching is at its peak, and again from November to April in the southern coastal waters of Mirissa.


While the sambar deer are found all over Asia, the Sri Lankan subspecies are among the largest to be found anywhere else. They are recognized easily from their distinctive brown shaggy coat and particularly large antlers on the males. Sambar deer are the eternal favorite prey for the tiger, but thankfully there are none in Sri Lanka and these beautiful animals live here in relative peace.

The best places to see sambar deer are in Yala National Park and the Horton’s Plains mostly all year round, but particularly in large herds during the dry summer months when they move from one place to another in search of water.


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Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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