A Guide to the Wildlife of Sri Lanka

Leopard - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Despite being small in size and defying the general trend that islands don’t have many animals, Sri Lanka packs a powerful punch when it comes to wildlife. It is one of the top five hotspots for biodiversity in the world and also boasts one of the highest rates of biological endemism. With this in mind, it is simply unfathomable to go to Sri Lanka and not make the most of the range of exotic creatures that dwell within the country’s stunning national parks. Here is our guide on when and where to spot some Sri Lanka’s most exciting animals.

Elephants at Udawalawe

Elephant

The Asian elephant is the number one animal that people on holiday in Sri Lanka hope to spot. While there are a number of elephant orphanages that allow you to get up close and personal with the animals by riding and feeding them, seeing elephants in the wild is a much better experience and one that you can do without worrying whether they are being mistreated or not. The best places to see elephants are the Udawalawe and Minneriya national parks. For something extra special, head to Minneriya during September and October to witness ‘The Gathering’ as hundreds of elephants congregate on the shores of the lake in what is one of the most breathtaking wildlife spectacles on the planet.

Leopard in Yala National Park - Sri Lanka Tours - On The Go Tours

Leopard

Perhaps the most elusive cat in the world, the leopard reigns supreme on the little island of Sri Lanka. With no lions or tigers to threaten its position, leopards in Sri Lanka are more casual than they are elsewhere in the world and can often be seen lounging around in the treetops. If leopards are what you are after then head to Yala National park, allegedly the area with the highest leopard density in the world.

Leatherback turtle - Wildlife in Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Turtle

There are five different types of turtle in Sri Lanka: Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Green. Of these, the Green turtle is most commonly found while the leatherbacks are among the rarest. The sea turtles have come up against many obstacles that have challenged their very existence but are thriving nonetheless with the help of a number of conservation projects. To see some of these majestic creatures in the flesh, make your way to Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project or Turtle Watch Rekawa.

Sloth bear - Wildlife of Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Sloth Bear

The adorable-looking sloth bear is hard to spot but well worth the effort if you manage to catch sight of one. Lankier in build and somewhat shaggier in coat than its relatives (brown and black bears), these creatures might seem clumsy and oafish but they are excellent climbers and gentle with their cubs. They breed throughout the year in Sri Lanka and can often be sighted among the fruit trees of Yala National Park in June and July, when the trees are in full bloom. There is also a large population of them in the Wilpattu National Park.

Sambar deer - Wildlife of Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Sambar

The sambar is a type of deer found in various countries across Asia and can be recognised by its particularly shaggy coat and long, rugged antlers. The Sri Lankan subspecies of the sambar is among the largest in the world and can often be found roaming through the Horton Plains as well as the Yala National Park. Sambars usually shed their antlers every year and in many countries these antlers are then transformed into a variety of objects, including knife handles.

Red Slender Loris - Wildlife in Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Red Slender Loris

It is hard not to fall in love with the big eyes and tiny hands of the heart-wrenchingly cute red slender loris but you’ll have to find one first. This little primate is on the brink of extinction, making it ever harder to spot in the wild, especially given the fact that it is nocturnal. If you are hoping to see one of these enchanting animals then your best bet is to head to Yala National Park on a night safari and to keep your eyes well and truly peeled.

Blue whale - Wildlife in Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Blue Whale

The king of the ocean and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale is a rare delight for wildlife enthusiasts and nowhere in the world are they more reliably spotted than in Sri Lanka. Nothing is quite like the shock of seeing the sheer size of these magnificent beasts in the flesh so be sure to plan your trip around whale watching season. Between the months of June and October, blue whales can be seen off the coast of Trincomalee, in the north of Sri Lanka and on the south coast in Mirissa they are usually found in the waters between November and April.

Ceylon Hanging Parrot - Wildlife in Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

Birds

Looking towards the sky, travellers will be delighted by the number of endemic birds that can be found in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has its very own, unique species of magpies, owls, hornbills, pigeons and parrots and plenty of places to spot them all. All of the national parks in the country will have a selection of birds on offer but those considered to be the best for bird-watching are Sinharaja, Bundala, Yala and Udawalawe national parks and the Horton Plains.

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