When thinking of a wildlife destination, an African safari is most likely the first image that springs to mind. World-renowned parks and reserves such as the Serengeti in Tanzania or Kruger National Park in South Africa boast the famous ‘Big Five’ amongst many other iconic animals. However, with its own host of big game mammals and epic marine life, it’s clear Sri Lanka is the next big wildlife destination. Here we take a look at the reasons why.
It offers the best big game safaris outside of Africa
If you’re looking to do a wildlife safari, then Sri Lanka should be on your radar. Yala National Park is home to the highest concentration of leopards in the world, making Sri Lanka one of the best places in the world to see these elusive big cats.
Considered the most celebrated of Sri Lanka’s wildlife, elephants can also be found in herds of up to 100 or more in Udawalawe National Park. But whilst this is one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants, ‘The Gathering’ takes place in Minneriya National Park. This annual spectacle sees over 300 elephants come to the park’s reservoir in a unique natural phenomenon only witnessed in Minneriya.
The final member of Sri Lanka’s ‘Big Three’ land mammals is the sloth bear. In May and June these shaggy-coated creatures take to the trees to feast on their sweet fruits. And alongside these, you can also spot Sambar deer, mongoose, toque macaques, owls, lorises and much more.
Its got incredible biodiversity
Alongside Sri Lanka’s larger and more well-known species, Sri Lanka is also home to an astonishing 350 species of reptiles and amphibians. These include tree frogs, lizards and crocodiles, with Buttuwa Wewa in Yala National Park seasonally containing the world’s highest concentration of Mugger Crocodiles, which are also the second largest reptiles on Earth.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s beaches are visited by five of the seven species of marine turtle, including the gigantic Leatherback which can measure over 1.5 metres in length. And when it comes to bird watching, there’s close to 500 different species to look out for.
Thanks to Sri Lanka’s geological history, which has seen the island separate from mainland India, it also contains a vast number of endemic plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. 33 of its bird species are endemic and in the UNESCO-listed Sinharaja Forest Reserve, 60% of the tree species can only be found in Sri Lanka.
It’s one of the world’s top whale watching destinations
Of the 10 different whale species found off the coast of Sri Lanka, there are two in particular which draw whale watchers and film crews to the Teardrop Isle – the largest animal ever found on Earth, the blue whale, and the biggest toothed predator in the world, the sperm whale.
Sri Lanka not only offers the best chances of spotting blue whales and sperm whales in the same sailing trip but also the best chance of encountering a super-pod of sperm whales. An incredible wildlife spectacle, a super-pod contains hundreds of these ocean giants all swimming and playing together.
If you’re looking to go whale watching, head to Trincomalee in the northeast or Mirissa in the south of Sri Lanka. Encounter rates during the whale watching season are as high as 90% and, alongside the whales, you’ll be sure to spot several pods of dolphins.
Its wildlife is so accessible
For a country of a relatively small size, covering less than 65,610 square kilometres, Sri Lanka boasts a high number of protected areas. The country has a total of 26 national parks in comparison to just 15 in the United Kingdom, which is nearly four times its size.
Additionally, few other countries offer such good viewing opportunities for both land and marine wildlife – and certainly not in as small an area. Whereas in other countries you may have to travel long distances between parks or to reach the coast, Sri Lanka is relatively compact.
Whereas one day you might be catching a glimpse of a blue whale, the next you may be spotting elephant herds or leopards. Sri Lanka offers the opportunity to see a wide array of some of the world’s greatest wildlife all within an affordable one or two-week long itinerary.
If you’re looking for your next wildlife holiday, take a look at our Sri Lanka group tours. We visit Udawalawe, Minneriya and Yala National Park as well as Mirissa and Trincomalee.