LOVER’S JUNGLE PARADISE
De Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). Lover’s Jungle Paradise. LMD. April 2004. Page 168. Volume 10, Issue 09.
A visit to Yala National Park with a British writer from ‘Wedding Day’ magazine.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne takes time to observe the smaller mammals of Yala
Accompanying a writer from Wedding Day magazine into Yala National Park was an unusual assignment for me. Not because my usual advice on weddings is, don’t. But my team is more accustomed to me turning up with travel writers and wildlife journalists. Honeymoons in Yala was an angle which had not crossed my mind until Lalin de Mel mentioned to me that Catharine Ann Howes and her husband Raymond were visiting Yala. The more I thought about it, the more I realised here was an angle which we had overlooked. Yala is a perfect place for a honeymoon couple to ride out the stresses of having dealt with a wedding in the preceding weeks. Not only is there access to a beach, it is indeed un-spoilt, as tourism brochures are fond of saying. There are no beach touts, although occasionally a wild elephant may visit the beach, and give a little scare. Sun, jungle fringed beach and no in-laws, what could be better for a honeymoon than Yala. Plus, there was the significant advantage of indulging in a game drive or two, when one got tired of lounging by the pool or soaking up the sun on the beach.
Raymond, Catherine and I got off well and we chatted with a relaxed air as Amarasiri nursed his jeep along the main road of Ruhuna National Park . My brief to the tracker and Amarasiri was simple. Let’s enjoy the park, there was no need to go in pursuit of Leopard. Wedding Magazine journalists were an easier bunch to handle than wildlife writers who would want an encounter with the top cat.
Just beyond the entry gate was Pattiwala where a few Wild Pig were seen. We had not gone far when the tracker pointed out a Giant Squirrel or Grizzled Squirrel atop a Palu Tree. There are three races of this squirrel and the one in the dry lowlands is tawny in colour. It is significantly larger than the much commoner Palm Squirrel which is found in home gardens as well as in scrub forest such as at Yala. Spotted Deer, the preferred food of the Leopard, was abundant. It was not hard to see why such a high density of Leopards are found in Yala. At Uraniya Wewa, across the Wewa, we came across the largest deer on the island, the Sambar. Sightings of Sambar in Yala are infrequent and rarely are they seen in more than a group of a few individuals. Yala also has the Chevrotain or Mouse Deer, which is an extremely rare animal. Four species of Mongoose have been recorded in Yala of which the Brown and Grey Mongoose are very rare. I have seen the Grey only a few times and never have had a conclusive sighting of a Brown Mongoose. The commonest is the Ruddy Mongoose or should it be called the Rude Mongoose. The tip of its tail is turned upwards as if it was making a rude gesture at you, as it walks away. The dark tip to the tail and its upward pointing habit, make it easy to tell the Ruddy apart from the others. We had a few sightings of the Ruddy Mongoose and were also lucky to chance upon a solitary Stripe-necked or Badger Mongoose, near Kohombagaswala. The Stripe-necked is the largest of the four mongoose species and perhaps the most handsomely marked as well. Quite often they are seen in pairs, pre-occupied with foraging for worms and invertebrates which have sought shelter underground.
A troop of Hanuman Langurs were resting in the shade near the Buttuwa Wewa turn off. They got up and walked away at a dignified pace. Their tails arched over sinuously. Their faces were a deep black contrasting with the light grey of their coat It is hard to observe primates without being struck by how human-like their behaviour can be. Another primate, the Toque Monkey is also found in the park. It is an endemic to Sri Lanka and occurs in three races with subtle differences. To see a Toque Monkey in Yala, the best bet is to go to the Menik Ganga (River) where you are allowed to alight from the vehicle. The monkeys have got used to people and welcome them as a source of food. On this visit we did not have the time. But we were doing very well in terms of small mammals. A few Indian Hares were added to the list. Although they are mostly nocturnal in habit, a few are often seen feeding during the day. One of their predators was on the prowl. A pair of Jackal trotted by, pausing to sniff now and then. We could not be sure whether they were picking up the scent of their prey animals or were sniffing at the territorial markings made by another pair of family of Jackals.
A couple of hours had elapsed and we had had an excellent round up of mammals. We had missed the two stars, the Sloth Bear and the Leopard. But expecting one or both on the first game drive was expecting too much. On our return we cut back through Aluth Para. A family of Elephants crossed the road and turned towards us defensively, forming a shield, with two young buttressed between them. Suddenly a crash echoed from the undergrowth and a Tusker emerged from the other side. He padded towards us, ears flapping violently and with his footsteps deliberately heavy. The family and the tusker greeted each other with rumblings and a short scream. The tusker turned and looked at us balefully. The adults tossed sand and stamped the ground warning us to keep our distance. We slowly drove away to avoid disturbing the family.
In the night, a Small Indian Civet visited the Game Lodge. A movement in the grounds caught my eye, as we dined besides the swimming pool, under the stars. A Common Indian Palm Civet had begun its nightly prowl. Other nocturnal mammals would also be out now, Porcupines, Small Civets and Pangolins and a host of shrews and jungle mice.
The writer is the CEO of a wildlife & luxury travel company who has written and photographed several publications on wildlife. With weekly appearances in the media, he is one of the most visible wildlife & tourism personalities. To subscribe to his free, wildlife e-newsletter, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe wildlife news” in the message header.