Wildlife in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is the best place in Asia to see wild Elephants and Leopards. The presence of the largest terrestrial animal and a top level carnivore such as the Leopard is highly unusual for a relatively small island of 65,000 square kilometers. It has other “Big Game’ safari animals such as Sloth Bear, Jackal, Water Buffalo etc.

The Gathering

The Gathering of Elephants in Minneriya National Park from July to early October (with peak numbers in August and September) is the highest concentration of Asian Elephants in the world. 300 may be gathered in a one kilometer quadrat, with total numbers on the Minneriya lake bed exceeding four hundred and fifty.

Leopard’s Island

Yala National Park in Sri Lanka may have one of the highest densities of leopards in the world with a study showing an average of one leopard per square kilometer. Being the top terrestrial predator, cubs and sub-adults are relaxed during the day and have become accustomed to visitors. Yala is one of the best sites for photographing leopards and other Asian wildlife of fry lowlands.

Sinharaja Bird Wave

The Sinharaja Bird Waves in the lowland rainforests of Sri Lanka are the largest mixed species feeding flocks of birds in the world. They are also the subject of one of the longest such studies, with over two decades of field work. The Sinharaja Bird Waves average 41 individual birds and 12 species (although 21 species of birds participate in the waves).

Monkey Business

Sri Lanka is also very good for watching primates, a class of mammals with universal appeal. The Toque Monkey, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and the nocturnal Red Loris are found only in Sri Lanka. The montane race of the Red Loris may well turn out to be a new species. The pronounced climatic zones has resulted in three sub-species (or geographical races) of the Toque Monkey and four races of the Leaf Monkey. Ancient cities such as Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa are good places to watch primates in the wild.

Biodiversity Hyper Hot Spot

The islands’ isolation from the mainland, two diagonally blowing monsoons shedding water into a mountainous core, has created a variation in climate which is normally found only across a continent. The wet lowlands rainforests and the cloud forests in the highlands teem with an endemic bio-diversity found nowhere else in the world. Sri Lanka (together with the Western Ghats) is amongst the eight bio-diversity hyper hot spots in the world.
In terms of species per square kilometer, Sri Lanka ranks amongst the top fifteen in the world for many groups including flowering plants, birds, mammals, amphibians and snakes. There are few islands in the world which have both this high rate of species diversity, endemism and the presence large mammals such as elephant, leopard and sloth bear and with a very real chance of seeing them. In fact no small island of this size, packs in so much.
Sri Lanka is also very popular with birdwatchers. 33 species are found only in Sri Lanka. Another fifty plus specie are found only in Sri Lanka and India. The mixed species feeding flocks of birds in Sinharaja are the largest in the world, averaging 48 individuals and a dozen species. They are the subject of one of the longest running studies of its kind.


Uda Walawe National Park is the best place in Asia for seeing wild elephants. Yala National Park is your best chance in Asia for seeing Leopard. Yala also has elephants, Sloth Bear, Jackal etc. Serious birdwatchers in search of endemics should visit the lowland rainforests in Sinharaja and Kithulgala and the cloud forests at Horton Plains National Park.
Sri Lanka has 14 species of endemic mammals. Endemism is very high with Dragonflies and Damselflies (almost half), amphibians and (over 90%), freshwater crabs (100%), flowering plants (a quarter), etc.
A typical wildlife tour will range from coastal habitats to scrub jungle with large mammals to bio-diversity rich lowland rainforests and cool cloud forests. A day could start with snorkelling in clear water with an abundance of reef life and end with a drive through beautiful green paddy fields and village gardens culminating with an ascent through rugged mountain ranges to an elegant Tudor property at the foot of a cloud forest.


Sri Lanka has a good network of public roads. but for those pressed for time, the best option is to take an organised tour. Travel between sites is by air conditioned cars. ‘Safari jeeps’ are used in the dry lowland national pars operated by the Department of Wildife Conservation (DWLC). The rainforests under the Forest Department (FD) are accessed by foot. Visitors are allowed to walk in Horton Plains National Park, the only national park where walking is allowed.


Sri Lanka offers a broad range of accommodation from budget to game lodge type hotels like Yala Village to man made wetland reserves with a hotel such as Vil Uyana or international green award winners such as the Kandalama hotel. Hotels by chains such as Aitken Spence, Amaya, Jetwing, John Keels, Serendib Leisure are leading edge in terms of environmental consciousness and work close with academics and environmentalists to minimize their impact and also to be champions in research and conservation.


A&C Black, Bradt Travel Guides, New Holland, Oxford University Press, etc have guides to the birds of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Travel Guides) and Photographic Guides to Mammals, Birds and Reptiles of Sri Lanka by New Holland Publishers can be ordered on the web. Bookshops in Colombo such as ODEL and Lake House Bookshop Hyde Park Corner have books on mammals, butterflies, dragonflies etc. Free downloads of over a dozen books is available on www.jetwingeco.com

www.jetwingeco.com has over a thousand pages of information on Sri Lanka’s fauna and flora.


A tailored Leopard Safari or an expert led Birdwatching Tour will range from GBP 125 plus, per day, per person on a twin share, from a leading specialist company with in-house expertise. A good naturalist guide, will cost around GBP 25 a day. Cheaper package tours are available, but you get what you pay for.
Backpackers, students and anyone on a tight budget will find a range of cheap hostels and home stays and can hire safari rides and guides locally.


Most tour operator can arrange a visit to the national parks. Serious wildlife enthusiasts should contact a specialist operator like Jetwing Eco Holidays (eco@jetwing.lk). Other tour operators are listed in A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka and A Photographic Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka published by New Holland in the UK.

This information is the copyright of Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (gehan@jetwing.lk) and may be used with his permission.