• William Gray

Wildlife Highlights of Sri Lanka

Updated: Mar 2


Leopard, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

From blue whales to big cats, Sri Lanka's wildlife may surprise you...


Better known for cultural highlights like Sigiriya rock fortress and the cave temples of Dambulla, Sri Lanka has also developed a following among wildlife enthusiasts. A birdwatcher’s paradise and one of the best places in the world to see leopards and large herds of Asiatic elephant, the island has more recently become a whale-watching hotspot thanks to the relatively recent discovery of a large migratory population of blue whales off the southern coast. Present between the months of December and April, the whales are attracted to deep-water feeding grounds off Dondra Point. Responsible whale watching trips can be arranged with Eco Team Sri Lanka.


Several stretches of Sri Lankan coast are nesting sites for sea turtles. The most common species, the olive ridley, comes ashore between September and November; leatherbacks nest from April to June, while peak season for green turtles is January to March. One of the best spots for turtle watching is Bundala on the south coast where a wetland reserve also attracts a wide range of birds, including greater flamingo and painted stork.

Nearby Yala National Park is famed for its high densities of leopard. Early morning and late afternoon game drives provide the best chances of spotting the big cats, along with elephant, chital, sambar, sloth bear and wild boar. West of Yala, Udawalawe National Park has some good-sized herds of elephant. However, Sri Lanka’s ultimate jumbo offering can be found further north at Minneriya National Park where, from June to September, an extraordinary ‘gathering of the herds’ takes place. Over 300 elephant can sometimes be seen around the receding shores of the Minneriya Tank.


For some of Sri Lanka’s smaller specialities, head for the Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve – the island’s last remaining tract of primary lowland rainforest. Guided walks here are sometimes rewarded with sightings of the rare blue-faced leaf monkey, rufous-bellied eagle and Sri Lanka hanging parrot. Sinharaja also has a wonderful variety of butterflies, including blue morphos and bird-wings. Walking conditions are best during the largely leech-free dry season between January and March.

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Wildlife Wishlist was founded by zoologist, conservationist and award-winning travel writer and photographer William Gray. Sharing his passion for wildlife and recommendations for responsible travel, Will has spent around 30 years tracking down the world's best wildlife holiday experiences.

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