Located in the heart of Sri Lanka’s wet zone in the southwest is the last remaining major virgin rainforest of the island, Sinharaja (the Lion King), designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Biosphere Reserve and a National Park. It is a biodiversity hotspot and a sanctuary for endemic species from flora to fauna. Its dense vegetation covering 10,000 hectares is often shrouded by rainclouds, and plays a significant role in the island’s ecosystem. The only way to venture into this emerald paradise is by foot and with a guide. The evergreen forest is covered in lofty trees, thick canopies and some incredibly stunning wildlife. Sinharaja has a high level of endemism, and most plants, animals and trees found in the forest are endemic, making it an intriguing wildlife research spot.
Sinharaja is bordered by the Koskulana River in the north and the Gin Ganga River in the south. It is also surrounded by 22 villages, where locals are permitted to use forest land to sustain their living. They use the medicinal plants in the forest to make traditional medicine, palm trees to tap for jaggery and treacle, and bamboo and rattan to make baskets. The elevation of the reserve ranges from 200m to 1300m and an old foot track which runs past the Beverley Estate, marks the Eastern border. Visitors are sure to be thrilled by the sights and sounds of many species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies that thrive in this precious reserve.
The apex predator of Sinharaja is the leopard and is the most elusive of the mammals in the forest. The rare Rusty Spotted cat and the Fishing cat can be seen here too. Common birds spotted are Layard’s parakeet, the Jungle fowl, the Spur fowl, the Ceylon wood pigeon, the Brown Capped Babbler and the Ceylon Blue magpie. The Purple-faced langurs are a common sight and they usually hang about in groups. Sambar, Barking deer and wild boar can be found on the forest floor and running along trees and branches are the Flame-striped Jungle squirrel, the Dusky-striped Jungle squirrel and the Western Giant squirrel. Porcupines and pangolins dart to and from the bushes and the occasional mongoose may also make a daytime appearance. Six species of bats are recorded in the forest along with 282 bird species. Among the reptiles and amphibians are the venomous Green Pit Viper, Hump-nosed Viper, the Krait, Greater Hourglass Tree Frog and the Wrinkled Frog. The wealth of wildlife in Sinharaja is vast and stunning and a visit to the wetlands of the island is not complete without trekking through this amazing rainforest.
On the boundaries of Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka lies one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka for spotting the magnificent Asian elephant.
Udawalawe National Park is the island’s third most visited National Park, spanning over 30,000 hectares of dry and wet zone land. Udawalawe was created as a sanctuary for displaced animals during the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir. It has become an important habitat for water birds and the Asian elephants.
There is an elephant population close to 350 in the area, and you can see them all-year round. The elephants are attracted to the park mainly due to the Udawalwe Reservoir, which provides them with plenty of water to feed, frolic and bathe.
The Udawalwe Elephant Transit Home functions as a safe haven for the abandoned elephant calves. The Transit Home looks after them until they are old enough to fend for themselves once released into the wild. Although elephants are the main attraction in the park, other wildlife too occupies its grounds.
The leopard, Fishing cat and the Rusty-spotted cat are the big cats of Udawalawe. The sloth bear, the Samba deer, Axis deer, Indian muntjac, Sri Lankan chevrotain, water buffalo, Mugger crocodiles, macaques and langurs are some of the other inhabitants you can look forward to seeing. The only way to explore the park is by jeep, and guided safaris in Udawalawe are a truly unique experience. If you are an avid birder, then you are in for a treat here, as it is a thriving breeding ground for 180 species of birds.
Five types of eagles namely, white-bellied sea eagle, crested serpent-eagle, grey-headed fish eagle, booted eagle, and changeable hawk-eagle are found here, among pelicans, kingfishers, painted storks, hornbills, spoonbills, and the Eurasian openbill. Endemic birds such as the Sri Lanka spurfowl, red-faced malkoha, Sri Lanka Grey hornbill, Brown-capped babbler, and Sri Lanka junglefowl too are abound the reserve.
The lack of dense vegetation and open grasslands make it easier for spotting wildlife in Udawalwe and the reservoir is a convenient place to watch herds of elephants bathing. The Walawe River and its tributaries surround the reservoir area, while forests and marshes make up the rest of the landscape.