Yala National Park (also known as Ruhunu National Park) is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Actually it consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public; and also adjoining parks. It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and is located about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo.
Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds.
The western part of Yala (block one) is named as the area with the highest leopard concentration in the world. Do realize that with only 35 leopards in the entire park the chances of actually seeing a single leopard are still relatively slim.
Wildlife at Yala National Park
Of all the National Parks in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park gives the best opportunity to witness Sri Lanka’s broad variety of wildlife: colorful painted stork in troops are seen perched at the shores of lagoon where the crocodiles too have chosen to doze off; lovely fantailed peacocks in their resplendent blues and greens parade about amidst the woods where monkeys hang, leap and chatter; in the bush jungle are the Elephants; crossing the tracks and wandering off into the thorny scrub jungle is the star attraction of the park: the leopard.
A total of 32 species of mammals have been recorded. The threatened species include sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), elephant (Elephas maximus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), Wild boar (Sus scrofa), spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonessis), sambar (Cervus unicolor) and golden jackal (Canis aureus).
Leopards at Yala National Park
Sri Lankan leopards (Panthera Pardus Kotiya) are said to be a distinct sub-species from their Indian neighbors. Leopards can be seen throughout the park, though best period for enjoying the sights of leopards is during January to July.
Yala National Park’s Block 1, on the western side of the park, the only one of all five blocks open to the visitors, has recorded the highest density of leopards among the leopard populations scattered in the wildlife parks of Sri Lanka. These magnificent beasts have now much habituated to the encroachment of their domains by the humans in jeeps. Young males don’t betray any sign of disturbance; they seem confident roaming over the gravel roads tracks as well as the bush jungle during the day: the visitors enjoy to no ends, fine photographic opportunities to capture the magnificent beasts well focused at the close range.
Elephants at Yala National Park
Nearby Lunugamvehera National Park serves as a corridor between Yala and Uda Walwe National Park. Yala is home to considerable population of elephants which varies seasonally. Dry season of May to August is the best period to see elephants.
Birdlife at Yala National Park
Yala National Park is rich in birdlife and around 130 species have been recorded.Raptors include crested serpent eagle and white bellied sea eagle. Among the water birds attracted to the lagoons are Lesser Flamingo, Pelicon, Spoonbill, painted stork, rare black necked Stork, grey heron, purple heron, night heron and Darter.
During the north-east monsoon the lagoons are visited by thousands of migrating waterfowl, including Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and turn stone, which mix with the residents such as whistling duck, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Red Wattled Lapwig and Great Stone Plover.The forest is home to Orange Breasted Green Pigeon, Hornbills, Flycatchers, including Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Barbets and Orioles.
Reptiles at Yala National Park
Notable reptiles are Mugger Crocodile, which is abundant in the abandoned tanks, Estuarine Crocodile, found in the main rivers, and Common monitor. Other reptiles include Cobra and Russel’s Viper. A variety of Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley and Leatherback, of which Yala coast line is a major nesting ground.