Sri Lankan National Parks
Yala National ParkYala National Park is situated in the southeast region of the island in the dry zone bordering the Indian Ocean. Park area belongs to two provinces namely South and Uva Provinces.
Yala West (Ruhuna) is well recognised as one of the best parks in the world to observe and photograph leopards. The park covers an area of over 100,000 hectares and is divided into five blocks. Block one is the most visited area since it contains the highest density of leopards. But only Block I and Block II are open for visitors.
However the other areas of Yala such as Yala East had been closed to visitors for some years and it will take time to research density of leopards in these areas. Yala West consists of scrub jungle, brackish lagoons and stunning rock monoliths scattered throughout the park, its eastern edge is bounded by the South East coast. The park was initially established in 1938 only with block I and other blocks were included later. Rainfall is seasonal. Main source of rainfall is Northeast monsoons (December - February) and inter monsoonal rains during March-April. Mean Annual Rainfall: 900 - 1300 mm. Area is experiencing drought during June -October. Mean annual Temperature 27o C. Daily temperature above 30oC is not uncommon. Vegetation is mainly consists of Secondary lowland dry monsoon forest & semi arid thorny scrublands. Small patches of riverine forest, mangroves, sand dunes and dry grasslands also presented.
Forest area is dominated by Palu (Manilkara hexandra), Weera (Drypetes sepiaria), Malitthan (Salvadora persica), Ehala (Cassia fistula), Divul (Limonia acidissima) and Kohomba (Azadirachta indica). Thorny scrubland is dominated by Eraminia (Ziziphus.sp) and Andara (Dichrostachys cinerea). Sonneratia, Acanthus, Rhizopora and Lumnitzera species dominate the mangrove vegetation.
There is also a substantial elephant population along with spotted deer, sambar, wild buffalo, sloth bear, jackal, mongoose, pangolins and crocodiles. The bird life comprises over 120 species, and ranges from lesser flamingos to Paradise Flycatchers, Crested Hawk Eagles, and Black Bitterns. Outside of the park are several other fascinating birding locations, including the ancient hermitage of Sithulpahuwa, Debarawewa wetland and Palatupana saltpans. The coastline forms a major nesting ground for marine turtles
All the big game mammals of the country are found within the park. Elephant, Leopard, sloth bear, Spotted Dear, Wild Boar and sambhur. Apart from them small mammals such as Black naped hare, Grey, Ruddy & Striped necked mongoose, Grey Langur & porcupine are common small mammals.
How to get there
You can reach yala from South coast via Tangalla and Hambantota or via Udawalawe from Ratnapura, Haputale or via Bandarawela, Tanamalwila from Nuwaraeliya.
It is possible to take full day jeep safaris or to split your day into morning and afternoon drives. Your best chance to see a leopard is generally early in the morning and then again at dusk. You can stay until just after dark inside the park, thus maximising your chances of a leopard encounter.
The male leopards in Yala are very confident and are often seen walking the tracks during the day. Young males in particular seem to have no fear of the jeep, which can lead to some excellent photographic opportunities. There are similarities between Yala and the best National Parks in India for photographing tigers, in both cases the big cats have become habitualised to the jeeps thus enabling us to enjoy a privileged view of these magnificent animals. Yala is close to Udawalawe national park.