Sri Lanka is home to exotic wildlife of all sorts, from the elusive leopard to majestic whales. Here are some places to go animal-spotting in the country.

 

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Established in the 1970s, this elephant sanctuary is home to a herd of more than 100 elephants, most of whom are orphaned babies or adults lost in the wilderness due to landmines or deforestation works. Elephant orphanages are among the most popular attractions to visit for its great opportunity to get up close with the wildlife in Sri Lanka.

The highlight of any visit to this 15-acre orphanage is the elephants’ daily walks to the nearby river, where they are taken to bath, socialise and play. The sight of a hundred pachyderms walking down a narrow village path with buildings on both sides of the road to the river is one that visitors are likely never to forget. Be sure to choose a spot at one of the river-front cafes and settle in for the next hour to watch the elephants in their natural element. You might even share a giggle or two if you are lucky enough to see a baby elephant hopping and maybe slipping on the river rocks.

pinnawala-elephant-orphanagewww.lanka.com

Yala National Park

You don’t have to travel to Africa for a safari experience. The Yala National Park, located in south-east Sri Lanka, is a lush nature reserve consisting of jungles, grasslands and lagoons. It is home to 44 varieties of mammals, including leopards, elephants, spotted deer, sloth bears, jackals and crocodiles. There are also about 215 bird species, so keep your eyes peeled for these ephemeral beauties before they flutter away.

The reserve may be home to one of the world’s largest concentration of leopards, but this majestic feline is famously elusive, as its distinctive spots render it practically invisible among the shaded jungle leaves. Our advice for glimpsing the leopard in its natural habitat is to keep silent so you don’t scare the animals, and look where your safari guide tells you to look.

yala-national-parkSameeraMJ

 

Whale watching in Mirissa

Unfamiliar to most people, Mirissa in south Sri Lanka is one of the best locations in the world for whale watching. From December to March, many species of whales and dolphins visit this stretch of the Indian Ocean to feed on the plentiful fish in the water.

Unlike most other locations that are visited by just one or two species of whales, there have been reported sightings of up to five types of whales, including the sperm whale, Orcas, pilot whale, Bryde’s whale and the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale. If the timing is right, you may also get to see up to four species of friendly dolphins, such as the spinner dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphin and Risso’s dolphin.

whale-watching-mirissaIndi Samarajiva

 

Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project

kosgoda-sea-turtleDhammika Heenpella

Due to turtle egg poaching and the demand for turtle meat in some parts of Asia (some cultures consider turtle meat a tonic), turtles are one of the most endangered animals on the planet. These marine creatures spend most of their lives in the ocean and the females only come ashore during nesting season. This stretch of beach where the centre is located is one of the few remaining shores in Asia where turtles lay their eggs, which makes the conservation work done here of the utmost importance.

The centre also has a hatchery where rescued turtle eggs are buried so the babies can hatch in safety before they are released into the wild.

The family-run centre is located along the Galle Road, connecting Colombo to seaside towns south of the capital city, so be sure to drop by for an enjoyably educational experience if you are in the neighbourhood.

 

Feature Image: Amila Tennakoon. Images via CC 2.0 License