Cox & Kings

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The wildlife of… Sri Lanka

| 16 Jan 2020

Keen to see elephants, leopards and more? Find out why Sri Lanka may just be the destination you have been looking for.

A land of lush landscapes and spectacular scenery, Sri Lanka is home to a wealth of wildlife. Indeed, its biodiversity ranks among the most impressive on the planet, offering travellers the chance to encounter a host of incredible creatures, from endemic birds to herds of elephants. Here are some of the most exciting species you can see here, as well as the various wildlife reserves and hotspots where you can encounter them.

Sri Lankan elephants 

The chance to see elephants up close is a major draw of any visit to Sri Lanka. In fact, the country has its own subspecies of elephant called, logically, the Sri Lankan elephant. Of all the Asian elephant species, the nation’s variant is the largest and also the darkest. It typically groups into herds of approximately 12 to 20 animals, which are led by the oldest female. These vast creatures can weigh between 4,400 and 12,000 pounds and are, sadly, endangered. Sri Lanka has responded to their endangered status by protecting them by law.

Visit the Elephant Transit Centre in Uda Walawe National Park which,  supported by the Born Free Foundation, provides a home for orphaned and sick elephants until they are ready to be released back into the wild. Should you be keen to see elephants lumbering about in the wild, pay a visit to Minneriya Sanctuary, close to the ruins of Polonnaruwa. Gatherings of elephants come to drink from the lake here between August and October.

Elephants, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka


Another incredibly exciting creature to encounter in Sri Lanka is the leopard. These beautiful big cats are notorious for their speed and their skill at hunting prey, and are also expert tree climbers. In fact, they will often hunt from the trees (where their spots help to camouflage them in the leaves) or haul their kill up into the branches to keep other hungry predators from snatching any of their meal.

If you want to see a leopard in the wild, Yala National Park offers you an excellent chance of doing so. In fact, this reserve is believed to have the highest density of leopards in the world – though that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily spot them without any effort. These cunning creatures are skilled at passing unnoticed – something that makes them particularly deadly to their prey – which means you need to pay close attention to glimpse one.

Leopards rank among Sri Lanka's most exciting wildlife


Land is not the only place where you can see amazing wildlife in Sri Lanka. Indeed, cast your eyes to the sky or the treetops and you will be greeted by the country’s dazzling array of birdlife. What perhaps makes it even more special is that so many of these creatures are endemic – the country boasts 20 endemic bird species, and more than 200 species that call the country home year-round. The number you can spot jumps to over 400 when counting migratory birds, too.

Among the endemic species you will have the chance to see is the Sri Lankan blue magpie, which can often be seen in small groups. Largely blue-purple in colour, it has a chestnut-hued head, neck and upper breast, while its graduated tail has white tips. This carnivorous bird is usually 40 to 47 cm long, and typically feeds on large insects, small lizards and tree frogs.

One of the places you can see it is Bundala National Park on the southern coast. Often overshadowed by the popular Yala National Park, Bundala is quieter and criss-crossed with waterways, attracting vast numbers of birds.

Sri Lankan blue magpie


Few creatures are as majestic as the whale so, naturally, catching sight of one of these creatures is a real highlight of any wildlife adventure in Sri Lanka. Blue and sperm whales are the two species you are most likely to spot, with the vast blue whale being a particularly exciting prospect.

Weighing a staggering 200 tons, the blue whale is the largest animal on the planet, and has to eat four tons of food each day. Such is the scale of this endangered species that it really is hard to comprehend just how big they are without catching a glimpse of one as it moves through the water. The best place for whale watching in Sri Lanka is Dondra Head in Mirissa, which is also an excellent place to see dolphins.

Humpback whales, Sri Lanka


All Cox & Kings’ group tours to Sri Lanka include wildlife safaris and tracking excursions, as do many of our private tours. Alternatively, if you are interested in tailor-made travel, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.

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