The exotic and diverse wildlife of Sri Lanka draws in nature lovers and explorers every year. Several rare species of animals and birds can be found in Sri Lanka, many of which are endemic to the island. From tropical jungles to grassy plains to marshy swamplands, the multitude of habitats makes Sri Lanka ideal for wilderness exploration.
There are 15 national parks in Sri Lanka which are maintained by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. These parks are not highly commercialized and allow the inhabitants to roam freely in their natural environment. Accordingly, visitors are reminded to be careful and consider that the territory belongs to the natural life.
Here is the list of national parks in Sri Lanka:
Bundala National Park was the first wetland in Sri Lanka to be declared a Ramsar site due to its importance in supporting migrating aquatic birds. Nearly 200 different species of birds can be seen in Bundala, such as the massive flocks of Greater Flamingo, which create a breathtaking spectacle.
As the name implies, this park contains several floodplains that gather rainwater and sustain the local ecosystem. The landscape ranges from marshes to grasslands to swamp forests and are home to numerous species of plant life. This, in addition to the abundance of water, attracts birds and herbivores, making the park an important part of Sri Lanka's natural bounty.
Covering approximately 26000 hectares, the park has regions of varying elevation, ranging from 30m to 900m. This gives it both grassy plains and mountainous grasslands, creating a rich habitat for animal and bird life. Between March and July is the best time to visit, as visitors have a chance to see wild elephants crossing between the islands in the reservoir.
Kadulla national park near Polonnaruwa is centered on an ancient irrigation tank built by King Mahasen. It underwent reconstruction in 1959 after having been abandoned for a long period of time, and the lush vegetation is now host to a variety of natural life.
Formerly known as Yala East National Park, Kumana Bird Sanctuary is sure to enthrall bird watchers. A short distance south from Arugam Bay, Kumana Bird Sanctuary has a 200 hectare swamp lake that sees flocks of migrating birds in May and June. In addition to the thriving bird population, Kumana is also home to the animals that come from the adjoining Yala national park.
Despite being one of the smallest national parks in Sri Lanka, Lahugala Kitulana national park is a key nesting ground for the Sri Lankan elephant as well as several endemic bird populations. The park is home to an impressively diverse selection of wildlife supported by the Lahugala reservoir.
Lunugamvehera is a natural park that serves as a passageway for elephants migrating between Udawalawe and Yala. Being in the dry zone, it has a largely arid landscape of dry forest with scrublands and grasslands. Elephants, boar and deer can be seen roaming the land as crocodiles lurk underwater. The park is also home to around 180 bird species, such as the Grey Heron and the Sea Eagle.
The Maduru Oya national park is relatively new and was established to protect the ecosystems harbored by five reservoirs within its boundaries. As Maduru Oya lies in the dry zone, the landscape typically consists of dry forest, although previous cultivation on these lands has left vast stretches of plains. The park is home to a rich selection of mammals, a number of which are endemic, and aquatic birds.
Located in the north central province of Sri Lanka, this enclosure was declared around the ancient Minnerya reservoir, which was built in the third century AD. This reservoir, fed mainly by the Amban River and Elahera canal, supports the local ecosystem and is a feeding ground for herds of elephants during the dry season in August and September. The vegetation here varies from forests to grasslands to marshes, and this diversity allows Minnerya to support several exotic species of mammals.
This park hosts a unique habitat of floodplains and villus, and is irrigated by the Mahaweli River, making the land fertile. Home to many larger species such as water buffalo and elephants, the area is slowly recovering from heavy natural exploitation carried out in the past.
This park covers over 30,000 hectares of land and is a key habitat for Sri Lanka's elephant population. As it lies in between the wet and dry zones of the island, the habitat includes grasslands, forests and marshes. Udawalawe is considered a great site for bird watching due to the numerous species of water birds that inhabit the area.
Wasgamuwa national park is situated in the north central province and bordered on all sides by rivers. Although the mammal population is not as diverse as other parks in Sri Lanka, Wasgamuwa hosts a high number of residential and migrant bird species.
Close to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Wilpattu is one of the largest and oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. Its special characteristic is the number of natural rainwater lakes, which harbor several mammals, reptiles and birds. The park's old age and its proximity to several cultural sites gives it connections to several tales of legend.
Of all the national parks in Sri Lanka, Yala is the most famous. The park is divided into sections that spread out over two provinces of the island. Since it lies in the country's dry zone, the climate is mostly arid, and animals can be seen gathering around water. Many visitors come hoping to catch a glimpse of the wild leopards, peacocks and elephants that inhabit the park.