Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder Pics: on the hunt for wildlife in Sri Lanka

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Lonely Planet Pathfinders Kia and Peter from Atlas & Boots share snaps from their month-long wildlife-spotting trip to Sri Lanka.

For a relatively small nation, Sri Lanka packs in an abundance of wildlife. The teardrop-shaped island has 26 national parks, home to large populations of elephants, leopards, crocodiles and primates. Fierce reptiles and large mammals tend to steal the show, but Sri Lanka is also one of Asia's classic birdwatching destinations. Species include colourful kingfishers, darting bee eaters and, of course, flamboyant Sri Lankan peacocks.

We spent a month in the country searching for and photographing the best of the wildlife in Sri Lanka’s many conservation areas. Here’s what we found.

Elephants in Uda Walawe National Park

For elephant-watching alone, Uda Walawe is arguably better than many of the more famous east African national parks. There are over 250 permanent resident elephants in the park, dozens of whom are easy to spot thanks to the open savannah-esque grassland that defines the park.

Peacocks in Uda Walawe National Park

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We saw scores of these magnificent birds throughout Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to spot one with its lustrous plumage splayed. This action is reserved solely for courting females and we clearly didn’t qualify for such an exhibition! Nonetheless, the birds make for an eye-catching spectacle in any guise.

Leopards in Yala National Park

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It was late in the day, the light was fading fast and the monsoonal rains were verging on torrential when our ranger recognised the tell-tale cry of an alarmed monkey. Sure enough, we had found our leopard. The gloominess made photography a bit of a challenge but we'll settle for this shot.

Green bee-eaters in Minneriya National Park

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These bright and busy little birds can be spotted all over Sri Lanka but they don’t always pause long enough for a shot. We must have seen hundreds of them across the country but I think this one was my favourite as he was willing to pose for a few seconds.

Water buffalo in Uda Walawe National Park

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Uda Walawe includes vast areas of flooded grassland that expands and diminishes with the monsoons. The Sri Lankan water buffalo that reside in the park relish this wet environment and can be spotted easily. They usually peer at the jeeps with an air of caution, then indifference before continuing to drink.

Elephants in Kaudulla National Park

At this time of the year when the water levels are at their lowest in Kaudulla, the elephants are like clockwork. Every afternoon, once the heat of the day passes, the herd emerges from the undergrowth and makes its way through the long grass to the watering hole.

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