Here’s an excellent report from Christine Mason who describes herself as “a mammal watching newbie (now obsessed)”. Personally I have never understood how anyone could get obsessed with mammalwatching …. errr anyway, I am feeling anxious and think I need to go pack for a quick trip to Sri Lanka! Everyone seems to be seeing Pangolins at the moment.
Seriously, now could be a great time to go to experience the country when it is quiet (see Christine’s comments on safety).
A leopard drinking water, civets running up trees, fishing cats on the prowl, an elephant swimming, and a pangolin in the forest; these are all experiences I recently witnessed in Sri Lanka.
First, let me address the current situation. Financially and politically these past months have been very hard on the Sri Lankan people. I debated about whether I should make the trip as the US government has a travel advisory. I can tell you I was absolutely safer at any point during my trip than I am in my own country. Dulan and the Bird and Wildlife Team were able to run my trip exactly as planned with their resourcefulness. The country needs tourism and travelers need to experience all that I was able to- an incredible diversity of wildlife in a small location without crowds.
This was my first big dedicated mammal watching trip, even though all my life I have traveled to national parks to appreciate nature. I didn’t quite understand what I was getting myself into, so I am sorry if my report might not fully explain the opportunities Sri Lanka affords. Several times I needed breaks when Dulan was ready to search for more and I was also quite content to spend more time with the same species as opposed to searching for something new. I have never seen someone so knowledgeable and in tune with nature as Dulan, so I hope others can meet and travel with him. The entire Bird and Wildlife Team along with many other locals will coordinate to find whatever you are looking for. I will give an overview of my itinerary and major sightings at each, but highly recommend contacting B&WT as they are the experts. I have never kept a checklist so the 124 birds, 45 mammals, 33 reptiles, and 25 amphibians was astounding.
Wilpattu NP – 2 days. This is a great introductory safari for the country. Sightings include: 5 Leopards, Sloth Bear, Chevrotain, Chital, Muntjac, Toque Macaque, Grey Langur, Sri Lankan Giant Squirrel, Small Indian Civet, Ruddy Mongoose, Dusky Roundleaf Bat, Black-bearded Tomb Bat.
Minneriya NP – 1 safari drive. This is great for up close views (and lots of photos) of herds of elephants including tuskers.
Polonnaruwa- I wanted to really spend time with the primates, watching and photographing behaviors. The fact that a Disney movie was filmed here got my silly American brain fantasizing about monkeys on the ruins and this was time well spent for me.
Sigiriya area – night drives. It is very exciting to go out at night; these were very productive. Species included: Indian Giant Flying Squirrel, Asiatic Long-Tailed Climbing Mouse, Indian Gerbil, Small Indian Civet, Sri Lankan Brown Palm Civet, Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civet, Jungle Cat, Eurasian Otter, Indian Pangolin, Grey Slender Loris, Sri Lankan White-striped Chevrotain.
Hurulu Eco Park- 1 safari drive with elephant sightings.
Sam Popham Arboretum – walk to see bats, birds, and lizards.
Nuwara Eliya area- Bomburulla Forest Reserve and Hakgala Botanical Gardens- Good walks included reptiles such as Rhinoceros-horned Lizard and Pygmy Lizard.
Horton Plains NP- Many great photos of up close encounters with Sambar and my best Short-tailed Mongoose sighting.
Gal Oya NP- 4 boat safaris. On each trip we saw elephants, mugger crocodiles, and a variety of birds. I had read about the crossing (elephants swimming from island to island) and that was my goal. On the 4th boat trip we saw an elephant make a long and incredible swim. This was an absolute highlight. Gal Oya is apparently not included on many itineraries but I would say it is a must do.
Yala NP- 2 ½ days. Yala had a great variety like Wilpattu. Though overall I preferred Wilpattu, Yala produced the most amazing leopard encounter. We watched the leopard walk from the side of the road, over to have a drink, and lay out in the open. Dulan and our driver worked to always have us in position for a good view. We had a great encounter with an elephant in Block 5, but most of our sightings including the leopard were in Block 1.
Udawalawe NP- 1 safari drive. This park basically guarantees elephant sightings and we were not disappointed as we saw an entire herd come to the water for a drink that also included several of the elephants playing in the water. We also watched a family of 5 Golden Jackals, another great experience.
Sinharaja World Heritage Forest Reserve- We finished the trip with a few days of rainforest walks, which was a nice change of pace from the drives. We saw small mammals such as Purple-Faced Leaf Monkeys and Giant Squirrels, birds, and an incredible list of frogs and toads.
The hospitality of the Sri Lankan people is beyond extraordinary. As someone who typically stays in cabins, lodges, or camps the level of service took some getting used to. The Wilpattu Safari Camp was all around amazing. The hotels were better than anywhere I can afford to stay in the states. We were welcomed into a homestay in Gal Oya and I am thankful for the experience. The lodge inside of the rainforest was magical. B&WT even provides leech socks and as someone who has never experienced leeches, they were not as bad as I was imagining. Also, the food everywhere was delicious. I was spoiled with all the fruits (trying local varieties) and the assortment of vegetables.
I think this itinerary gives a great overview of the country with a mix of safari drives, boat rides, and walks. While I signed up for a mammal watching trip, I saw and experienced so much more. I truly appreciate the unmatched hospitality of the Sri Lankan people and how fortunate I am to make such a trip. I think any mammal watcher, birder, or traveler would really appreciate this country. I hope I have done the people and animals of Sri Lanka justice with this simple report. I took so many thousands of photos that I have only had time to go through a fraction of them. If you would like to go on an amazing trip to Sri Lanka contact Bird & Wildlife Team, www.birdandwildlifeteam.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family Scientific Name English Name
Manidae Manis crassicaudata Pangolin
Emballonuridae Taphozous melanopogon Black-bearded sheath-tailed Bat
Hipposideridae Hipposideros ater Bicolored leaf-nosed Bat
Hipposideridae Hipposideros galeritus Dekhan leaf-nosed Bat
Hipposideridae Hipposideros speoris Schneider’s leaf-nosed Bat
Megadermatidae Megaderma spasma Long-eared vampire Bat
Pteropodidae Cynopterus sphinx Short-nosed fruit Bat
Pteropodidae Pteropus medius Flying Fox
Pteropodidae Rousettus leschenaulti Fulvous fruit Bat
Rhinolophidae Rhinolophus rouxii Rufous horse-shoe Bat
Vespertillionidae Pipistrellus tenuis Pigmy Pipistrel
Cercopithecidae Macaca sinica Sri Lanka toque Monkey
Cercopithecidae Semnopithecus priam Grey Langur
Cercopithecidae Semnopithecus vetulus Purple-faced leaf Monkey
Lorisidae Loris lydekkerianus Grey slender Loris
Canidae Canis aureus Jackal
Felidae Felis chaus Jungle Cat
Felidae Panthera pardus Leopard
Felidae Prionailurus viverrinus Fishing Cat
Herpestidae Urva fuscus Brown Mongoose
Herpestidae Urva edwardsii Grey Mongoose
Herpestidae Urva smithii Black-tipped or Ruddy Mongoose
Herpestidae Urva vitticollis Stripe-necked or badger Mongoose
Mustelidae Lutra lutra Otter
Ursidae Melursus ursinus Sloth Bear
Viverridae Paradoxurus montanus Sri Lanka Brown palm Civet
Viverridae Paradoxurus stenocephalus Golden Dryzone palm Civet
Viverridae Paradoxurus hermaphroditus Common Palm Civet
Viverridae Viverricula indica Ring-tailed Civet
Elephantidae Elephas maximus Elephant
Bovidae Bubalus arnee Wild Buffalo
Bovidae Bubalus bubalis Domestic water Buffalo
Cervidae Axis axis Spotted Deer
Cervidae Rusa unicolor Sambur
Cervidae Muntiacus malabaricus Barking Deer
Suidae Sus scrofa Wild Boar
Tragulidae Moschiola meminna Sri Lanka White-striped Chevrotain
Muridae Vandeleuria oleracea Long-tailed tree Mouse
Muridae Tatera indica Antelope Rat
Peromyidae Petaurista philippensis Giant flying Squirrel
Sciuridae Funambulus layardi Sri Lanka flame-striped jungle Squirrel
Sciuridae Funambulus palmarum Palm Squirrel
Sciuridae Funambulus obscurus Sri Lanka jungle Squirrel
Sciuridae Ratufa macroura Giant Squirrel
Leporidae Lepus nigricollis Black-naped Hare