New Trip Report: Sri Lanka, June/July 2022

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).

Jon

—————

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. 

Itinerary

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. 

Accommodation

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.

Conclusion

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, birdteam@sltnet.lk.

Christine Mason

 

Species List

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

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