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Winter break highlight: Leopards in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka

Instead of going through our winter break day by day as I have for some trips in the past, I plan to highlight some specific parts of the trip that were highlights.


One of the things I was really looking forward to during our two weeks in Sri Lanka was a safari in Yala National Park near the southeastern coast.  Sri Lanka has some fantastic wildlife that can only be found on the island.  But Yala’s largest attraction is the density of leopards – the highest density in the world.  Much of the trip had blown me away by having low expectations.  I maintained those low expectations.

Earlier in the trip we had a safari and saw some wild Asian elephants but not much else.  Yala is, by many accounts, packed with wildlife.  Regardless, I merely hoped to see a leopard – I didn’t expect to.

But we did.  We saw two!

But let me back up.  We had to be up very early.  We were told to be in the lobby of our hotel at 5:30 in the morning or something like that.  It was early.  Definitely early for a vacation alarm clock setting.  Pepper, Jordan, Mike, Shannon, Jay and I were in the lobby waiting when Ashoka, our driver greeted us and told us to sit down for tea.

No.  We were not there for tea.  We wanted to go on safari.  Or sleep.  We were not up that early to drink tea.  He arranged for us to get moving.  It was about a half hour ride to the park entrance and we were early so sat for ten or fifteen minutes in the growing line at the park gate.  Then they started letting vehicles in.  We stopped often to see the most mundane wildlife.  I’m trying to collect a birding life list.

While driving the dirt roads through the park our driver suddenly did a turn and sped back in the direction we had come from.  Clearly he had news that something was worth seeing.  One jeep going the other way was full of smiling tourists – one giving us the “thumbs up” sign.  We caught up with a line of jeeps and he turned to tell us that there was a leopard.  He said rare wildlife means lots of traffic though and it sure did.  Dozens of jeeps with people like us poking our bodies out of the back of the safari rigs.  Cameras and binoculars in hand.


This was the best picture I could get.  We made two passes in the line – once one way, then turned around and went back.  Our driver told us that rare animals mean heavy traffic.  It was.  But even with all of the gawkers it was amazing to see this wild cat.

Later in the ride we sped off again.  We saw, from a further distance then the first, another cat moving around up in a tree.  A couple of birds landed higher in the tree and it was agitated enough to chase them off.



We saw lots of other wildlife too.  Aside from quite a few birds, we also saw crocodiles, monitor lizards, a really close Asian elephant, a jackal, mongoose, spotted deer, samba deer, and wild boar.