Nature and Wildlife

Sri Lanka, situated at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent is an island with an expanse of 65,610 sq km comprising of a diversified natural and cultural heritage. Sri Lanka’s terrain comprises of the coastal plains which ring the island with endless sandy beaches and an intermediate plain followed by mountain ranges situated in the center of the island; with the tropical climate of the island contributing to diversified climatic zones, primarily the Wet zone, Dry zone, and a semi-arid zone. From the hilly center of the island cascade numerous rivers to all direction of the country aiding in the island’s biodiversity setting. Due to this geographic diversity a variety of vegetation could be seen; from mangroves and marshes of the coastal plain to grasslands, dry mixed evergreen forests and tropical rain forests of the intermediate plain to montane forests of the hill country. For the protection of the diverse flora and fauna found within these habitats there are over 60 wildlife reserves and conservation forests divided into various categories such as National Parks, Nature Reserves, Strict Nature Reserves, and Sanctuaries covering all climatic regions and vegetation types in the country. These are maintained by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Forest Department of Sri Lanka.
Although being an island which was last connected to the mainland India over 7000 years ago, Sri Lanka’s wildlife comprises of a rich species diversity with 125+ mammal species including the world’s largest the Blue Whale, The Sri Lankan Elephant, and the Sri Lankan Leopard. Sri Lanka also boasts a rich species diversity of 119 amphibian out of which 103 are endemic making the country the highest amphibian endemism in Asia, and also over 190 species of reptiles including Crocodiles, Snakes, Lizards, Turtles and Tortoises with 52% of the species being endemic. There are recorded 165 freshwater fish species in the country found in the endless rivers, streams and lakes; and the largest numbers of species of an animal class found in Sri Lanka are Birds, with 500 resident and migrant species including 33 endemics. Together with over 3500 species of plants and trees Sri Lanka adds up to a rich biodiversity adding flavor to its already colourful cultural heritage. With a population of about 20 million people in the island the loss of forest cover in the last century due to the expanding population has resulted in a serious threat to natural habitats with many species being regarded endangered. As a result the entire island of Sri Lanka along with the Western Gharts of India makes one of the 35 Biodiversity Hotspots in the world.

National Parks

The category of National Parks gives complete protection to wildlife while giving access to the public to enjoy wildlife in its natural habitat as well as for research purposes. Under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance of 1937 as at 2015 there are 26 designated regions as National Parks providing complete sanctuary for wildlife. These Parks are maintained by the Department of Wildlife Conservation of the Government of Sri Lanka and could be accessed at the designated entrances by purchasing tickets.

Among the wildlife attractions of the island, the safari rides of the National Parks takes first place with the largest and most famous being the Yala National Park and Wilpattu National Park. Although the majority of the National Parks are found in the dry zone, the Parks of Horagolla, Galwaysland and Horton Plains are found in the wet zone with the latter two being situated in the central hills. Km2

1 Yala (Ruhuna) 1938.02.25 978.807 97,880.7
2 Wilpattu 1938.02.25 1,316.671 131,667.1
3 Galoya 1954.02.12 259 25,900
4 Yala East Kumana) 1970.01.20 181.482 18,148.5
5 Udawalawa 1972.06.30 308.21 30,821
6 Lahugala Kithulana 1980.10.31 15.54 1,554
7 Maduru Oya 1983.11.09 588.496 58,849.6
8 Wasgamuwa 1984.08.07 370.629> 37,062.9
9 Floodplains 1984.08.07 173.50 17,350
10 Somawathiya 1986.09.02 396.455 37,645.5
11 Horton Plains 1988.03.16 31.598 3,159.8
12 Bundala 1993.01.04 62.16 6,216
13 Lunugamwehera 1995.12.08 234.988 23,498.8
14 Minneriya 1997.08.12 88.894 8,889.4
15 Kaudulla 2002.04.01 69 6,900
16 Hikkaduwa 2002.10.08 1.016 101.6
17 Pegion Island 2003.06.04 4.714 471.429
18 Horagolla 2004.07.28 0.133 13.362
19 Galwaysland 2006.05.18 0.267 29.24
20 Horrowpatana 2011.12.06 25.7 2,570
21 Ussangoda 2010.05.06 3.49 349.007
22 Angammadilla 2006.06.06 75.289 7,529.10
23 Madu Road 2015.06.22 164 16,367.36
24 Chundikumlam 2015.06.22 196 19,565.33
25 Adams Bridge 2015.06.22 190 18,990
26 Delft 2015.06.22 18 1,846.28
Yala National Park

ImageThe Yala National Park situated in the southeast corner of Sri Lanka falling under the Southern and Uva Provinces is the most visited National Park in the country by both foreign and local tourists. The second largest after Wilpattu Natinoal Park, Yala was first reserved as a ‘game sanctuary’ by the British in 1894 and later a wildlife sanctuary in 1900. It received National Park status in 1938.

Yala National Park is divided into 5 blocks, block I of Ruhuna National Park was established on 25th February 1938, block II on 3rd September 1954, block III on 28th April 1967, block IV on 9th October 1969 and block V on 5th October 1973. Blocks I & II being open to the public, and it also contains a block run as a Strict Nature Reserve. The Park comprises of 97,881 hectares in extend.

Yala comprises of Dry mixed monsoon forests, thorn forests, grasslands, wetlands, lagoons and beaches with an annual temperature of 27 C. Yala receives its main rainfall from the Northeast Monsoon during the months of September to December with a mean annual fall of 900-130mm. there are scattered around the Park a large number of rock outcrops with caves and kema (pools) and also several freshwater lakes. This combination of different topographical features makes it a unique ecosystem for a variety of animals.

Yala is home to 44 species of mammals including the Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Spotted Deer, Water Buffalo, and the Golden Palm Civet. Its Leopard population is considered one of the highest dense populations of Leopards in the world. Yala also is home to 215 species of birds including 6 out of the 33 endemic species in Sri Lanka. It further holds a variety of reptiles including the Crocodile, 5 species of turtles and many snakes and lizards including the endemic Sri Lankan Krait, Sri Lankan Flying snake, Wiegmann’s agama or the Sri Lankan Kangaroo Lizard.

Main attractions:

Best Season: Between September to March (when the water levels are low)

Routes: There are three main routes to the Park from Colombo. All distances are from Colombo.

Entrances: the Park has two entrances

Wilpattu National Park

Situated in the Northwest coast of the country the Wilpattu National Park falls under Northern, Northwestern and North Central Provinces of Sri Lanka and is the largest and one of the oldest National Parks in the island spanning an area of 131,667.81 hectares. Wilpattu, the translation of its name being ‘Land of Lakes’ for the large number of ‘Villus’ or natural lakes it contains was first named as a Sanctuary in 1905 and later a National Park on the 25th of February 1938. Wilpattu is 170 km from Colombo and 30 km west of Anuradhapura.

Wilpattu being in the dry zone comprises of a thick forest cover of Dry mixed evergreen forests fed by its diverse system of villus or the natural lakes amounting over about 25. The annual temperature is 27 C and an annual rainfall of 1000 mm with heavy rainfall in the months of September to December. Wilpattu experiences a dry season between May to September. This landscape of dry zone forests, thorny shrubs, extensive open plains and sand dunes come under 13 major habitats which fall under 3 major ecosystems, forest ecosystems, wetland ecosystem and coastal and marine ecosystem. There is recorded 623 flowering plant species belonging to 123 plant families and amoung them 27 are endemics and 21 plants are recorded as threatened.

This diverse ecosystem is home to many species of animals with 284 species being recorded out of which 21 are endemics and 30 are nationally threatened. The fauna includes 31 mammals such as the Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Spotted Deer Jackal, and Water Buffalo. Amoung reptiles, the most common being the Mugger Crocodile and others includes the Water Monitor, Indian Python, Star tortoise, Pond turtle etc. Wilpattu is also home to several amphibian species. The Villus and its complex wetland ecosystem is home to 194 species of birds such as the Painted Stork, Open billed stork, White ibis etc. and within the forests are found the Greater racquet-tailed drongo, Crimson breasted barbet, fish owl, Sri Lanka jungle fowl etc. An interesting occurrence in respect to marine life is the presence of Dugongs in two bays along the coastline of the Park named the Portugal and Dutch bays.

Wilpattu is also home to unique cultural heritage with the Kudiramalai area along the coast believed to have been the place called Thambapanni where Prince Vijaya, the first King of Lanka was said to have landed. Around 68 archaeologically important sites have been identified within the park, 4 of which are Miocene fossil sites and 12 sites belonging to the prehistoric period with the rest a combination of protohistoric and historic sites. Further the remains of an ancient harbour between Palagaturai and Kollankanatte has been identified.

Main attractions:

Best Season: February

Routes: the main access route and entrance is at Hunuwilagama.

Route – Colombo -> Negombo -> Puttalam -> Puttalam-Anuradhapura road-> Thimbiriwewa junction -> Hunuwilgama –appx. 188 km.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe is situated in the southern end of the island bordering the Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces and just below the central hills. It is about 170 km from Colombo and can be accessed along the Colombo Ambilipitiya Thanamalwila road. The National Park comprises of the Udawalawe Reservoir which was built across the Walawe River in 1971 and as a result of the displacement of animals, the region around the reservoir including the catchment area was designated a National Park in June 1972. The total area of the Park is 30,821 hectares.

Being on the boarder of the dry zone and intermediate zone, the national park enjoys a vivid climate of both wet and dry regions. The region on the boundary of Ratnapura takes a wet climate while the region with the boundary of Monaragala takes on a dry climate. The Park contains Riverine forests as well as scattered grasslands and thorn shrubs. Lack of dense vegetation makes game watching easier in the Park. The annual rainfall is 1,500 mm with the rainy season between October to January and a short dry season between February and March; the lowest temperature records at 17.7 C and the highest at 37 C. Apart from the Udawalawe reservoir another large tank known as the Mau Aru Reservoir can be found within the park.

The wildlife of the Park includes around 40 species of mammals out of which the Elephant is the most common and is one of the main attractions of the Park as it is one of the best locations in the country to witness herding elephants numbering over 400. Other prominent mammals include the Leopard, the Spotted Deer, the Sri Lankan Sambhur, Jackal, Wild Boar, Giant Squirrel, and also several species of Mice. There are about 225 species of birds with 30 being migratory and 9 endemics. The Park also has a large number of reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish.

The National Park also maintains the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home established in 1995 and run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, which rehabilitates orphaned Elephant calves for their release into the wild.

The National Park faces many threats as it is surrounded by villages which include illegal chena cultivation, deforestation, illegal weed cultivation, mining and hunting.

Main attractions:

Best Season: Between September to March (when the water levels are low)

Routes: the main access route and entrance is at the 7th milepost on Udawalawe-Thanamalvila road.

Route 01 Colombo -> Ratnapura -> Pelmadulla -> Colombage Ara junction on Pelmadulla-Embilipitiya road – appx. 170 km.

Horton Plains National Park

Situated in southern plateau of the central hills, is the one of the two highland National Parks of the country and a famous tourist destination for its wildlife and enchanting natural beauty. Falling within the Central Province, Horton Plains is about 200km from Colombo with Nuwera Eliya being the nearest city. Known as Maha Eliya in Sinhalese or Great Plain, it was named Horton Plains after the British Governor Sir Robert Wilmot Horton (1831-37). On 5th December 1969 it was designated a Nature Reserve and on 16th March 1988 it received National Park status covering an area of 3,159.8 hectares.

Situated 2,300 meters above sea level this montane grassland receives rainfall throughout the year with an annual fall of 2,540mm. Annual mean temperature falls at 15 C but can reach up to 27 C during the day and fall as low as 5 C during the night. This vast plain of montane grasslands are scattered by montane cloud forests of dazzling colours along with its stunning topographical layout. The Park is home to the country’s second and third highest mountains, Kirigalpotha (2,398m) and Thotupolakanda (2,351m) respectively which are famous hiking destinations and also one the Park’s signature sites is the ‘World End’ a 700m drop giving a stunning view of the valley below and the beautiful Bakers Falls. Horton Plains also contains a rich diversity in flora with 5% of the species found to be endemic.

Apart from its natural beauty Horton Plains also teems with wildlife and this highland wonderland is home to 24 species of mammals with the most common being the Sambhur with numbers over 1500. Other mammals include the Leopard, the Fishing Cat, the endangered Loris, and Giant Squirrel etc. The Park is also famous for bird watching with 14 endemics found within the park. Other animals include about 15 species of amphibians and several species of reptiles including the endemic Horned Lizard. Another unique species found here is the Purple Faced Leaf Monkey which is threatened with extinction and also one species of endemic freshwater Shrimp which is found only in Horton Plains.

Recent research has found that Horton Plains were inhabited by prehistoric Man with evidence of Barley cultivation as far as 10,000 BP when the climate was much warmer during the Pleistocene epoch.

Main attractions:

Routes: The Park has two entrances, one at Pattipola and the other at Ohiya, these two could be reached by two main routes. All distances are from Colombo.

Entrances: the Park has two entrances

Kumana National Park

Situated on the Southeast coast of the island Kumana National Park, once known as Yala East National Park is one continuous reserve with Yala only separating from the Kumbukkan Oya. Kumana was established as a National Park in 1970 and includes an area of 18,149 hectares.

Kumana shares a similar biodiversity with that of Yala with Dry mixed evergreen forests but the presence of large villus and lagoons have made Kumana a unique wetland ecosystem and are one of the prime birding locations in the island, it is one of the 6 main RAMSAR designated wetlands in the country.

An avifauna high region, Kumana is home to 255 birds and between the months of April to July tens of thousands of migratory birds could be seen in the park. In the park can also be found other animals such as Elephant, Wild Boar, Jackal, the Fishing Cat etc. A large number of reptiles too could be found within the park such as the Mugger Crocodile, the Indian Python, the Cobra, and three wetland turtle species as well.

Main attractions:

Best Season: May to June (when a large number of birds nest in the Mangroves)

Routes: The Park has only one entrance at Panama on the east coast but permits should be obtained from the Park office at Okande.

Route 01 – Colombo -> Ratnapura -> Pelmadulla -> Koslande -> Welawaya -> Moneragala -> Pottuvil and Panama – appx. 390 km.

Route 02 02 – Colombo -> Ratnapura -> Pelmadulla -> Udawalawe -> Thanamalwila -> Welawaya -> Moneragala -> Pottuvil and Panama – appx. 390 km.

Minneriya National Park

Situated in the North Central Province in the Polonnaruwa District, the Minneriya National Park comprise the forests surrounding the Minneriya Tank, built in the 3rd century AD by King Mahasen. Minneriya is 180km from Colombo with Dambulla and Polonnaruwa being the closest towns. The Park was first designated a Sanctuary in 1938 and later a National Park on 12th August 1997, it covers an area of 8,889 hectares.

Minneriya comprises of Dry mixed evergreen forests as well as shrub lands and receives an annual rainfall between 1500-2000mm between October to January with a temperature varying between 20-34 C. Through this Park run several streams and rivers such as the Batu Oya, Thalkotte Oya, Kiri Oya including the Oda Ela which supplies the Minneriya tank with the water from the Mahaweli River.

Minneriya is known for its splendid Elephant sightings, when the water of the tank recede during the dry months between July to October, the exposed banks are flushed with fresh grass and it is here where the ‘Gathering’ as the phenomena has come to be known where the Elephants in many small herds come to the banks of the tank from the surrounding jungles. It is recorded that between 150-300 Elephants reside within the Park. Other wildlife includes many of the larger dry zone mammals such as the Leopard, Sloth Bear, Sambhur, Sri Lankan Axis Deer, Purple Face Leaf Monkey etc. Several amphibian species have been recorded from the park as well as a number reptile species such as the Saltwater Crocodile, the Indian Python, the two species of large Monitors etc. Minneriya is also famous for its birds.

Main attractions:

Best Season: Between August to October for the Elephant Gathering.

Routes: The Park entrance is located at Ambagaswawe on the Habarana-Polonnaruwa road.

Route– Colombo -> Kurunagala -> Dambulla -> Habarana turning right -> Habarana-Polonnaruwa road -> Ambagaswawe junction -appx. 182 km.

Kawudulla National Park

Situated in the North Central Province in the Polonnaruwa District, the Kawudulla National Park is a relatively new park, formed on 1st April 2002 covering 6,900 hectares. It is approximately 215km from Colombo and could be accessed via Gal Oya north of Habarana. Formed from the surrounding catchment area of the massive Kawudulla tank which was built in the 3rd century AD by King Mahasen, Kawudulla shares similar flora and fauna as that of Minneriya National Park.

Kawudulla is famous for its Elephants as well as birds but include other species as well such as Sambhur, Spotted Deer, and Wild Boars etc. when the water of the Kawudulla tank recede in October an Elephant migration from Minneriya could be observed and has resulted in 0.524 hectares been reserved as a Jungle Corridor between Minneriya and Kawudulla in 2006.

Main attractions:

Best Season: Between August to October for the Elephant Gathering.

Routes: There are two main routes to the Park.

Route 01 – Colombo -> Kurunagala -> Dambulla -> Habarana -> Hatharaskotuwa -> Galoya junction -appx. 197 km.

Route 02 – Colombo -> Kurunagala -> Dambulla -> Habarana -> -> Habarana turning right -> 45th km post Habarana-Polonnaruwa road -> Rotawewa - appx. 200 km.

Gal Oya National Park

Situated in the east of the island the Gal Oya National Park comprises of the catchment areas of the massive Senenayaka Samudra Reservoir built across the Gal Oya River and is 314km from Colombo. It was designated a National Park on the 12th February 1954 as part of the Gal Oya development scheme. The Park covers an area of 25,900 hectares.

Comprising of Dry mixed evergreen forests with a hilly topography, Gal Oya receives an annual rainfall of about 1700mm during the North East Monsoon. About 45% of the Park is forest, 33% savanna and 9% grassland with 2% chena, the remaining 10% makes up the water bodies. The vast reservoir with its many islands affords a scenic picture to the wildlife it harbours. The Park also contains a wide variety of flora with many medicinal herbs. The Park records about 32 species of mammals such as the Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Water Buffalo, Wild Boar, etc. Its water habitats make it a superb birding location which records of about 150 species of birds including 7 endemics. Amoung the reptiles are the Mugger Crocodile, Cobra, Python, Star tortoise etc.

Comprising of Dry mixed evergreen forests with a hilly topography, Gal Oya receives an annual rainfall of about 1700mm during the North East Monsoon. About 45% of the Park is forest, 33% savanna and 9% grassland with 2% chena, the remaining 10% makes up the water bodies. The vast reservoir with its many islands affords a scenic picture to the wildlife it harbours. The Park also contains a wide variety of flora with many medicinal herbs. The Park records about 32 species of mammals such as the Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Water Buffalo, Wild Boar, etc. Its water habitats make it a superb birding location which records of about 150 species of birds including 7 endemics. Amoung the reptiles are the Mugger Crocodile, Cobra, Python, Star tortoise etc.

Gal Oya is also a location of history with many ancient ruins of monasteries scattered about in the Nilgala forest area.

Main attractions:

Routes: There is one route to the Park.

Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa, falling between the Central and North Central Provinces is located south of Polonnaruwa and is approximately 230km from Colombo. Situated between the Amban Ganga and the Mahaweli River, Wasgamuwa borders the Angammedilla National Park in the north and the Flood Plains National Park in the northeast and comprises an area of 37,062 hectares.Initially designated a Sanctuary in 1938 it gained National Park status on 7th August 1984.

This Park falls under the Intermediate zone as well as the Dry zone giving it a vivid ecology of a wet and dry climate. The Park’s annual mean temperature is about 28 C with an annual rainfall of 1650-2100mm. The park contains 41.2% of dry mixed evergreen forest, 24% riverine forests, 10.4% thorn shrubs, 11.2% grasslands and the remaining 13.2% comprises of rocky plains. A prominent topographical feature is the small Sudu Kanda range which runs north to south along the border of the Park. Further the park also contains many smaller streams and tanks adding to its ecological diversity. Concerning the flora of the region, 383 plant species have been identified with 6 being endemic.

The wildlife of the park includes 23 species of mammals including the Elephant, Leopard, Wild Boar, Water Buffalo, and also the endemic Golden Palm Civet. Further the park is home to about 35 species of reptiles including the famous Crocodile and Water Monitor, 15 species of amphibians, and 17 species of fish. Wasgamuwa’s many waterways make it another famous birding location with a record of 143 species of birds.

Main attractions:

Best Season: June to September when there is low rainfall.

Routes: There is one route to the Park.

Bundala National Park

The Bundala Natinoal Park is located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka close to Hambantota comprising of a wetland ecosystem. Declared a Sanctuary in 1969 it gained National Park status on 1st January 1993 and is the first wetland identified by RAMSAR. The Park covers an area of 6,216 hectares.

Bundala contains of a Semi-arid climate with an annual rainfall of 900-1300mm and an average temperature of 27 C. The Park comprises of four large shallow brackish lagoons, the Koholankal Lewaya (390 hectares), the Embillikala Lagoon (430 hectares), Bundala Lewaya (520 hectares) and the Malala Lewaya (650 hectares) as well as impressive sand dunes. The vegetation mainly composes of dry thorn shrubs and herbs belonging to over 300 species.

Bundala’s main attraction is its birds where 197 species have been identified thus far out of which 58 species are migrants and 11 endemics. Amoung the other species are 32 species of mammals, 15 amphibians, 48 reptiles and 32 species of fish.

Main attractions:

Routes: The Park entrance is found to the right of Wlipoththa junction and there are two main routes to the Park.

Nature Reserves

The category of Nature Reserves keeps the ancestral ownership of the lands and allows traditional human activities to be continued while scientific expeditions require permission from the Department of Wildlife Conservation.


1 Trinconamadu 1986.10.24 250.19 25,019
2 Riverine 1991.07.31 8.24 824
3 Minneriya-Giritale (blocks 1-4) 1988-1997 150.05 15,005
4 Wetahirakanda 2002.06.07 32.29 3,229
5 Peak Wilderness 2007.09.21 129.79 12,979
6 Nagar Kovil 2016.03.01 78.82 7,882
7 Vedithalathivu 2016.03.01 91.81 2,9181
Strict Nature Reserves

Maintained by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) the regions falling under this category do not permit human activities and are closed to the public while only scientific research under the supervision of the Department of Wildlife Conservation is permitted. Strict Nature Reserves focuses on attaining minimal threat to animal and plant life found within the reserve and for the protection of threatened species and their growth in their natural habitat. These are also protected as pure natural systems. Presently three locations fall under this category.

Hakgala 1938.02.25 11.42 1,142
Yala 1938.03.01 289.05 28,905
Ritigala 1941.11.07 15.28 1,528
Yala Strict Nature Reserve

The Yala Strict Nature Reserve is located in the southeast corner of the island and is part of the Yala National Park as one of 5 blocks comprising the Park. This was declared a Strict Nature Reserve in 1938. It accounts for 28,900 hectares situated between the Manik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya.

Its vegetation is same with that of the rest of the National Park with Dry mixed monsoon forests, thorn forests, and grasslands, several ancient tanks, wetlands, lagoons and beaches with an annual temperature of 27 C. Its main rainfall is received from the Northeast Monsoon during the months of September to December. This combination of different topographical features makes it a unique ecosystem for a variety of animals.

Its species diversity includes Yala’s main mammals with about 125-150 Elephants, Leopards, Sloth Bears, Jackals, Wild Cats, etc and with about 136 species of resident birds and 26 species of migrants. It also includes a variety of reptiles including the endemic Sri Lankan Krait, the Checkered Keelback, the Sri Lankan Flying snake and also 5 species of turtles. There are also 32 species of amphibians being recorded as well.

Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve

The Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve is located in the dry zone in the North Central Province and is about 208km from Colombo which could be reached along the Colombo Anuradhapura Habarana road. Ritigala comprises of a small mountain range spread on an area of 1,500 hectares and includes the hills of Kodigala, Adiya Kanda, Oushada Kanda, Amarapathi Kanda, Una Kanda, Na Ulpathkana, and Palathuru Kanda. Ritigala being the highest mountain in Anuradhapura is both a haven for flora and fauna as well as an important historic site as it houses a splendid ancient monastic complex dating to the 3rd century BC. It was declared a Strict Nature Reserve due to its unique biodiversity on the 7th of November 1941.

Ritigala being in the dry zone receives an annual rainfall of 1470-1500mm with a temperature of around 27.3 C. Ritigala’s uniqueness comes from the fact that vegetation of all three major climatic zones could be observed as well as a large number of herbal plant species. Its floral ecosystems could be divided into 3:

Its floral diversity includes 418 species of which 54 species are endemic and also about 200 varieties of herbs could be observed. An important feature of its diverse flora is that out of the 54 endemic species, 5 are point-endemic, which are found only in Ritigala.

The fauna of Ritigala includes Elephants numbering 50-60, Leopard, Wild Boar, Porcupine, Sambhur and usual smaller mammals of the dry zone; and about 25-30 species of reptiles including a variety of snakes. About 100 species of Birds have been identified from Ritigala with 8 endemic species being reported as well. It is further home to 50 species of Butterflies out of which 11 are endemic.

Ritigala is further surrounded in folklore and history. According to mythology during the battles between Rama and Ravana over Princess Sita, Hanuman bringing a mountain of herbs from the Himalayas to healPrince Lakshman had dropped a section of it forming what is known as Ritigala today and accounts for the diversity of herbs found here. Further Ritigala is said to be the dwelling place of the first Arahat inthe country and later home to 500 Arahats according to the ancient chronicles. The valuable archaeological site includes 74 caves with drip ledges, 152 Brahmi rock inscriptions and the remains of about 140 buildings belonging to the monastery. History also recollects this place as a refuge of Kings where they mustered armies during times of war.

Hakgala Strict Nature Reserve

Situated close to Nuware Eliya bordering the Central and Uva Provinces, Hakgala is the only Strict Nature Reserve in the Wet zone. It is about 170km from Colombo. Comprising of a small mountainous area of 1,100 hectares it was declared a Strict Nature Reserve on 5th February 1938.

The elevation of Hakgala varies from 1650-2178 meters and receives an annual rainfall of 2400mm. Its vegetation comprises of a wet montane forest with few endemic species of flora.

Its fauna includes the Leopard, Wild Boar and the endemic Purple Faced Langur, Mayor’s mouse, Ohiya rat, and the Sri Lankan long tailed shrew. Its avifauna includes a variety of birds including 5 endemics. It further includes a variety of lizards, snakes and frogs.


Sanctuaries are reserves that allow normal human activities while ensuring the protection of wildlife in their natural habitats. Some lands may not belong to the state and no permit is required to enter these sanctuaries. These are maintained by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Anawilundawa 11.06.1997 13.97
Anuradhapura 27.05.1938 35.01
Bar Reef 03.04.1992 306.70
Bellanwila-Attidiya 25.07.1990 3.72
Budhangala 01.11.1974 18.41
Bundala-Wilmanna 30.06.2006 33.39
Dahaiyagala 07.06.2002 26.85
Elahera-Girithale 13.01.2000 140.35
Eluwilayaya 11.09.2009 1.86
Gal Oya Valley North East 12.02.1954 124.32
Gal Oya Valley South East 12.02.1954 152.81
Galwaysland 27.05.1938 0.57
Giant's Tank 24.09.1954 43.30
Godawaya 25.05.2006 2.32
Great Sober Island 21.06.1963 0.65
Honduwa Island 19.11.1973 0.09
Kahalla-Pallekele 01.07.1989 216.90
Kalametiya Lagoon 28.06.1984 25.25
Katagamuwa 27.05.1938 10.04
Kataragama 27.05.1938 8.38
Kimbulwana Oya 21.06.1963 4.92
Kiralakela 08.09.2003 3.10
Kirama 06.10.2004 0.05
Kokkilai 18.05.1951 19.95
Kudumbigala-Panama 20.02.2006 65.34
Kurulu Kele (Kegalle) 14.03.1941 1.13
Little Sober Island 21.06.1963 0.07
Madampawila 21.09.2007 12.18
Maduganga 17.07.2006 23.00
Madunagala 30.06.1993 9.95
Maembulkanda-Nittabuwa 31.10.1972 0.24
Mahakanadarawa Wewa 9 December 1966 5.19
Medinduwa 06.06.1980 0.01
Mihintale 27.05.1938 10.00
Muthurajawela Block I 31.10.1996 10.29
Muthurajawela Block II 31.10.1996 2.57
Nimalawa 18.02.1993 10.66
Padaviya Tank 21.06.1963 64.75
Parapuduwa Nun's Island 17.08.1988 1.90
Peak Wilderness 25.10.1940 223.79
Polonnaruwa 27.05.1938 15.22
Ravana Falls 18.05.1979 19.32
Rekawa 25.05.2006 2.71
Rocky Islets 25.10.1940 0.01
Rumassala 03.01.2003 1.71
Sakamam 21.06.1963 6.16
Senanayake Samudra 12.02.1954 93.24
Seruwila-Allai 09.10.1970 155.40
Sigiriya 26.01.1990 50.99
Sri Jayawardenapura 09.01.1985 4.49
Tabbowa 19.07.2002 21.93
Tangamale 27.05.1938 1.32
Telwatta 25.02.1938 14.25
Trincomalee Naval Headworks 21.06.1963 181.30
Udawatta Kele 29.07.1938 1.04
Vankalai 08.09.2008 48.39
Vavunikulam 21.06.1963 48.56
Victoria-Randenigala-Rantambe 30.01.1987 420.87
Wirawila-Tissa 27.05.1938 41.64
Welhella-Kategilla 18.02.1949 1.34
Wilpattu North 25.02.1938 6.32

Wetlands can be defined simply according to the National Wetland Directory as habitats with permanent or temporary accumulation of water with associated floral and faunal communities, such as rivers, marshes, lagoons, salterns etc. Wetlands comprise of its own unique ecosystem and hence are important habitats of the fauna and flora of the country. The importance of the conservation of the world’s wetlands which accounts for 6% of the world’s landmass was understood by the international community which culminated in the RAMSAR Convention of 1971 held in Iran, according to the convention wetlands are:

“Areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”

In Sri Lanka 14% of the land accounts for wetlands with the majority of the areas being in the coastal region. According to the RAMSAR definition, Sri Lanka’s wetlands can be divided as:

1. Inland natural fresh water wetlands (e.g. rivers, stream, marshes, swamp forests andvillus)

2. Marine and salt water wetlands (e.g. lagoons, estuaries, mangroves, sea grass beds, and coral reefs)

3. Man-made wetlands (e.g. tanks, reservoirs, rice fields and salterns)

Out of the 22 types of wetlands described by RAMSAR, there are 6 main wetlands found in the country, they are:

1. Bundala wetlands

2. Anawilundawa wetlands

3. Madu ganga wetlands

4. Wilpattu wetlands

5. Kumana wetlands

6. Wankalei wetlands

Natural World Heritage Sites

Sri Lanka is blessed with 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites making the country the third highest country in terms of density of WHS behind China and Italy. Out of the 8 sites, two fall under the category of Natural WHS.

1. The Sinharaja Virgin Rainforest

2. Central Highlands

The Sinharaja Rainforest comprises of one forest reserve whereas the Central Highlands can be divided into the Knuckles Conservation Forest, Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve, Morahela Conservation Forest, Walawe Basin Conservation Forest, Sri Pada Conservation Forest and the Horton Plains National Park. The Department of Wildlife Conservation maintains the Horton Plains National Park and the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve while the rest of the reserves above are maintained by the Forest Department.

Sinharaja Rainforest

The virgin rainforest of Sinharaja is situated on the borders of the Western, Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces and is one of the last virgin rainforests in the country being in par with the rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo in terms of its rich biodiversity. It accounts for 11,885 hectares and was listed as a Biosphere Reserve in April 1978 and 8,864 hectares of it was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1988 being Sri Lanka’s first Natural World Heritage Site. The name Sinharaja means ‘Lion Kingdom’ which according to folklore was the home of a Lion.

Sinharaja can be accessed from 3 places, the Colombo-Ratnapura-Kalawana road, Colombo-Rakwana-Morning side road, and the Colombo-Deniyaya-Mederipitiya road. Nature trails have been set within the forest for tourists to hike with relative safety but require and guide to accompany. The trails are:

Situated on a hilly terrain in the Sabaragamuwa mountain range its vegetation is made up of tropical lowland wet evergreen forests including sub montane forests and grasslands. It receives rainfall throughout the year with an annual rainfall of 2500-5000mm with temperatures ranging from 20C – 30C. The diverse terrain includes valleys, ridges, and rocky hills with the Sinhagala being the highest peak. Its wet tropical climate has made this a hub of freshwater habitats and a number of springs and streams originate from here which feed two of the main rivers in the country, the Kalu Ganga and the Gin Ganga. Further adding to the forest’s water heritage are the many beautiful waterfalls such as the Duli falls, Hathmale falls, Brahmana falls, and the Nelugolla falls. The floral diversity of the rainforest comprises of 337 species of woody plants out of which 192 are endemic with 16 species considered very rare. There are identified 30 locally threatened species and 116 globally threatened species. Sinharaja is known as the forest with the highest diversity of woody plants in the island.

The wildlife of the forest records over 140 families of species and includes 44 mammals such as the elusive Leopard, Elephant, Wild Boar, Sambhur, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, the endemic Purple faced leaf monkey, and the Golden palm civet etc. It further holds 71 species of reptiles, 33 species of amphibians, 19 species of fish and 147 species of birds which all 33 endemic species found within the rainforest.

Knuckles Conservation Forest

ImageThe Knuckles conservation forest comprises of the Knuckles mountain range situated north in the central highlands plateau of the country which falls under the Matale and Kandy Districts of the Central Province. The range comprises of the 5 peaks of Kirigalpoththa, Gombaniya, Knuckles, Koboneelagala and Dotulugala with surroundings peaks such as Kirimatikanda, Kalupahana, and Lakegala. The Dumbara hills as knuckles is known in Sinhala meaning misty mountains was first declared a reserve in 1873 and a conservation forest in April 2000. In 2010 it along with the Horton Plains and Peak wilderness was named the Central Highlands World Heritage Site.

The Knuckles mountain range has many trails and several motorable access routes are found from Kandy and Matale.

The drastic topography of the forest gives it a wide range of climatic and vegetation features, from wet regions of 5000mm annual rainfall to nearly arid forests of less than 2500mm of rainfall. The vegetation could be seen as semi-evergreen at the foothills and valleys and upper montane rainforests in the upper regions and summits. The region is also an important watershed with many springs and streams feeding the Mahaweli River such as the Heen Ganga, Maha Oya, Theligamu Oya, and the Hulu Ganga. This diverse vegetation Imagehas created unique ecosystems with an abundance of flora and fauna with some species being point-endemic. Its uniqueness is still being discovered with recent researches showing 115 plant species out of 148 species found in the Moraella region in Knuckles being found in the tropical rainforest of Sinharaja, thus making a mini Sinharaja within Knuckles. Other forest types occurring here are dry sub-montane forests, riverine forests, shrub lands, pathana grasslands as well as pigmy forests. The forest contains a total of 228 woody plant species with 15% of them being endemic and as well as 1033 flowering plant species.

The fauna of Knuckles consists of 31 species of mammals such as the Elephant, Wild boar, Jackal, Mouse deer, Sambhur, Loris, Macaque, Leaf Monkey etc. Further 53 reptile species, 20 amphibians, 128 birds, 60 butterflies and 15 freshwater fish species are recorded from here. Out of the many endemic species found here, Kirthisinghe’s Rock frog and the Leaf nose lizard are only found in the Knuckles range making them point-endemic species.

The Knuckles range is an important and famous tourist destination with many wildlife and natural attractions and is a haven for hikers. Some of the region’s attractions are Lakegala, Riverstone, Mini worlds end, Dothalugala, Nitro cave, Corbett’s gap, Pitawala Patana and the waterfalls of Bambara Ella, and Duvili Ella.


Being a small island with a growing population of 20 million people Sri Lanka boasts a remarkable diversity of flora and fauna species with a high degree of endemism including species both plants and animals with point-endemism. The tropical climate with the island’s drastic topography has created a variety of diverse ecosystems with ranging climatic conditions allowing one to observe a variety of wildlife from the coral reefs below sea level to life 2000 meters above sea level.

Sri Lanka’s mammals include the main big-four, the Blue Whale, the Sri Lanka Elephant, the Sri Lanka Leopard and the Sloth Bear. Whales could be spotted within few kilometers off the coast with some of the highest concentration in the south of the island. Sri Lanka also holds one of the highest densities of Elephants in the world with a recorded population of around 5000 individuals; the majority of them living within protected wildlife reserves while some herds can be found off reserves as well.

Other notable mammals of Sri Lanka found within the reserves are the Water Buffalo, the Wild Boar, Sambhur, several species of Deer, several species of small cats such as the Fishing Cat and the Jungle Cat, the Jackal, the Porcupine, three species of primates and as well as the elusive Slender Loris. Much of these mammals could be spotted off reserves in small pockets of forests and villages throughout the island. Due to loss of habitat, dozens of species of mammals including prominent species such as the Leopard are under threat from extinction.

Sri Lanka boasts high species diversity in amphibians mainly comprising of frogs with one of the highest endemism rates in the world. Mainly found within the wet zone of the country more than 50 species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss while some have been reported as extinct, yet every now and then new species of frogs are being discovered in the island revealing its remarkable yet-untapped natural heritage.

Reptiles comprises yet another interesting category in Sri Lanka’s wildlife with over 190 species comprising of 2 species of Crocodiles, 8 species of Turtles, 1 species of Tortoise, several species of Lizards including two large Monitors and over 100 species of Snakes. Out of the snakes only 6 land species are found to be deadly venomous – the Indian Cobra, the Sri Lankan Krait, the Indian Krait, the Russell’s Viper, the Saw-scaled Viper and the Sri Lankan Coral snake. A variety of brightly coloured lizards too could be found including the endemic and unique Horned Lizard.

The avifauna of Sri Lanka amounts to an astounding 500 species of birds, both resident and migratory with 33 species being endemic. Further attractions of Sri Lanka’s wildlife are the 165 species of recorded Freshwater Fish, the over 200 species of Butterflies and over 100 species of Dragonflies and other insects and also an astounding 51 species of Freshwater Crabs with all being endemic to the island.

The Sri Lanka Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)

ImageThe Sri Lankan Elephant is one of the three subspecies of the Asian Elephant, one of the largest land mammals on earth. This subspecies found only in the island is the largest and the darkest amoung the Asian Elephants. The Sri Lankan Elephant is currently listed as endangered by the IUCN and has seen a reduction of its population by half; this being due to hunting during the colonial period and habitat loss in the 20th century. The Elephant is also symbolic to the culture of the island having being associated with the history of the Sinhalese civilization from early on. The elephants were used for domestic work such as transportation and construction in the ancient days as well as for war, with many accounts in the chronicles such as the famed Elephant named ‘Kandula’ of the 1st century BC Sinhalese hero King Dutugamunu as well as 16th century Portuguese accounts which state that the Sinhalese King Rajasinghe I had 2200 elephants in his army when attacking the fort of Colombo in 1587. The Elephant is also seen as a symbol of strength and majesty and is used to carry the casket of the Tooth relic of the Buddha in the annual Esala Perehara of Kandy.

The average height of an adult male is 2.5 meters at the shoulder with the female slightly smaller than the male. Tusks are only found in few males and very rarely found in females. They weigh between 2000-5000 kg and can live up to 60 years. The gestation period of the elephant is one of the longest which lasts 22-23 months and usually one calf is born. The elephants being social animals live in herds of up to 12-20 animals and are headed by the oldest female. Males leave the herd as they reach adolescence and tend to live solitarily but are not far from the herd. They feed on the vegetation around them amounting to 275-300kgs a day. They feed during the early morning and late afternoon. They drink two to three times a day and being great swimmers they enjoy their time in the waterholes.

The Sri Lankan Elephant once roamed the entire island but now is confined to the Dry zone with a very small number inhabiting the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary around the vicinity of Adams Peak. Although protected areas such as the large National Parks in the dry zone give shelter to elephants, around 65% still roam outside protected areas. This has led to an escalating Human-Elephant conflict in recent times. As per a census in 2011, Sri Lanka’s elephant population was numbered at 5,879 individuals.

The Sri Lanka Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

The Leopard is the largest big cat in the country and is the apex predator in the island, it also regarded as a keystone species in determining the densities and numbers of prey species in its respective ecosystems. The Sri Lankan Leopard is a subspecies of leopard endemic to the island. It has been listed as endangered due to poaching and habitat loss. It is estimated that there are around 750-1000 individuals throughout the country. Leopards are found throughout the dry zone and wet zone and even in the central hills living within protected areas as well as isolated forest patches.

An adult male can reach a length of 2 meters with the female being shorter. This subspecies is considered larger than other species of leopards in the world. The gestation period lasts for 13 weeks with 2-3 cubs being born. The leopard is a solitary hunter and its prey includes Sambur, Deer, Hare, Langurs, birds and reptiles.

The leopards living outside protected areas generally avoid humans and hardly any attacks have been reported in the island, however it is known to kill domestic animals and livestock and such incidents have led to the setting of traps resulting in the deaths of many leopards. It is also illegally poached for its skin and hence its inclusion as an endangered species. The leopard is a frequent attraction in the dry zone National Parks of the country with the Yala National Park boasting the highest density of leopards in a National Park in the world.

The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus inornatus)

The Sloth bear is a species of omnivorous bear found in the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear being a subspecies endemic to the island. It is found throughout the dry zone in forested areas. The sloth bear is listed as Vulnerable globally and highly threatened nationally due to loss of habitat and poaching. It is reported that less than 500 animals survive in the wild.

This shy animal is mostly nocturnal and feeds during the early hours of the morning. It is a solitary animal but are also found in pairs. They feed predominantly on ants and termites and also feed on a variety of fruits such as Palu and Weera. The average height of an adult male is around 90 cm and females are around 60 cm. They can weigh from 120-310 lbs. The gestation period lasts for 7 months with usually 2 cubs being born. The young remain with their mother for around 2-3 years until fully grown. They have been known to live up to 21 years and are very dangerous when confronted.

The Sri Lankan Sambhur (Rusa unicolour unicolour)

The Sambhur is the largest deer found in the island and inhabit the dry zone forests as well as the mountains. It is the most common mammal seen in the Horton Plains National Park in the Central highlands.

The males are larger than the females rising about 1.3 meters at the shoulder. Antlers are found only in the males which grow to about 68 cm. These nocturnal deer prefer the forests and feed on leaves, grass and fruits. These animals are generally solitary creatures but small groups of females with young are seen such as in Horton Plains. They are known to live up to 10 years in captivity. Their gestation period is about 8 months with normally one fawn being born.


Sri Lanka is home to two species of crocodile, the Mugger Crocodile and the Saltwater Crocodile. The Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris kimbula) also known as the Swamp crocodile is greenish olive in colour with dark markings and it can grow up to 4 meters in length with females being smaller than the males. The female lays its eggs in about a half a meter deep hole generally on the sandy banks of rivers and lays about 30 eggs; the incubation period is around 60 days. The Mugger is found along the water ways of rivers, streams and tanks of the low country dry zone and is generally found in large groups.

The Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus meniyanna) also known as the Estuarine crocodile is olive brown in colour and can reach lengths up to 5.5 meters. The female lays her eggs in a mound built of organic matter along the water’s edge with the number of eggs laid and incubation period same as that of the Mugger. The Saltwater crocodiles are confined to the coastal areas in environments such as coastal mangroves, swamps, lagoons and estuaries of large rivers. The Saltwater crocodile is generally solitary and is a known man-eater.

The Mugger and the Estuarine crocodiles are at the top of the food chain in their respective ecosystems and they generally feed on crabs, fish, frogs, terrapins, lizards and mammals as well. They spend much of the day basking in the sun on the banks of rivers and lakes. Their habitation of the rivers and streams has brought them into close contact with humans and has resulted in the dead of many humans; this struggle is known as the Human-Crocodile conflict.

The Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica)

This is a species of Monkey endemic to the island is the most commonly found species of monkey. The Macaques are found throughout the island from the low country dry zone to the central hills. Three subspecies of this monkey has been identified based on different climatic and geographic regions. The Dry zone Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica sinica) can be found throughout the dry zone of the country, the Wet zone Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica aurifrons), found in the wet zone and the central hills and the Highland Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica opisthomelas) which is found in the montane forests around Horton Plains.

All three species share the same physical characteristics but differentiating in colour and hair on their cap. The males are larger than the females and an adult male could be around 52cm in length with the female being about 41cm. The males can weigh between 4 - 5.5kg and the females at 2.5 – 4.5kg. They live in troops of about 20 individuals and although they are expert climbers, they tend to move about for most of the time on the ground. Their food consists of leaves, fruits, flowers, seeds, and occasionally lizards, insects and birds. They also store food in their cheek pockets to be chewed later. The Toque Macaques are known to live for 20-30 years in captivity. Their gestation period is usually 6 months and normally gives birth to one and rarely two young.

Although this species’ population is declining, it is yet to be given national protection despite it being an endemic species, mostly due to the fact that it is considered a pest attacking crops and home gardens in semi urban areas.

Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura)

The Giant Squirrel also known as the Grizzled Squirrel is a large tree dwelling squirrel native to South India and Sri Lanka. Found throughout the island there are three subspecies of the Giant squirrel.

The Highland Giant Squirrel or the Long-tailed Giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura macroura) is found in the Central and Uva hills. Its upper body is black in colour with the under part pale. This is the largest amoung the subspecies found in the island and has an overall length of about 82cm. The female is slightly larger than the male.

The Black and Yellow Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura melanochra) is found in the rainforests of the wet zone. This species is similar in colouring to the Highland species and is slightly smaller than the Highland species with an overall length of around 78cm.

The Lowland Giant Squirrel or the Common Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura dandolena) is found in the low country dry zone and is grey in colour and smaller than the other two measuring in length of around 70cm.

These are diurnal animals and spend most of their time in the trees, coming down to the ground only to chase off and intruder or during breeding. They are usually found in pairs and are active during the early hours of the morning and the late afternoons. They feed on leaves, bark, fruits, berries etc. They are highly territorial and built 4-5 nests within their territory in the trees.

Whales and Dolphins

Being an island situated in the Indian Ocean close to the equator, its tropical waters are home to diverse variety of marine life. Chief amoung the marine life are the whales and dolphins. Sri Lanka is only now coming to explore its seas having being restricted due to the island’s 30 year civil war which ended in 2009. It is now beginning to develop as a hotspot for whale and dolphin watching as out of the 80 species of whales in the world, around 26 species has been spotted around the waters of Sri Lanka; amoung them the largest animal on the planet, the Blue Whale.

Some of the other whales seen around Sri Lanka are the Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Killer Whale, Minke Whale, Sperm Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dwarf Sperm Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Melon Headed Whale, Southern Bottlenose Whale, and the Short-finned Pilot Whale.

Most of the whales are seen during their migration from the Arabian sea to the Bay of Bengal but a colony of Blue Whales are thought to be permanent residents in the waters around the south of Sri Lanka due to the narrow continental shelf. Whale sightings are famous off the coast of Kalpitiya in the west, off the coast of Mirissa in the south and off Trincomallee in the east.

A variety of Dolphins too are found around the waters of Sri Lanka such as the Bottlenose Dolphin, Spinner Dolphin, Fraser’s Dolphin, and the Spotted Dolphin. Kalpitiya in the western coast is a famous location for Dolphin spotting.

Marine biologists are only now studying this massive treasure trove of wildlife and believe they could be in danger due to the whales’ routes being across one of the busiest maritime shipping routes in the world, from the Arabian Sea around the southern tip of the island to Singapore in the east. They believe that the rapid expansion of tourism in whale watching in recent years too could have a negative impact on the habitat of the whales and dolphins.