Sri Lanka might be small in size, but it’s huge when it comes to wildlife: elephants, sloth bears, and leopards make every visitor’s heart beat faster.
Vast areas of Sri Lanka are protected as national parks and nature reserves which both reflects the traditional Buddhist concern for all forms of life and the growing importance of ecotourism in the country. As an island, there are many species that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet from the giant Sri Lankan Elephant to the small Golden Palm Civet. Get ready to be amazed by these 12 animals from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Elephant
The Sri Lankan Elephant is much smaller than its African cousin, so if you have images of giant ears and tusks in your head, forget about it. This elephant version comes with small ears and only about 7percent of males have front teeth. One of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular sights is the so-called Gathering of the Elephants in the dry season (July – October) when more than 300 elephants meet in Minneriya National Park. Small herds walk more than 50 miles to drink and bathe in the retreating waters of the Minneriya Tank, and to feed on the freshly sprouting grass. Seeing these majestic giants in the wild is an unforgettable sight.
Sri Lanka has more leopards than almost any other country, but even here, they are a rare sight. Most of the around 800 big cats can be found in Yala National Park, which is believed to have the highest density of these animals in the world. Leopards grow to more than 6 feet and their diet includes anything from birds to smaller mammals. Talking of diet, in 1923, the notorious man-eater Punanai was shot after killing 20 villagers. Today, attacks on humans are rare, but stick with your guide and watch those trees from which they might just size you up for their next meal.
Looking a bit like grandpa with their white beard and sideburns, the Purple-faced Langur is a monkey that is endemic to Sri Lanka. Living now predominantly in the hill country, numbers have become critically low, and they are listed among the 25 most endangered primates in the world. Purple-faced Langurs live in harems of 5 to 10 monkeys with one male, several females, and their offspring. Other animals trying to invade their territory will get an earful of loud barking calls.
Characterized by an unusual whorl of hair which resembles a hat, the Tocque Macaque is a reddish-brown colored monkey that looks a bit baboon-like. They can be seen around some of the ancient temples and are considered a local pest as they invade crops and landfill sites. Food is everything to them and they can be quite aggressive to get it, so watch that ice cream or banana! They even have special cheek pouches to stuff food into for later consumption.
Imagine a super cute shaggy bundle of black fur with a lion-like mane around the face, long, curved claws, and two missing top teeth for sucking up termites and ants (like a vacuum nozzle). Sloth Bears are nocturnal and reclusive loners though you might hear their noisy grunts and snorts as they hunt for food. When a man named George Shaw first described the animal in 1791, he believed that bear and sloth were related, which of course, they aren’t, but the misleading name remains.
Who says cats hate water? Sri Lanka’s Fishing Cat loves the wet element and is a master angler. Stocky and powerfully built, the Fishing Cat has an olive to ashy grey coat with stripes on the shoulder and spots on the side. It’s mostly at home in the wetlands, and especially around the city of Colombo where caged chicken are just like KFC for the predator – a nice change from the fish on the daily menu. Similar to their domesticated cousins, Fishing Cats roam at night, scent-mark with the head (the well-known head-butting) and spray urine.
Squirrels are a common sight, but the Giant Squirrel that lives high up the canopy of mountain forests keeps well hidden in the dense vegetation. An agile climber, it spends nearly its entire life off the ground and in the trees, so unless you’re a monkey or squirrel yourself it’s hard to catch them. If they are frightened, Giant Squirrels will either flee, leaping up to 6 feet between branches, or flatten themselves against the tree motionless until the danger passes.
Sri Lankan Junglefowl
Despite its resemblance with a common rooster, the Sri Lankan Junglefowl is not one for the cooking pot! In fact, it’s the national bird of the island nation and is even featured on postage stamps. Native to Sri Lanka, the birds are not endangered and live in a variety of habitats from coastal scrubs to mountain forests. The chicks are in constant need of live food and have a special appetite for land crabs. Because of their distinguished tastebuds, feeding them with processed food materials is a challenge and as such Sri Lankan Junglefowls largely escape life in captivity.
Golden Palm Civet
A small mammal, endemic to Sri Lanka, the Golden Palm Civet has a brown coat, and backhair that grows in reverse on their neck from their shoulders towards their head. Its existence seems to be flying a bit under the radar, as Golden Palm Civets are commonly mistaken for the Ruddy Mongoose (even the local name for civet, Ranhothambuwa, is similar to that of the mongoose, Hotambuwa). Furthermore, the small civet features on the 3 rupee postage stamp, however, it is labeled as the Golden Palm Cat there!
Sri Lankan Flying Snake
Sri Lankan Flying Snakes are about 27 inches on average and glide by stretching their body into a flattened strip with the use of their ribs. Sri Lanka has one of the world’s highest rates of death from snake bites (6 per 100,000 annually), though this species is only mildly venomous. Regardless, it’s still a good idea to protect your legs when wandering through long grass. By the way, in 2015, a Sri Lanka Flying Snake was sighted for the first time ever outside the island, in India. Was this a Snakes on a Plane situation?
Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill
If you’re into bird watching, then Sri Lanka is just the place for you! The island has a diverse array of avian life and is home to 233 resident species such as the Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill. The bird which was first described in 1811 has a peculiar way of raising a brood. After mother hornbill laid the eggs in a tree hole, father hornbill comes around and blocks the entrance with mud and droppings. Mom then loses all her feathers, though dad is a real gentleman and keeps feeding her through a small hole. Once the chicks are grown and ready to leave the nest, the wall is torn down and mom gets her plumage back – a happy family ending!
Sri Lanka is an important stopping point on the turtle trails of the Indian Ocean and the world’s five major species all visit the island for nesting. The most common one to see is the Green Turtle, which can be observed at Rekawa and Kosgoda during nightly turtle watching. Loss of coastal habitation and egg poaching has diminished the population and unfortunately, for every 1,000 eggs laid by a sea turtle, only one will make it to mature adulthood.