Northern, eastern and south-eastern parts of the island are becoming dry exactly when monsoon season is starting at the south-western coast. Many wild animals can be observed in the dryzone right now, in wildlife parks in particular, as almost all national parks in Sri Lanka's are situated in the dryzone.
Many fruits are ripe in July and August, this is a reason for better chances to observe sloth bears now, for example in Sri Lanka's largest national parks, Wilpattu and Yala. Palu fruits are the favourite fruits of sloth bears. When Palu fruits are ripe in July and August, sloth bears can more easily be observed in Sri Lanka's wildlife parks than in any other season.
Almost half of Sri Lanka's sloth bears live outside national parks. In Kudumbigala near Okkanda (at the border of Kumana NP) you have best chances to spot sloth bears without entrance ticket. Though a sloth bear's preferred diet are insects and particularly termites and ants, 50% or even 70% of their food are fruits during this season. Of course, Baloo's relatives eat honey, too.
Baloo is called "the sleepy brown bear" in Rudyard Kipling's "jungle book". However, "Bhalu" is the Hindi word for the species of bears most common in South Asia, the sloth bear. Baloo, Mowgli's teacher and helper in the jungle, is a character well-known for his sleepiness. An impression of sleepiness was exactly the reason why the British called India's Melursus ursinus a "sloth" bear. Though, in contrast to most other bears, this Southasian species is not a hibernating animal (no winter sleep), sloth bears are less actice during the wet season.
Sri Lanka's subspecies of sloth bears, Baloo's cousin, is slightly smaller than bhalus on the mainland, a feature applying to many island subspecies. In contrast to Indian sloth bears, their Sri Lankan relatives mate during wet and dry season alike. Their preferred habitats are monsoon forests of lower altitude, those in India occur in open grassland as well.
Ruhuna National Park, also known as Yala National Park, in the south-eastern part of Sri Lanka is a must-see for every nature lover visiting the island. Ruhuna is the ancient name of the region, whereas Yala is the name of a former coastal village within the national park boundaries.
Sri Lanka’s most beloved national park is famous due to the enthusasiastic reports of many impressed visitors and excellent TV-documentaries about its leopard population. The vastest area is covered with dry scrub and woodlands as well as moist monsoon rain forest, whereas the most visited part, Block 1, has lots of rock bolders, open grassland and small freshwater lakes and marine wetlands. Ruhuna National Park harbours 44 mammal species, 46 reptile species and 215 bird species, including 6 that are endemic. Common birds are Brahmini Kites, Bee-eaters, Painted Storks, Asian Open bills, Black-headed Ibises and Sri Lankan Jungle fowl, the national bird. Chances to observe wild elephants and salt water crocodiles are high. The density of leopards is, besides Wilpattu, the highest in the world. Nevertheless, leopards should not be expected to be spotted on each and every safari.
Ruhuna National Park safaris
Most visitors book a tour of three hours in the morning or in the late afternoon. Full day safaris are easily managable, too. Overnight stays are possible in bungalows. After some public debate in 2013, only very few tour operators are permitted to organize camping tours for guests with special permission.
Ruhuna block 1 standard safaris
Most tourists visit block 1, which indeed is the most scenic and ecologically rich part of Ruhuna National Park, with two dozens of leopards roaming or often relaxing on trees or rock bolders. Don’t expect to have block 1 reserved for yourself when visiting it by jeep. This wilderness is not loneliness. The mammal species you will watch most frequently are human beings, because in Block 1 you will probably share the sandy paths with dozens of other jeep sometimes driving in columns and assembling wherever a leopard is spotted. But it’s really worth it, particularly for those who cannot spend more time or money for a wildlife experience. Very few guests of block 1 are disappointed due to the tourist hurly-burly. Most guests are amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the variety and density of wildlife. But do not expect large herds, Sri Lanka is not Africa.
Real safaris in Ruhuna
Real safaris in other blocks are usually not managable and the prices are high. Indeed, there are tranquil areas with even good or higher chances to observe leopards than in block 1. The classic is the offroad safari starts from block 1, crossing block 2, which is situated between the rivers Menik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya, arrives in e neighbouring Kumana National Park in the east. But be aware, this rarely permitted real safari is not possible after heavy rainfall, because there are no bridges crossing the river.
Beyond doubt, real Ruhuna National Park safaris including Kumana are the most amazing adventure highlight Sri Lanka has to offer for wildlife enthusiasts. But they are expensive due to the charges of the Wildlife Department. For those travelling on a smaller budget we can arrange an alternative in another wildlife area, which is close to Ruhuna alias Yala, with overnight stays in Lunugamwehera National Park.
Read more about Ruhuna National park here...
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,