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Wildlife Spotting in Sri Lanka – Vacation Checklist

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Wildlife Spotting in Sri Lanka - Vacation Checklist

ChristieBy Christie   Posted 9th Mar 2020

Sri Lankans are incredibly proud of their natural heritage, wildlife and it is, indeed, some of the best in Asia in terms of both variety and in their respect for the natural bounty of the country. This small island’s wildlife offers a magnitude of opportunities for an avid animal spotter. Amid a multitude of game reserves and national parks, totaling almost 6,000 square kilometers, there exists an extremely varied fauna. In fact, 16% of the species exist nowhere else in the world — Sri Lanka holding one of the highest endemic rates globally. 

When visiting the exotic terrains of Sri Lanka, be sure and try to spot (or avoid!) the following animals:

The Whiskered, Long-Tailed Stalkers

Sri Lanka is home to a number of wild cats, varying in sizes but of equal voracity. 

Jungle cats spotted in Sri Lanka

1. Sri Lankan Jungle Cat

The smaller hunters include the Sri Lankan Jungle cat, resembling a larger and heavier version of the domesticated cat in looks but with behavior much more similar to that of a wild lynx. Weighing up to 16 kg (35 lbs), this feline hunter prefers small mammals, birds and fish as its prey. It is widespread in India and Sri Lanka and is not listed among the endangered species.

2. Sri Lankan Leopard

The Jungle Cat’s cousin, however, the much larger Sri Lankan leopard, is an endangered species and its population is estimated to fewer than 1,000 individuals. The leopard is characteristic for its captivating yellowish fur and the rosette of dark spots. This feature is the reason for the species demise, the fur is the primary objective of illegal poachers. Sri Lankan Leopard is the largest of all the leopard species, as the island is home to no other large feline predators. The population is not distributed evenly on the island and it can scarcely be seen outside its reserves. It can be occasionally stopped in the Angammedilla National Park, along with other elusive Sri Lankan species such as the Red Slender Loris or the Sloth Bear.

Rusty spotted cat in Sri Lanka

3. Rusty-Spotted Cat

This discreet little hunter, or kola diviya, is one of the smallest wildcats in Asia, measuring just 35 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in) in length. Historical records have only been found in Sri Lanka and India, though recently this cat has also been spotted in Nepal. Listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Redlist, the feline’s population is fragmented and in danger due to habitat loss and cultivation. It seems to prefer the dense vegetation and rocky areas associated with dry deciduous forests and scrublands. Observed hiding in trees and caves for an escape from larger predators, it hunts on the ground and enjoys a predictable menu of rodents and birds.

Those of a Warm and Fuzzy Nature

A wide range of mammals calls Sri Lanka home — some more elusive, like the varieties of endangered nocturnal Loris or the Golden Palm Civet and others that make more likely appearances in parks, reserves or during an exciting rainforest trek.

Ruddy mongoose in Sri Lanka

1. The Ruddy Mongoose

Known as mugatiya by native Sinhalese, this mammal is considered a pest. It naturally dwells in forests, but can also be spotted in paddy fields. Its population is not included on any endangered list. They are sometimes hunted for fur and traditional medicine but not to the extent that would threaten the population. They feed on rodents, lizards, and snakes, and occasionally enjoy harvesting carrions of other animals.

Asian Elephants are found in Sri Lanka

2. Asian Elephant

Elephants of Sri Lanka are one of the three recognized subspecies of Asian elephants and the largest among them all. This is perhaps adequately described in Latin taxonomy, where it bears the name Elephas Maximus Maximus. Reaching the modest height of 3.5 meters and weighing barely 5.5 tons they are still smaller than their African cousins. Though Sri Lankans are lucky to host the highest density of elephant population, this may change as the elephant’s natural habitat is continuously transformed into settlements or for agrarian purposes. This majestic creature is an endangered species. Even so, it is a revered animal, historically present in Sri Lankan heraldry. No large Buddhist ceremony in Sri Lanka would take place without an elephant routine, with some monasteries breeding their own individuals.

Sloth bear in Sri Lanka

3. Sloth Bear

The only bear species in Sri Lanka, the Sloth Bear is easily the least picky eater of the lot. An omnivore, it feeds on nuts, berries, and insects, but will also forage carrion. It is descended from the brown bear of the Ice Age period. The moniker is a result of misnaming the mammal at the end of the 18th century when two zoologists considered it related to South American Sloth. Its local name walaha in Sinhalese and karadi in Tamil simply translate to “bear”.

The Scaly and Beautifully Ominous Sorts

Some very large reptiles inhabit Sri Lanka, adding an element of mystery and caution to your adventure!

Crocodiles in Sri Lanka

1. Salt-water Crocodiles

Salt-water crocodiles are slightly larger and heavier than their freshwater cousins, reaching up to 7 meters in length and exceeding 1 ton of body mass. They are the most widespread modern crocodile species in Asia, coastal by nature, and making their dwellings in lagoons and murky lower stretches of rivers. Saltwater crocodiles prey on a vast variety of other animals and only feed when they need to, as they can survive relatively long periods of time with little food. As with most crocodiles, saltwater crocodilians would not mind feasting on a human, and can easily gnaw through any bone. They are record holders for the highest bite force ever observed in an animal. 

Monitor Lizard found in Sri Lanka

2. Monitor Lizard

One of the largest lizards in the world, the monitor lizard is widespread throughout coastal India, Indochinese Peninsula, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The largest specimen to be found inhabited Sri Lanka and measured 3 meters, 21 centimeters. Their weight reaches up to 50 kilograms and is only outclassed by the Komodo dragons. They are not fussy eaters, feasting on anything from fish, frogs and rodents to birds, crabs and snakes. It is debated whether the species is capable of producing venom, and some examined subspecies have been found to possess venomous glands. It is best to steer clear of their path... and their menus.

Friends of the Feathered Variety

Sri Lanka is a bird-spotters’ heaven and home to more than 220 bird species.

Peacocks in Sri Lanka

1. Peacocks or Peafowls 

The Indian Peafowl is most common in Sri Lanka, flaunting its majestic array of green, blue and gold feathers — a bird that has historically charmed so many explorers, it was artificially introduced to zoos and noble estates all over the world. The awe-inspiring mating display with fancied feathers on radial display has indeed enchanted many cultures, resulting in a variety of peacock dances becoming a tradition in a multitude of countries; to include Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia and some subcontinents of India like Sri Lanka.

Frogmouth found in Sri Lanka

2. Sri Lankan Frogmouth 

This peculiar nocturnal bird inhabits the island’s dense forests. At first glance, it resembles an owl, the common night predator. The Sri Lankan Frogmouth reaches a little over 20 cm in length, with small wings and feathers the color of rusty leaves. As it quietly roosts on branches it’s especially difficult to spot. The most characteristic feature and thus, its namesake, is its unusually wide, hooked beak with long nostrils. It is best spotted at night when the male announces it’s distinctive call — a descending and gravely series of Klock-klock-klock-klock-klock, answered in turn by the females low long Krrshhhh.

Blue Magpie in Sri Lanka

3. Sri Lanka Blue Magpie

Only found in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie or Ceylon Blue Magpie is a member of the crow family. It often travels in groups and is most vocal in the late afternoon and early evening. Known for its bright blue plumage it also sports a strong red beak, a chestnut redhead and secondary flight feathers, as well as a distinct red circle around its eyes. Not only does it frequent tropical forests where it forages in the canopy, but it is often sighted on the edges of tree plantations. Fires and deforestation have reduced their IUCN status to Vulnerable. These bright beauties have shown to tolerate and even be attracted to the presence of humans. The occasional bits of food from visitors on trails may just be a small factor. 

Be on the lookout for a very particular form of newly observed interspecies behavior — the mixed-species foraging flock, or the “bird wave”. For this type of hunt, a central “nuclear” bird species initiates the start of the hunt by verbal signal and other “attendants” species follow suit. Together, they cover great areas with little interspecies competition, seeking out prey in their own hunting niches. Some birds follow the flocks for days, others only join it when the flock is passing their territory. A bird wave moves through the forest at a speed of less than half a kilometer an hour.

Discover Sri Lanka with Grasshopper Adventures!

Our Sri Lanka cycle tours provide ample opportunities for discovering the country’s unique fauna. Grasshopper Adventure’s Self-Guided tour is a great option as it will take you through parts of three major national parks: Angammedilla, Maduru Oya and Randenigala, all of which host a plethora of Sri Lankan wildlife representatives. Our Bike Tour Sri Lanka tour explores Yala National Park, teeming with birds and wildlife, as well as cycles through tea plantations and the southern coast. Let Grasshopper Adventures be your guide to Sri Lanka’s highlights and hidden treasures and be blown away by the diversity of this small island nation, crafting a truly memorable and complete experience.

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