National Parks

Posted on May 10, 2014

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Since being in Sri Lanka, I have been to five national parks dotted all over the country (Minneriya, Kaudulla, Yala, Bundala and now Sinharaja). During my various safaris I have been fortunate to see a leopard basking in the early morning sun on a rock, a sloth bear feeding high in the treetops; 80 wild elephants feeding, male and female jackals, spotted deer, water monitors and many beautiful bird species. I am by no means a twitcher and in the past I would never have dreamt it would be something that I could learn to appreciate. I haven’t gone so far as to buy a pair of binocs specifically for this, but I must confess I am tempted.

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Some of the birds I’ve seen are endemic only to Sri Lanka others are widely found in Asia. They include two different species of sea eagle; cormorants; five species of heron, red-wattled and yellow-wattle lapwings, black-winged stilt; Eurasian spoonbill (named for shaped of his beak) bee eaters, barbets and parrots. The parks here are remarkably well protected and preserved and the eco-guards are incredibly knowledgable about all wildlife. There appears to be little illegal activity according to the locals I have spoken to compared to Africa’s parks. Over here, wildlife crime which includes illegal logging has immediate consequences – fines as well as jail time.

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Also on my recent hit list of species spotted for the first time are the star tortoise, jungle fowl, barking deer, three species of monkey (purple faced langur, tufted grey langur and toque macaque). Sri Lanka is teeming with biodiversity and I haven’t even scratched the surface.

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Today I trekked for nine hours through the Sineraja rainforest and saw some rare lizards endemic only to Sri Lanka, held a wild green vine snake and saw a pit viper curled tightly around a branch under a rickety old wooden bridge. My guide, a charming man who runs the guest house I am staying at is a biologist and has been a guide for 15 years. He took me through some mind-blowing scenery which left me humbled, in awe and also out of breath. The forest landscape is not flat and not since Congo have I been put through my paces.

I fell into a river this afternoon after failing to jump across large smooth rocks jutting out of the water. I landed squarely on my arse without any grace and sat there laughing waist deep before deciding to remove my water filled boots and wade the rest of the way through bare foot. It can only be described as a comedy moment because the local villagers sat watching on the rocks and on the banks in disbelief.

Once across we climbed the steep bank and walked a little way along before getting to a few more rocks and there it opened up into a stunning, dramatic waterfall where I swam while my clothes dried off. Later in another fast flowing river with yet another spectacular waterfall I had a pedicure by some very large and tiny fish (don’t know the species) which had me squealing with delight. The large ones tickled like mad as they nibbled away at the dead skin from my poor, seen-better-days feet.

The forest here is beautiful and is surrounded by a few villages and many rice paddies. The landscape reminds me a lot of Vietnam, it’s lush, green and with huge large hills and palms trees scattered across the landscape.

The wildlife here is a definite pull and it’s a country I would love to return to. There is so much to see and I’m sure many more things to discover.

The ocean here is something else – next time diving not snorkelling is on the cards!

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Posted in: Asia