Fauna and flora of Sri Lanka that beautify the little Island are protected and preserved in several national parks and nature reserves offering the visitor an opportunity to taste the natural beauty. There are eleven such National Parks in the Island but the most popular for viewing animals are the Ruhuna (also called Yala), Uda Walawe and Wilpattu National Parks. From the safety of a park bungalow or a covered jeep, visitors can watch several species of animals and birds roaming freely in these extensive reserves
Ruhuna (Yala) National Park is at the south eastern corner of the Island, 288 km. from Colombo. It is the second largest national Park of the country with an area of 97,878 hectares. A wide range of wild animals including elephants, leopard, bear, sambur, spotted deer and a variety of birds including the jungle fowl and the peacock roam freely in this jungle. The park enjoys a short recess in the month of October every year when it is closed to visitors. Visitors are therefore advised to check with the Travel Information Centre of the Ceylon Tourist Board at 80, Galle Road, Colombo 3 (opposite Hotel Lanka Oberoi) or with the Department of Wildlife.
Wilpattu National Park near Puttalam in the northwestern region of the Island is the largest in the country covering 131,693 hectares. It is well known for its leopard, bear and birdlife. Other animals include spotted deer, wild boar, water buffalo, bear and migrant birds. (Note: The Park is closed to visitors at present)
Uda Walawe located near Embilipitiya in the catchment area of Walwe River bordering Ratnapura/Moneragala Districts is another popular National Park 30,821 hectares in extent famous for its large herds of wild elephant
Elephant Orphanages (Pinnawala & Uda Walawe)
Sri Lanka is the only country in the world to open elephant orphanages to protect the destitute young wild elephants. The first elephant orphanage was opened at Pinnawala about 90 km. northeast of Colombo. Young elephants left in the jungle without care are brought to this orphanage and tendered till they reach maturity. Interesting time to visit the orphanage is at the bathing time when the herd is brought to a river flowing close by or at feeding time to see the babies being bottle-fed. The orphanage at Uda Walawe was opened recently.
Sri Lanka has a wide range of endemic birds. In addition there are several migrant birds who make annual visits from far away lands to their favourite roosting places in the Island. The best viewing period is from January to April and again from August when migrant birds arrive. A number of bird sanctuaries have been designated in addition to the national Parks. The most popular bird sanctuaries are at Kumana, Bundala National Park, Wirawila and Udawattakele.
Kumana is one of the main bird sanctuaries of the Island located within the Yala East National Park. It is a popular roosting place of migrant birds arriving in October every year. Peacock, jungle fowl, barbets, hornbills, orioles, are among the several bird species that can be seen here. A special feature is the mangrove swamps nesting numerous aquatic birds like flamingos, pelican, painted stork, heron, open-billed stork and spoonbills.
Bundala National Park (264 km. from Colombo) between Hambantota and Tissamaharama provides a roosting place to several migratory birds like flamingos, painted stork, egrets, herons, spoon bills and a wide range of local bird species.
Wirawila bird sanctuary is located near Hambantota bordering an irrigation tank. Aquatic birds like herons, pelicans, painted storks and other birds like orioles, kingfishers frequent this region.
A forest reserve in Kandy is the home for a large number of bird species. Among them are the bulbul, barbet, flycatcher, babbler, woodpeckers and kingfishers. Flora Nearly 4,000 species of plants constitute the rich and diverse flora of Sri Lanka of which around 1,000 species are endemic. This wide range of plant species is spread through the wet and dry zones of the country. Sri Lanka’s endemic flora is protected within a tropical rain forest reserve called Sinharaja. There are three botanical gardens in Sri Lanka at Peradeniya, Hakgala and Gampaha displaying a large collection of tropical and sub tropical plant species. Sri Lanka’s orchids are world renowned. About 166 recorded species of orchids are found in the Island of which about 66 are endemic.
Sinharaja, the ‘Forest of the Lion King’ in the southwestern hills is the only virgin tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka and has been declared a World Heritage Site. With an average annual rainfall of 3,000 mm. and without a clear dry period it has within its remaining 11,330 hectares of land area rare species of tropical flora and fauna. As the name suggests it is believed to be the last refuge of the Sri Lankan lion now an extinct species. Safe accommodation is available to tourists within the forest reserve.
Peradeniya Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya (109 km. from Colombo) near Kandy was laid out in 1821 by the British colonial rulers. Prior to that it was the Royal Pleasure Garden of the Kandyan Kings. It is located in a beautiful setting with the longest river of Sri Lanka, Mahaveli bordering it on one side. This attractively laid out garden displays many varieties of floral and green plants. Special features are the Orchid House which displays a fine collection of Sri Lankan orchids, the fernery, spice garden, and the trees planted by distinguished visitors to the Island.
This is close to Nuwara Eliya at an elevation of 1800 metres. It displays sub-tropical and montane flora. This garden too was laid out during the period of British colonial rule. Beautiful flowering plants are a big attraction.
This is close to Colombo only 32 km. away at Gampaha. A special feature is the first rubber tree planted in Sri Lanka that can still be seen at Henerathgoda Gardens.