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About Sri Lanka - Yala National Park

Regions: south-coast
Main Article: Sri Lanka National Parks
Sri Lanka Yala National Park
Yala National Park or Ruhuna National Park is the second largest and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. Yala National Park is well recognised as one of the best parks in the world to observe and photograph leopards. The park covers an area of over 100,000 hectares and is divided into five blocks. Block one is the most visited area for Leopard Spotting in Sri Lanka since it contains the highest density of leopards. However other areas of Yala such as Yala East had been open to visitors only in 2009 and it will take time to research leopard numbers in these areas. Yala West consists of scrub jungle, brackish lagoons and stunning rock monoliths scattered throughout the park, its eastern edge is bounded by the South East coast.

Yala is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park is about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo. It had originally had been designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu National Park it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of its wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds.

Nature at Yala National Park

The park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. The national park hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. The vegetation in the park comprises predominantly of semi-arid thorny scrub, interspersed with pockets of fairly dense secondary forest. Small patches of mangrove vegetation also occur along the coastal lagoons. The park is renowned for the variety of its Wildlife (most notably its many elephants) and its fine coastline (with associated coral reefs). It also boasts a large number of important cultural ruins, bearing testimony to earlier civilizations and indicating that much of the area used to be populated and well developed.

Kumbukkan Oya in the North East and Menik Ganga and tributaries on the West, flow through the Park providing a source of water to the animals even during the driest months of the year.

Yala plays a very significant role in conservation of a large number of flora and fauna in the country. Historical and religious sites such as Kataragama, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Maha Vihara and many archaeologically important places add additional significance to the area.

Wildlife at Yala National Park

Undoubtedly, Yala is famous for its Leopards. Yala has one of the highest Leopard density found anywhere in the world. It is estimated over 30 Leopards are roaming the Block one (measuring 141 sq KM) of Yala. There is also a substantial elephant population along in Yala. The elephant herd of Yala contains between 300–350 individuals. However, the elephant population of the park varies seasonally. There is also Spotted deer, Sambar, Wild buffalo, Sloth bear, Jackal, Mongoose, Pangolins and Crocodiles. Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Elephant, Wild water buffalo are threatened species that Yala is harbouring. Although water buffaloes are indigenous to Sri Lanka, most populations contain genes of the domestic stock or are descended from feral stock.
   More on this article - Yala National Park ☟

Bird Watching at Yala National Park

The bird life comprises over 215 species, and ranges from Lesser Flamingos to Paradise Flycatchers, Crested Hawk Eagles, and Black Bitterns. Yala is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. There are six birds in Yala are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Wood-pigeon, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Black-capped Bulbul, and Brown-capped Babbler.

The number of waterbirds inhabiting wetlands of Yala is 90 and half of them are migrants. Waterfowls, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Grey Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Openbill and Painted Stork are among the common waterbirds. Black-necked Stork and Lesser Adjutant are the rare birds that can be seen in the park. The migrant Great White Pelican and resident Spot-billed Pelican are also have been recorded.

Flora at Yala National Park

Yala National Park has a variety of ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water and marine wetlands, and sandy beaches. The forest area is restricted to around the Menik River while rangelands are found towards the sea side. Other habitat types found in Yala are tanks and water holes, lagoons and mangroves and chena lands. The mangrove vegetation in the Buthuwa lagoon is largely Rhizophora mucronata while Avicennia spp. and Aegiceras spp. are less abundant. The vegetation of Block two of Yala was once a fertile paddy field and today represents Pitiya grasslands. The mangroves of Block two occur around the estuary of Menik River, which extent to 100 hectares (0.39 sq mi). The common mangrove plants are Rhizophora mucronata, Sonneratia caseolaris, Avicennia spp., and Aegiceras corniculatum. The lagoons of Pilinnawa, Mahapothana, and Pahalapothana are also located in the block two. The other common mangrove species are Sonneratia caseolaris, Acanthus ilicifolius, Excoecaria agallocha, and Lumnitzera racemosa. In the bare sand Crinum zeylanicum is found.

In the Blocks three, four and five, forests are more widespread. The canopy of the forest manly contains Drypetes sepiaria and Manilkara hexandra plant species. The Pitiya grasslands are important for grazing animals. The Cynodon barberi is the common grass in Pitiya grasslands while Zoysia matrella becomes dominant near the beach. Among 300 odd floral species are Manilkara hexandra, Drypetes sepiaria, Ceylon Satinwood, Terminalia arjuna, Limonia, Berrya cordifolia, Randia dumetorum, Pleurostylia opposita, Gymnema sylvestre, Bell mimosa, Neem, Banyan, Toothbrush tree, Schleichera oleosa, Vitex pinnata, Indian blackberry, Gmelina asiatica, Carissa spinarum, Euphorbia antiquorum, and Acacia eburnea. In the seasonally flooded areas of Block two, a wild species of rice (Oryza sp.) is found. The Glenniea unijuga is an endemic plant species found around the wetlands of the park. The Munronia pumila, Salacia reticulata, and Asparagus racemosus medicinal plants can also be found in Yala.

History of Yala National Park

On March 23, 1900 the government proclaimed Yala and Wilpattu reserves under the Forest Ordinance. Initially the extent of the reserve was 389 square kilometres (150 sq mi) between the Menik and Kumbukkan Rivers. At that time the reserve did not bear the name Yala. The Game Protection Society (now the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society) was instrumental in establishing the reserve. The forest area between Palatupana and Yala was declared a hunting site reserved only for the resident sportsmen in early part of 1900.

On 1 March 1938 Yala became a national park when the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance was passed into law by the minister of agriculture. The park consists of five blocks. Subsequently four other blocks were incorporated to the park. There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala. Kumana National Park, Yala Strict Nature Reserve and Kataragama, Katagamuwa, and Nimalawa sanctuaries are continuous with the park.

Things To See at Yala National Park

Yala is one of the most visited National Parks in Sri Lanka mainly because of the leopards. There is also a substantial elephant population along with Spotted deer, Sambar, Wild buffalo, Sloth bear, Jackal, Mongoose, Pangolins and Crocodiles. The bird life comprises over 215 species. Block one is get the most visited out of all the blocks since it contains the highest density of leopards.

There are many archaeological sites within the park and the ancient monastery of Sithulpahuwa situated at a beautiful rocky platform is among it's most visited sites.

Salt pans at Palatupana is a popular location for bird watching.

Jeep Safaris at Yala National Park

Hiring of four wheel drive jeep with a guide is a must for those who want to wonder in to its many trails to explore the Yala. It is possible to take full day jeep safaris or to split your day into morning and afternoon drives. If you are keen mainly for the Leopards Safari in Yala, your best chance to see a leopard is generally early in the morning and then again at dusk. You can stay until just after dark inside the park, thus maximizing your chances of a leopard encounter. Find out more about Leopard Spotting with travelSrilanka.co.uk by clicking here.

During the safari, there's a experienced and knowledgeable government Wild Life Department Tracker (Ranger) with you at all times, not only to take care of you, but to impart his knowledge of the local area and its attractions.

For large groups, we also provide a Naturalist. The presence of a qualified Naturalist further ensures that our guests are provided with detailed knowledge about the environment & everything from mammals to trees, flowers, birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, insects, etc. For some of our specialist tours such as Leopard Safari and Leopard Photography in the parks, we always provide a Naturalist who specialise in the tour subject.

The drier season falls between May and August and the park may closes for a short time during September and October. Please check with one of the travelSrilanka.co.uk advisors before booking a safari tour in Yala.

Camping at Yala National Park

Enjoyment of Yala can be heightened by our stylish luxury canvas camping accommodation, which is incredibly romantic where we treat you the luxury of real beds, hot showers and excellent cuisine. The tents have living area both inside and out. Find out more about Luxury Tented Camping in Sri Lanka by clicking here.

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