Yala National Park is the most visited and Second largest National Park in Sri Lanka. This incredibly diverse park consists of 6 zones or “blocks”, 5 of which are now open for public visitation, along with its adjoining parks and other protected areas, forming “The Greater Yala Complex”.
Yala, or historically known as “Ruhunu” was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and along with Wilpattu National Park it was one of the first to be officially recognized under “National Park” status in 1938.
The Park is widely known for its incredible bio-diversity as it hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from riverine forests, grasslands, freshwater wetlands, to marine ecosystems. Thanks to these different “biomes” and more, creating habitat for such varied birdlife, it is now recognized as one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) on the island.
Over the years of people visiting Yala, including the inhabitants of the colonial era, 44 species of mammals have been recorded here. These mammals vary in size from the great Asian Elephant, all the way down to the Indian shrew. The most famous of them all and the biggest attraction, is the Sri Lankan leopard (panthera pardus kotiya). Of course, leopards are naturally elusive and shy animals and never easy to spot in the wild but if you were looking for one, then Yala would be a great place to try!
Another highlight sighting, for those who are lucky enough to spot one, would be the elusive Sloth bear. This rare, omnivorous mammal (melursus ursnius) weighs up to 110 kilos and mainly feeds on termites, eating up to ten thousand in a sitting! This shy but powerful bear, being omnivorous, is also known to steal leopard kills! That being said, the best time to spot them is in the peak of the “Palu” season (from early may till late July) when they can be spotted climbing the Palu trees to feast in their favorite berries.
A safari is not always about the big game, we frequently give in to the beauty of the feathered kind too. Yala is home to over 155 recorded bird species including 6 recorded endemics. The eye-catching colors seen in the plumages of Yala’s birds vary from the bright yellow of the black headed oriole to the electric blue on the white throated kingfisher. The park is home to powerful species of eagles such as the crested hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle, white bellied sea eagle, grey headed fish eagle, and some of the smaller, faster raptors such as the shikra or the peregrine falcon.
The magnificent wildlife diversity of this spectacular National Park comes from its floral and topographical aspects. The pristine beach that stretches along the Eastern side of Yala covers roughly 70 kilometers of coastline. The coastal areas of the park is where one would find vast grasslands and in some parts, large lagoons and mangrove forests. Heading further inland, the vegetation varies between monsoon/riverine forest, semi deciduous forest and thorn scrublands.
The landscape of most of the accessible parts of the park consist of low coastal dry zone scrub, dominated by sickle bush (dychrostachys cineria), toothbrush trees (salvadora persica), ziziphus (ziziphus oenopelia) and dotted with the famous large trees of Yala being Palu (manilkara hexandra), woodapple (limonia assidissima), and Neem (azidirachta indica). This being said, Yala is home to more than 300 species of native and introduced plants, most of which contain different medicinal properties and some play roles in traditional and cultural beliefs.
These varied vegetation types derive from the incredible geology of the area, visible in the form of large, protruding granite outcrops. These granite mountains date back roughly 600 million years and have been exposed over centuries of soil movements by means of rains and wind.
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