2013.12 Sri Lanka: elephants and birds galore!

18th May 2014

Sri Lanka is an island located at the east of the Southern tip of India. Although people look very similar to Indian people, it is really a different country. First it is really not as crowded as India, roads are in good shape and the island is mostly very clean. Sri Lanka has had his share of big issues like civil war and a deadly tsunami back in 2004 but it seems it is a growing country and that it is on good track to reconstruction.

Although I enjoyed the experience, let’s simply face it: not every wildlife photography trip is a great success. It obviously depends on your goals but when your main goal is not reached there is always a bitter taste to it.

So, besides enjoying this very nice country that is Sri Lanka when it is winter time in Europe, my main target was to improve my portfolio of Asian leopards which so far is rather thin with just one nice encounter in Sasan Gir in India (but pictures are certainly not my best of leopards).

So the mission was not a success. I have seen a few leopards from very far away. The reason for this is probably that one should not go in Yala (which is supposed to be the best place in Sri Lanka to see leopards) when it is Christmas or new years Eve time (I have even been told December even). It is a period of holidays in Sri Lanka and the country also gets the visit of a lot of foreigners. I have found Yala to be a beautiful place but at least at this period of the year it suffers from a terrible mismanagement. The number of cars allowed is probably 3 times what it should support. Everybody is coming with his own 4×4 and there is no quota at all. The outcome of this is that big cats do not want to show. I have seen lines of 50 vehicles or more just to catch the glimpse of a leopard in a tree 500m away. Sometimes, you just want to take a picture of a bird and there is always someone behind you pressuring so that you carry on! This was also sad to see the jungle traffic at the end of the day when too many vehicles are trying to go out of the park in a hectic race.

Anyway, when your main plan does not work, you have to have a plan B. In my case it was to get good pictures of Asian Elephants and of the many birds that this island hosts.

So here are a few pictures of the second star of the island: Elephas Maximus. Although it looks very similar to the African elephants it is a relatively distant cousin (Asian elephants are closer to the mammoth family for instance).

In Yala, I have attended a stunning natural history moment when a group of wild boars has taken over the carcass of a dead deer from the jaws of a mugger crocodile. The force of this group was much stronger than that of this lonely crocodile that had just to bail out from the scene.

Sri Lanka hosts also a good variety of mammals. I did not see bears, but I saw a couples of golden jackals, a few ruddy mongooses, wild boars, spotted or Sambar deers, water buffaloes, monkeys (langur or bonnet macaques), squirrels including the odd looking Giant Malabar squirrel (one specimen came several times close to our lodge) and a fantastic colony of Sri Lankan fruit bats (among the largest bats in the world).

Golden jackals:

Ruddy mongoose:

Asian wild boars:

Water buffaloes (it is hard to say « wild » as there is a lot of inbreeding with feral domestic cattle which is very sad since the wild ones tend to loose their majesty).

Sri lankan fruit bats:

hanuman langurs:

Bonnet macaques:

spotted deers:

Malabar giant squirrel:

Three banded squirrel:

Sri Lanka is also a very good place for birding. Once I was close to Rekawa lagoon and in the early morning I managed to be the witness of a incredible fight between 2 black winged stilts, witnessed by a 3rd stilt. I have really rarely seen something so violent.

Here are few species that caught my eyes during this trip.

Blue tailed bee eater:

Little green bee eater:

Chestnut headed bee eater:

Malabar pied hornbill:

Sri Lankan jungle fowl:

spotted dove:


White throated kingfisher:

Brahminy kite:

Changeable hawk eagle:

Crested serpent eagle:

Crested hawk eagle:

Little Cormoran:

Pond heron:

Purple swamphen:

Cattle egret:

Great egret:

Red wattled lapwing:

White breasted waterhen:

Sri Lanka is also a good spot for reptiles like monitor lizard or mugger crocodiles:

Yala offers some delightful landscapes. I am sure it is even more enjoyable when it is not the peak season.

Sri Lanka is also a prime country for whale and turtle watching. I truly enjoyed a turtle watching evening (it was the second of my life and got again to see a turtle trying a spot to hatch on the beach) but the whale watching was not good for the same reason that Yala did not meet all my expectations: too many boats, too many people, permanent race after the simple sighting of a fin. So simply avoid this period, I’m sure the country will deliver any other time! As far as I am concerned with Asian leopard, I’ll try my luck in Kabini in India.


Photo commentBy Guillaume: Bravo! Passionné par la faune, je regarde votre reportage. je n’hésite plus le Sri Lanka sera ma prochaine destination.

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