What wildlife can I see in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka?

Located in south-east Sri Lanka, Yala is best place in the world to see leopards in the wild.

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The vast reserve – with lowland woodland, grassland, lakes and lagoons – is home to 44 mammal species and 215 bird species. The park borders the Indian Ocean and contains pilgrimage sites, including Sithulpawwa, an ancient Buddhist monastery.

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Sri Lankan leopard Panthera pardus kotiya

A leopard relaxing in a tree © laurenpretorius/Getty
A Sri Lankan leopard relaxing in a tree. © laurenpretorius/Getty

Yala National Park’s leopard density is higher than anywhere else on Earth (2.5 every square mile). These ‘lords of the jungle’, as they are known, can be seen in scrub or lowlands, especially in the morning or at dusk. They mainly hunt deer and wild boar.

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Sri Lankan Elephant Elephas maximus maximus

Sri Lankan elephant suckling calf in the bush, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. © Pasticcio/Getty
Sri Lankan elephant suckling a calf in the bush in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. © Pasticcio/Getty

A sizeable population – about 300 to 350 – of Sri Lankan elephants (Asian elephant subspecies) resides in Yala, which is a very important site for their conservation. The mammals can be spotted roaming or bathing in lagoons and waterholes.

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Other highlights

Wild peacock in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. © Jeliva/Getty
Wild peacock in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. © Jeliva/Getty
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There is wealth of wildlife at Yala for visitors to enjoy, including sloth bears, crocodiles, wild peacocks, blue-tailed bee-eaters and monitor lizards. Look out for endemic bird species, including the Sri Lanka grey hornbill and black-capped bulbul.

Key facts

  • Area:1.268km2 
  • Zones (blocks):5
  • Visitors: over 650,000 per year

When to go

In the drier months (February to June) low water levels bring animals out into the open. The park is closed annually from 1 September to 15 October.

Go there with

Wetlands in the Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. © T_o_m_o/Getty