Udawalawe National Park is famous primarily for viewing Asian elephants. With around 500-600 of these animals living in this protected area, largely composed of open grassy plains, you are almost guaranteed to see Pachyderms in their natural habitat. Many ardent wildlife watchers consider Udawalawe not only the best elephant viewing location in Southern Asia, but one of the best worldwide, easily competing with many African National Parks.
Udawalawe is also known for its superb bird watching, with many species often visible around the Reservoir. One bird truly difficult to miss is the huge lesser adjutant stork, which at more than a metre tall is easily Sri Lanka's largest bird. Other feathered specialities include the Sri Lankan grey hornbill, spot-billed pelican and black-headed ibis. Not surprisingly, this density of life attracts hunting birds including the changeable hawk-eagle, white-bellied and crested serpent eagles which are often observed here.
The huge lake created by the Udawalawe dam was one of the main reasons for the establishment of the park in 1972, with concerns voiced on how wildlife would cope with the flooding of the previously wild, densely forested valley. Generally wildlife seems to have recovered well, with the reservoir benefiting some species. Mugger crocodiles seem to appreciate the change, along with Malaysian and water monitor lizards, and these are now commonly seen lounging on the lake's shores.
The National Park hosts many other species of mammal, including water buffalos, sloth bears, porcupines, fishing cats, Sri Lankan leopards and golden palm civet. These are generally more difficult to spot within the Park's 308 square kilometres than in Yala, due to lower population densities.
Udawalawe is located in Sri Lanka's southern plains within a transitional zone between the wet and dry areas. Its more northerly tracts contain some superb forested and mountainous areas. These higher areas include the Kalthota Range and the lovely Diyawini Falls, which cascades down from the island's mountainous centre.
One other highlight of the Udawalawe is the Elephant Transit Home, about 5km west of the park proper. It is a rehabilitation centre that looks after and releases abandoned elephant calves back into the park. The centre does good work and is supported by the Born Free Foundation. It is particularly worth a visit at the calves feeding times, when you watch calves being bottle fed milk. A truly charming scene!
Roughly four hours drive from Colombo, Udawalawe is a great option for travellers wanting to take in Sri Lankan nature in a relatively short time frame - a safari style experience on this constantly surprising Southern Asian island!
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