Wilpattu is the largest National Park in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest. It was opened in 1938; closed for 16 years during the Civil War; and then reopened in 2003 once security concerns were assigned to history. The war did have an impact on wildlife, but its fauna is making a strong comeback!
Wilpattu covers a 1,085 square kilometre swathe of Sri-Lanka's north west coast and is made up of a beautiful landscape of lakes, tropical dry forest and undeveloped coastline. 'Wilpattu' means 'the land of lakes' in the local language. These lakes attract a huge variety of wildlife, but it is leopards and strange, lumbering sloth-bear that many wildlife watchers journey here to see.
Although wildlife is more nervous in the presence of humans here than in Yala - for historical good reason - their confidence seems to be returning with the park's improving management. With the exception of Yala National Park, this is probably the best place to view the Sri Lankan leopard, sometimes seen prowling forest trails in early mornings or just before sunset. The park's major lakes are prime hunting grounds for leopards as well, due to large congregations of spotted deer and wild boar.
Harder to spot, Sri Lankan sloth bears can also be a highlight, with a strong population here out of the approximate 1000 surviving in the country. Wilpattu could well be their biggest remaining stronghold here on the island. Growing up to 1.5 meters in length and weighing up to 135 kg long, shaggy black hair, these incredible beasts are difficult to confuse with any other Sri Lankan resident. They are most spotted wandering dry forest areas, often feeding on termites, noisily ripping mounds apart with their powerful, clawed front legs. Wild honey, fruits and even leopard kills are also possible meals of this true opportunist. Females are sometimes seen carrying cubs on their backs. It's not a good idea to approach too closely at these times, as sloth bears are known to be very protective, sometimes aggressive parents.
Elephant, buffalo and mongoose are other animals to keep an eye-out for, although again these may still be more skittish than in some more popular protected areas. Reptiles find Wilpattu a rewarding habitat and while around the lakes, look out for mugger crocodiles, large Indian pythons, monitor lizards, pond and soft shelled turtles. The common cobra is resident throughout the park.
For bird enthusiasts the reserve is a spectacular and pristine territory, especially around the fresh water and saline lakes. Species to keep your binoculars ready for include the little cormorant, whistling teal, white ibis, spoonbill, Sri Lankan and painted stork.
Wilpattu National Park covers a huge area in an island of fairly limited space. Although wildlife can be harder to spot than in other locations, the absence of other visitors gives the park a truly wild and undeveloped feel. This is one of the park's major attractions: much of the year you could still find yourself with one of our expert naturalist guides entirely alone - just yourself and nature - with the possibility of some truly unique encounters. The best times to visit are considered to be February to October, somewhat different from many of the wetter southern parks and an extra feather in the cap for Wilpattu, the Wilderness of the north west coast.
For dedicated natural history viewing, Aqua-Firma operates private safaris with an expert guide, dedicated to exactly what you want to see and experience, be that mammal focused, birdwatching or a combination of everything this environment has to offer. This can be based from a shared tented camp, private tented camp or lakeside hotel lost in trees just outside of the park.
If a 5-star wilderness camp and a combined wildlife and cultural visit to the area is to your liking, then we can use Wilpattu as a wilderness base from which to see something of the park and the monuments of Anuradhapura and Sigiriya.
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