In Search of Leopards, Wildlife & Culture
Minneriya National Park, in Sri Lanka's north-eastern dry forest zone, is a relatively compact protected area at 88.9km2. It is, however, a big destination for Elephants which come to the area from surrounding forests; and for humans who come to watch them.
'The gathering', which takes place in the region's summer dry season between August and September, attracts some of Asia's largest groups of wild elephants. During this time of year, it is fairly common to see herds of two to three hundred elephants gathering around the ancient manmade Minneriya reservoir, or Minneriya 'tank', which forms the focus of wildlife here. When water is in short supply during the dry season, this water is an essential resource of both fresh green grass and liquid for elephants, as well as a huge gamut of other Sri Lankan mammals, birds and reptiles. Wildlife migrates many kilometres for a reservoir 'beach' vacation. If it isn't the height of the dry season, there are still good possibilities for wildlife watching.
Many elephants remain throughout the year and at any time there may be a good 100 of these social beasts in the forests and clearings of the park. Other animals that can be spotted here and in the adjacent Kaudulla National Park include sambar deer, toque macaques, wild buffaloes, mugger crocodiles and water monitors. A couple interesting amphibians to look out for include the slender wood frog and the common tree frog. Both Sri Lankan leopards and sloth bears occur in the park, though they are rarer to see here than the likes of Wilpattu or Yala.
The national park is a special place for birds, with 160 species residing or visiting the area. Big and easily seen species here include the lesser adjutant stork, spot-billed pelican and painted stork, who can all find fine fishing in the Minneriya Tank. Fish life in the tank can attract flocks of more than 2,000 cormorants at times.
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