Despite its small size Sri Lanka boasts of one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world whether in plants or animals and is included among the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world. Of the ninety-one species of mammals found in Sri Lanka Asian elephants, sloth bear, leopards, sambar and wild buffaloes engages the majority of the attention of wildlife enthusiast. Yet the rarest mammals of Sri Lanka are the red slender Loris, Toque Macaque, and Purple-faced Langur, who according to IUCN clarifications are endangered due to habitat loss.
Meanwhile the ocean around Sri Lanka is home to large families of cetaceans including the mighty blue whales, sperm whales and lively dolphins. Altogether 26 species of cetaceans rule the waters surrounding the country, making it one of the best locations for whale and dolphin watching.
Despite the mighty elephants and rare amphibians found in the country birds are the glory of the Sri Lanka’s wildlife. Boasting nearly 433 bird species of which 233 are resident Sri Lanka holds 20 endemic species while another 80 species have developed distinct Sri Lankan races, compared to their cousins in Indian mainland.
Although less celebrated, Sri Lanka has one of the richest diversity of amphibians in the world, containing over 106 species of amphibians of over 90 of which are endemic. The country has long claimed to have the highest amphibian species density in the world with a high concentration in the Sinharaja rainforest.
Sri Lankan Elephants
The Sri Lankan Elephant is the prominent figure in Sri Lankan wildlife and this is a rightful honour for the majestic and intelligent beast crowned the largest of the Asian elephants. The current elephant population in Sri Lanka stands at 4500-5000 and great measures are being taken in order to preserve and protect the dwindling figures.
A visit to Sri Lanka would be incomplete without a glimpse of these magnificent creatures that can be observed within safeguarded National Parks such as Yala, Wilpattu, Wasgamuwa, Minneriya , and Udawalawa . A found favorite among the locals as well as tourist is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. This remarkable elephant orphanage currently operates one of the world’s most successful elephant breeding programs by taking in and caring for injured or orphaned elephants. Watching dozens of these elephants walk past you as they splash into the river at bath time and feeding an adorable baby elephant out of a giant milk bottle is a wonderful experience that will make your visit all the more worthwhile. Be sure to observe the astounding Elephant Gathering in Minneriya during the months of July to Oct, a spectacle not to be missed.
Endemics & Protected
In Sri Lanka, at every turn it seems, there are rainbow-hued birds. Their numbers temporarily inflate during the August-April migratory season by crowds of internationally mobile waders like plovers and sandpipers but about 26 endemics, including the endangered Sri Lanka Blue Magpie and the Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot; imbue rich textures to the tapestry of the Sri Lankan skies.
Hosts of fragile painted butterflies with names like ‘Common Jezebel’ or ‘Ceylon Rose’, and dragonflies carrying romantic sobriquets such as ‘Malabar Sprite’ or ‘Asian Tiger’ flutter by, evoking images of a tropical paradise. Even among Sri Lanka’s 118 recorded dragonfly species, 52 are endemic to the country.
Sri Lankan frogs too are ‘hot’ in international ‘batrachologist’ (frog-ologist) circles. A path-breaking World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Wildlife Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka (WHT) survey discovered frogs never described before. It seems that Sri Lanka’s frog species number at least 250, seven per cent of the world’s total.
There are so many other small-mammal delights in the country’s wild places: the nocturnal, bug-eyed ‘Slow’ Slender Loris; the Sri Lanka Black-naped Hare; the Indian Fishing Cat; the Sri Lanka Jungle Cat and the usually nocturnal Sri Lanka Rusty-spotted Cat are among them; and also the 92-centimetre long Indian Crested Porcupine. To catch a glimpse of these elusive types is still possible if one wanders carefully into the belly of the Sri Lankan wild.
Sri Lanka’s Big 05
Lazing on a treetop, blending in perfectly with its surroundings, the big cat is almost invisible, yet the absence of tigers in Sri Lanka makes for a leopard with real attitude. Usually tagged ‘Prince of the Night’, this cat is well out of its normally nocturnal closet. Confident, it will stroll in the open by day, to every ecotourist’s delight. There are believed to be about 600 leopards across Sri Lanka today, mostly in the protected parks and reserves. Yala National Park has one of the highest recorded densities of leopards in the world,
The Majestic elephant moves with steady deliberation, placing huge round feet with incongruous gleaming toenails on the dusty, dry-season soil. The matriarch leads the way along a route she has followed year after year for perhaps the last half century. How many of these giant mammals still roam the island of Sri Lanka? Estimates put the number at 2,500-3,000 wild elephants. Around the middle of the year, as many as 200-300 elephants make their way to the Minneriya lake in the Minneriya National Park, possibly one of the few places on earth where such splendor can be enjoyed.
Third must-see, on the Sri Lankan wildlife scoreboard, is the Sri Lanka Sloth Bear. These shaggy, shuffling and rather hunch-backed black bears may be seen loping around even in daylight and are endemic to Sri Lanka.
In the turquoise waters of Sri Lanka, the awe-inspiring presence of the Blue Whale and the Sperm Whale completes the eco-attractiveness of this haven for wildlife.
According to ancient Buddhist scriptures, the concept of wildlife sanctuaries may well have its origins in Sri Lanka.
As long ago as 247BC, the King of Sri Lanka at the time, Devanampiya Tissa, created the world’s first wildlife haven in what is today known as the cultural triangle in the country’s north central province when he decreed, “all human beings should follow the hallowed Buddhist precept of not harming any form of life”.
Like all islands, Sri Lanka boasts numerous unique species. The 65,610 square-kilometre (25,322 square-mile) area houses an opulent wildlife gene pool, with its wildly diverse habitats, from cool misty mountains to rain forests, rolling oceans and expansive beaches, and even an arid zone for all the world like the plains of Africa.
More than 14 percent of Sri Lanka’s land area is dedicated to sanctuaries for fauna and flora and showcases some 86 species of mammals with the elephant taking pride of place, Sri Lanka has 4 species of wild cats(The Largest of them is Sri Lankan Leopard known as Panthera pardus kotiya), exotic birds and many varieties of deer, monkey, the sloth bear, wild boar, jackals, mongoose, porcupine, shrews and wild buffalo. The Island is also one of the few places in the world where the largest mammal on land – the elephant – and the largest mammal at sea – the Blue Whale – can both be spotted during the course of a day.
Sri Lanka is in essence more like a continent compressed into an island in terms of its biodiversity.