Bushbaby Travel: Inspiring travel for life

Wild and Wonderful Sri Lanka, Asia Blog


When it comes to wildlife in Sri Lanka, who better than Toby Sinclair, to contribute as this month's guest blogger. Toby has lived in India since the mid ‘70s travelling and organizing documentary films across South Asia for the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and other broadcasters. Toby is Vice President of The EcoTourism Society of India, and a Director of &Beyond South Asia, who are our preferred ground agents in beautiful Sri Lanka.

             Horathapola Paddy Fields Temple near sea Trincomalee 15 25 Shadow of the Peak  7220560740 c31ffe50d1 o Chaaya Blu Trincomalee Whale Watching

The classical Arabic name for Sri Lanka was Serendip. The Dutch called it Zeylon, the British Ceylon, but Serendip is definitely the most apt! Serendipity has made this a happy and fortunate land endowed with great natural wealth and beauty. The country’s Buddhist heritage and traditions have lead to a reverence for all life and this has paid huge dividends for the protection of Sri Lanka’s natural heritage. Almost 25% of the country enjoys one form of protection as Reserve Forests, Reserves, National Parks, or Strict Nature Reserves. A remarkable percentage only bettered by Bhutan in Asia.

In the scheme of the world’s great wildlife destinations, Sri Lanka is comparatively small (being similar in size to Ireland), but it has the largest gathering of wild Asian Elephants, a resident population of the largest mammal known to share our planet – the Blue Whale, and recent discoveries of Sperm Whale super-pods a few miles off the south coast. Witnessing any of these phenomena is a true privilege.

Fun fact - did you know the Blue Whale has a separate language, or at least a mutually incomprehensible dialect, from its nearest relatives off the west coast of Australia!

Sri Lanka's habitats include grassland, wetland, scrub, forest, mangrove, tropical rain forest and mountain Cloud Forest as well as a vast coastal and marine-scape set over three different climatic zones. This extraordinary variety of landscapes supports over 492 birds species breeding or visiting of which 35 are endemic. Of the 91 terrestrial mammals, 21 are endemic including three endemic primates, and there are 29 marine mammals in Sri Lanka’s coastal waters.

Sri Lanka’s deservedly famous apex predator is the leopard, a race genetically unique to Sri Lanka. Some scientists also consider the local elephant a separate race. What is without doubt is the considerably lower number of Sri Lankan male elephants with tusks. One reason may be that ivory-bearing males have over many hundreds, if not thousands of years been ‘harvested for their tusks. We know Sri Lankan ivory was traded, often by Tamil traders from southern India, as far back as 2000 years ago. 

            Noel Rodrigos Leopard Safari Elephant  Cinnamon Wild Lodge Leopards Monkey C istock Sri Lanka Sperm Whale C Shutterstock Noel Rodrigos Leopard Safari Crane

In the 38 years since I first visited Sri Lanka, science has discovered and named over 20 new species of freshwater fish, 25 reptiles, 40 freshwater crabs, over 50 amphibians, a couple of mammals, eleven new birds - all of them endemic. There was even a new frog discovered just this month, so if you find one lurking behind the mirror in your Yala lodge, you know it's unique to Sri Lanka - pretty amazing! The propensity of these frogs to call loudly in chorus after heavy rains have led the scientists to propose that its common name be ‘Rohan’s Monsoon Croaker'!

The Smithsonian Primate Project based at Polonnaruwa is the world’s longest running study of a single mammal species. Focused on the endemic Toque Macaques, it was started in 1969, and continues to be run by Dr Wolfgang Dittus. These troops were filmed by the BBC many times, and in 2015 DisneyNature released Monkey Kingdom, a full length wildlife feature based on Dr Dittus’s work.

The variety of landscapes, habitats, and climates that Sri Lanka enjoys has given the country incredibly rich natural diversity. Even a few days off the beaten track would give the traveller a wonderful introduction to it. Wildlife watching in Asia is intrinsically different from Africa. It is an adventure when the traveller has to seek out and explore. The adventure is in the search.



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