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Yala National Park is famous for one of the world’s highest densities of leopard – and some of its largest and most visible individuals. Sri Lanka's top predator is found in all types of forest, from thorn scrub and dry deciduous forest to lowland rainforest and mountain forest.

On morning and evening safaris you may also see elephant, sloth bear, sambar, chital, wild boar, stripednecked, brown and ruddy mongoose, black-naped hare, marsh mugger crocodile and several civet species. Birding highlights include the southern sirkeer, blue-faced malkoha, yellow wattled lapwing, rufous-winged bush lark, thick-billed flower-pecker, purple sunbird, little minivet, white-rumped shama and rare black-necked stork.

Research in 1996 led to the Sri Lankan leopard being classified as a separate sub-species to the Indian sub-species. Weighing in at 37-90 kilogrammes for males and 28-60 kilogrammes for females, the leopard is widely affected in Sri Lanka by habitat loss and poaching, and is now listed as a threatened species by IUCN (2007).

Like the elephant and leopard, Sri Lanka’s only species of bear is a distinct subspecies. The sloth bear, which is the most elusive of Sri Lanka’s Big Five, has a total population in the wild of as few as 1,000 individuals, spread over many isolated areas. Nevertheless it is only classified as ’vulnerable’ (IUCN Red List). Destruction of dry-zone natural forest is the main threat, and safeguarding its future will require considerable effort on the part of the authorities to raise the profile of this extremely interesting but reclusive animal, and awaken public interest.

View suggested itineraries

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: Asian elephant, leopard, marsh mugger crocodile, sambar, sloth bear
  • Where: Eastern Province, Sri Lanka

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

Blue Whales, Dolphins & Leopards

This itinerary endeavours to show you the wealth of cetacean life to be found in the balmy waters around Sri Lanka, from spinner dolphins around Kalpitya to blue whales and sperm whales off the south coast. The trip also visits Udawalawe and Yala National Parks for sightings of elephants and leopards.

  • When to go: Nov-Apr
  • Duration inc. flights: 14 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £2,995 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Elephants, Blue Whales & Leopards

This superb 10-day wildlife itinerary takes you to see Sri Lanka’s big three. See huge herds of elephants on wildlife safaris in Udawalawe National Park and some of the world’s largest leopards at Yala, before continuing to the south coast to see charismatic blue whales on boat trips at Mirissa.

  • When to go: Nov-Apr
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £2,645 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Sri Lanka Wildlife & Culture

This trip idea uncovers some of the many wildlife, cultural and historical highlights that Sri Lanka has to offer. As well as safaris in Yala, Udawalawe and Bundala National Parks, home to leopards, elephants and leatherback turtles (seasonal), you will also visit Sigiriya Rock and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £2,195 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Highlights

Wildlife enthusiasts! Immerse yourself completely in the stunning scenery of a variety of national parks and the heritage sites of this beautiful country. This itinerary takes in several parks, where you can spot leopard, elephant and a myriad of bird species, including some endemics.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 16 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £2.595 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation options are shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Cinnamon Wild Yala

This resort-style hotel borders Yala National Park, and has approximately 70 spacious jungle and beach chalets. There is a pool and observation deck with panoramic vistas, and naturalist guides lead excursions into the park to search for Yala’s famous leopards and its 200+ bird species.

Rain Tree Hotel

Located in Tissamaharama, the Rain Tree Hotel lies between two ancient reservoirs to the west of Yala National Park. This pleasant hotel is also within easy reach of Bundala and Udawalawe National Parks, making it perfectly situated for access to some of Sri Lanka’s most iconic wildlife locations.