“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.”
― Nancy Wynne Newhall
Truth be told, we are enamoured with Wilpattu National Park. Maybe it is because the park is less visited than others, and finding animals requires skill at tracking (which we are pretty good at!). Maybe it’s the distinctive driving experience along quiet sandy trails that snake under a canopy of thick, dense jungle. Maybe it’s the enchantment of its dawn, where, as the sun rises, beams of light filter through the canopy and kiss the dazzling wings of butterflies that flutter along the forest floor, extracting moisture from the cool sand that has saved the footprints of a leopard that passed that night. Perhaps its the way game drives find their way through a maze of trails that lead to picturesque water holes fringed with pristine white sand – quite often with a leopard basking lazily in the amber evening light, oblivious of the waders scouring the shallow shores for some grub before nightfall.
Or maybe it’s because this is where Kulu’s journey began…. Inspired by the inexpressible magic that lured us to spend days on end in the jungle.
Although Yala and Wilpattu would share some overlap in the individual species of animals they host, the nature of game viewing is quite different. One of Wilpattu’s signature sightings goes something like this:
We’re driving unhurriedly along one of it’s sandy roads, eyes peeled on the lookout for game, when we hear an alarm call of a deer, piercing through the dense jungle. We stop the jeep, and switch the engine off with a view of the road both in front of and behind us. Our guide speaks in a whisper, translating the sounds of the jungle that warn that Sri Lanka’s apex predator – His Royal Highness, The Leopard – is on the prowl. Deer look skittish and appear to be staring in one direction while a troop of Grey Langurs hiss and curse from the trees above. Everyone’s eyes are peeled for the movement of a silhouette, shape or blur of gold through the gaps in the foliage… The alarm calls of the deer grow louder, gripped by fear and uncertainty. Discreetly, the Boss makes his entrance… his paws tread silently on the soft, sandy road in front of us, and his form ebbs and flows fluidly with the graceful arrogance of his dominance. The air is tense… he pauses to evaluate us, and once comfortable, walks forward. He pauses again, to sniff at some bushes and then marks his territory … a few more steps and then he sits on his haunches… a few bold beams of light bring his tawny coat to life in the darkness of the forest as he evaluates his surroundings. He looks up at the chattering monkeys with annoyance; his expressionless face belies his sinister plotting of their demise. Quietly, he slinks into the jungle, and disappears as silently as he appeared… the deer disperse in a thud of hooves and the monkeys mockingly rejoice…
Fun fact: Wilpattu National Park played a vital role in capturing Leopard footage in Disney Nature’s “Monkey Kingdom” (released in 2015). Supported by our Kulu Safaris Wildlife Documentary team, two of the film’s leading videographers spent two months in the jungle filming Wilpattu’s elusive big cats. [Link]
The ecology of Wilpattu makes for great photography. The “villus” or water holes are quite large. We advise our guests to spend at least one morning or evening parked by a waterhole, letting the jungle come to them, as the animals become comfortable in their presence. Elephants, Sambhur Deer, and Sloth Bear are probable sightings, amongst the herds of Spotted Deer that constantly graze near water.
An interesting collection of raptors – Serpent Eagles, Hawk Eagles, White Bellied Fish Eagles, Common Kestrels, Shikras and Oriental Honey Buzzards are common in Wilpattu and is a joy to watch them soar (and hunt with some patience and bit of luck).
The villus feature diverse ecosystems as well, due to a mix of fresh and brackish water that attract different species of fauna to each. Wilpattu appeals to a broad variety of migrant birds, so binoculars and big lenses are strongly encouraged.
The rains in Wilpattu commence around September and continue through December. The water holes are replenished and welcome the migrant waders. The shores of the villus come alive with the resplendent hues of ‘Horsefly’ Eye’ (a vivid purple flower that grows in abundance around Wilpattu’s lakes), interspersed with the vibrant colours of both resident and migrant water birds and shorebirds that make Wilpattu their home.
The lower volume of visitors in Wilpattu make sightings all the more exclusive, and we highly recommend wildlife enthusiasts to spend at least a couple of nights exploring the treasures of this park under the guidance of our rangers. You won’t regret it.
Total Land Area : 131, 693 Ha (508 sq. mi)
Species of individual Mammals recorded : 31
Species of individual Birds recorded : Abundant* (count in progress)
Ave. Annual Rainfall : ~1000mm
Monsoon : September-December
Climate : Dry, semi-arid
Ecological Diversity : Dense forest and thick scrub, low-scrub monsoon forest
Key Attractions : Leopard, Sloth Bear, Mouse Deer, Barking Deer, Spotted Deer, Sambhur Deer, Diverse Birdlife including raptors, migrants, waders, shorebirds