TREAT YOURSELF TO A SULTRY SRI LANKAN SAFARI
Let it not be said that your only interaction with Sri Lanka has been that cup of Ceylon tea you’ve been stirring all morning. Here at TAG Safari, we want to take you closer to the action. Why not take in the remarkable tea plantations of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country? Savor a real cup of steamy tea before heading off on a wonderful safari where the distance you’ll travel is much shorter than in other countries, yet the animal encounters will be just as fascinating. This island country in South Asia, formerly known as Ceylon, has the Indian Ocean lapping at its shores. The Bay of Bengal is to the southwest and the Arabian Sea to the southeast. The Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait separates it from the Indian subcontinent. The current head of state is Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe… okay, this detail isn’t so important. We just wanted you to pronounce that fabulous surname! Now, back to the wildlife. Not a single one of Sri Lanka’s 26 national parks are alike. That’s what’s so beautiful about going on safari in this part of the world. These sanctuaries and protected areas are home to a wonderful selection of different species – with quite a high number being endemic. WITNESS PRISTINE WILDLIFE IN YALA This is Leopard Land all right! Yala National Park claims it has the highest ‘leopard density’ than anywhere else in the world! Talk about getting your fill of prowling predators. Herds of elephant also abound with many a deer cautiously scoping the terrain. Yala is a nature reserve merged with a national park and divided into five ‘blocks,’ making up 130,000 hectares in total. Two of the five blocks are open for safari-goers. The terrain is characterized by forests, scrubs, grasslands, lagoons, and tanks (natural pools and ponds). Back in the day of the Sri Lankan Kings, Yala was home to a bustling civilization. The hundreds of these tanks are a testimony to their agri-based way of life. The large, thriving tanks nowadays provide a lifeline to the animals, most notably during the dry season. Yala sits in Sri Lanka’s southeast, flanking the majestic Indian Ocean. It is home to 44 varieties of mammals and a total of 215 bird species. Animals you’re bound to see are sloth bears, sambar deer with their rugged antlers, jackals, spotted deer, peacocks and crocodiles. Between the months of February and July, the water levels are substantially lower, bringing thirsty animals into the open and to the watering holes. LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR BEHAVIOUR… … that is, when you’re in the company of Yala’s wildlife (and, indeed, any other park or reserve). The golden rule for the safari-goer is quite simple: blend in and try to be invisible. Just like humans, every animal has its own personality and emotions, and the slightest thing can upset the peace. Here’s how you can put your best safari boot forward: Leave animated interactions for around the campfire at sunset – yup, both verbal and wild gestures The animals can sense what and where you really are – even the sound of safari vehicles seems to affect the feeding habits and personality of elephants (NOTE: This is not really something that the safari-goer can do. This is just talking about the animals.) Practice patience and be respectful – your reward is that it allows the animals to roam freely Predators can feel especially pressurized by photographers – it literally impacts their hunting techniques, feeding, and reproductive habits Behave like a spy – never ‘force’ a photo op on the creatures. Instead, stay back and stay hidden when getting the perfect shot Chasing an animal in your vehicle puts them under ridiculous pressure – think of the effect it would create if this was the conduct of visitor after visitor, day after day… Certain bird species are more sensitive at certain times – your guide is of tremendous help here. The most crucial period, by far, is nesting season (NOTE: So what can the safari-goer do?) Any undue pressure whatsoever put on the animals can mirror that of the pressure they feel when a predator is on the prowl The VIPs are the animals, not the visitors (Very Important Predators, we’ll have you know) Don’t think that we’re trying to make you feel dizzy with all these bullet points or take all the fun out of your safari trip. By no means! Simply follow our advice and you’re bound to be amazed and fascinated while going all unnoticed. RESPONSIBLE SAFARI TRAVELING This brings us to the topic of wildlife eco-tourism. The idea is to make as little or no impact whatsoever on the natural habitat AND simultaneously impact the improvement of life amongst locals. Don’t worry, you’ll still be at one with the animals and Mother Nature. One of the most important aspects of a safari trip nowadays is to stick to the wildlife regulations and be mindful to conserve and protect the areas in which you travel. The mantra is as follows: where there is wildlife attraction, there is almost sure to be eco-tourism. So, combine your visit to a national park or a reserve with a stay at a village-based eco-lodge, camp or resort – it offers up an authentic experience and allows you to play an integral part in the conservation efforts and the local, rural development drives. It will also make you sleep well, in Sri Lanka, at night, knowing that your visit is helping others (as well as yourself). ANOTHER SAFARI GEM IN A RESERVOIR Herds of elephants… wild buffalo… sambar and spotted deer… even the squirrels here are GIGANTIC. Uda Walawe National Park is one of Sri Lanka's finest. Even the most seasoned safari-goer will tell you that for elephant watching, UW supersedes several of its East African counterparts. A massive reservoir is at the center of this lightly-vegetated park. It’s still incredibly scenic and makes animal sightings that much easier. Here are heaps of elephants, sambar deer and wild buffalo – also mongooses, jackals, water monitor lizards (they are the world's second-heaviest lizard after the Komodo dragon), lots of crocodiles, sloth bears (feeding on nuts, berries, roots, carrion and even insects which they remove from rotting stumps and trees with their long, hairless snout) and the odd leopard. There are 30 varieties of snakes and rich birdlife – 210 species on record. The park guides of Uda Walawe are legendary – look no further for hawk-like wildlife-spotting prowess! LET’S SET OFF FOR A WORLD HERITAGE SITE Sinharaja is in the southwest of Sri Lanka. This is the last viable area of primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many are preciously rare. Endemic wildlife abounds, especially in the form of winged creatures. This reserve boasts over 50% of the country’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies – you’ll also be surrounded by all kinds of exotic insects, reptiles and rare amphibians. Here roams a mixture of threatened, endangered and rare species: leopards, Indian elephants, purple-faced langurs, Sri Lanka wood pigeons, green-billed coucals, white-headed starlings, blue magpies, ashy-headed babblers, and broad-billed rollers. The whole lot of them live up to their richly descriptive names. The reserve is the last extensive patch of primary lowland rainforest known as the lowland wet zone of Sri Lanka. On the beautiful Gongala Mountain Peak, draining to both the south and north, a myriad of waterways flow into the Gin River on the southern boundary and Kalu River via the Napola Dola, Kuskulana Ganga and Kudawa Ganga on its northern border. HEADING SOUTHWARDS TO GALLE Galle is the capital city of Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, and it boasts a World Heritage Site. Imagine taking a detour from your safari itinerary to explore the rambling lanes of a 300-year-old Dutch Fort in a tuk-tuk or on foot. Unawatuna is Galle’s beach town and offers pretty spectacular waves for the surfer safari-goer. Okay, it’s not big wave surfing, but the swells are fantastic for both beginners and the seasoned crowd. No worries if you didn’t pack a surfboard – there are ones to rent. If lounging on a beach amidst nodding palms is your idea of R&R, then there are plenty of relaxing spots to go for a dip, stroll along the shore, sip on a king coconut, share a mouthwatering seafood platter or finish that paperback you started reading on the plane. It’s kid-friendly too, so pack sunscreen for the little people. Unawatuna Bay is small but impressive, with its white sandy beaches and a spectacular coral reef off its shore. Calling all scuba divers! You can even be taken out by one of the scuba companies for a wreck dive that’s only a half-hour ride away. The Rangoon is a 100-year-old UK ship that sank with its mast intact. Come on! You’re not too old to play ‘pirates & robbers!’ WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO ON SAFARI ON THE 25TH LARGEST ISLAND IN THE WORLD? The temperatures will hover around 27°C (80°F) all year round. This is because it’s located quite near the equator. There is a duo of monsoon seasons and, because they alternate, it’s a 365-day safari destination, giving you the opportunity to enjoy different parts of the country – at different times of the year October to March is the best time to visit the west and southern coastline, with March being the month to head for the Central Highlands. April to September is your best bet to explore the eastern and northern areas. Be warned… October and November make up the inter-monsoonal period. It might be the off-season, but expect downpours galore. (NOTE: Isn’t October and November on season?) See you in sultry Sri Lanka!