A Game Drive At Yala


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Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Initially, it was a hunting ground for the elite when the country was under British rule. It was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and a national park in 1938. Yala has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares divided in to five blocks two of which are open to the public. 44 species of mammals including the worlds biggest concentration of leopards and 215 bird species are found in the park. The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels of the park are low, bringing animals into the open.

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We got to Yala before gates opened at 6 am. The yard in front of the ticket office was already packed with safari vehicles, all waiting to storm the park as soon as the gate opened. Many, including us, had to do without an official tracker. That makes it important to have a good jeep driver, as ours was, who knows the park well and has a keen eye for birds and animals. No food and drinks are available in the park and you should bring a packed breakfast/lunch and plenty of water. We had sandwiches, bananas and soft drinks from Tissa Lake Hotel.

Following recent rains, the scrub forest looked lush and green and there was plenty of grass and water for ruminants. A lone wild boar was digging up roots and a crocodile was basking on a rock in the middle of a lily pond. Grey Langurs sat and watched us like old men. Leopards however, eluded us.

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Grey Langurs

Yala is a great place for birds, specially in February when migrants arrive. It was disappointing not to spot Indian Pittas, Brahminy Mynas and Rosy Starlings which are often found in the park at this time of the year.

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Grey Heron

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Painted Stork

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Pond Heron, Black-headed Ibis and Egret

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Whistling Ducks

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Cormorants

Raptors seen included Changeable Hawk Eagles and a pair of rare Brown Fish Owls.

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It was pleasing to see a nesting Black-headed oriole at close quarters.

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All three Sri Lankan bee-eaters – Little Green, Blue Tailed and Chestnut-headed, were seen. A pair of nesting Rose-ringed Parakeets were seen on a dead tree. Peacocks were spotted on the ground, up trees and displaying.

We stopped for a picnic breakfast on the beach at Patanangala where the Tsunami Memorial is. This is the only place in Yala where visitors are allowed to get off their safari vehicles. The Tsunami of 2004 struck the park on December 26. 250 people in and around the park perished. The most fascinating discovery in the Tsunami’s aftermath was that no animals were in harm’s way, prompting a theory that ‘sixth sense’ of animals took them out of the path of on-coming waves.
Nowadays, Patanangala beach is quite crowded. There used to be a migrant fish camp here and it was a good place to buy fresh fish from the fisherman at ridiculously low prices. Many years ago, I was able to buy a small sack of lobster from a fishing boat that just landed for less than Rs. 200 (£1) which I later had grilled and served with melted butter at Yala Safari Hotel which sadly was destroyed during the 2004 tsunami.
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Patanangala Beach

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Tsunami memorial

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Travelling mates

As we drove out of the park, we were surprised to see a wild boar on the tarmac, begging for food. “It is a wild animal but it has got used to visitors feeding it” our driver said. Bread and buns were thrown out of the jeeps which the boar happily accepted.. As we drove past him,  I couldn’t help thinking that it had a wide grin on its face!

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 (The visit was arranged by Flamingo Tours of 129/14, Kadawatha Road Dehiwala, Sri Lanka, Tel: 077-1739773, E-mail: padmini@flamingolanka.com Website: http://www.flamingolanka.com)
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3 thoughts on “A Game Drive At Yala

  1. It all looks amazing Bernard, very envious. The memorial site looks quite a modern design, think there is something in the theory of animals 6th sense. Take care Carol and Peter

    Liked by 1 person

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