Leopards are one of the endangered species on Earth, being on International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, together with many other rare animals from the planet.
In 2008, the total population of leopards from Sri Lanka was estimated at about 700-950 individuals. It might sound shocking but it is not taking into consideration how much damage human did to this species! This magnificent animal was hunted by poachers for centuries and his natural environment was invaded by humans and their settlements.
Leopards are very hard to spot in our days in Sri Lanka, but there are still some places where with a little luck they might be seen.
Which is the best park for leopard safari in Sri Lanka?
Yala National Park
The best place to spot leopards in Sri Lanka is Yala National Park. This park is famous all over the world for its relatively large population of leopards. It is believed that around 40 of these beautiful animals roam around the park. But leopards are not social animals and don’t like to be seen. So, spotting one might be quite a challenge.
Except for leopards, this natural park is home to many herds of elephants, crocodiles, buffalos, deer, jackals, mongooses, monkeys, wild boar and water and land monitor lizards as well as many species of birds.
There are 2 game drives in the park: one in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Each game drive lasts for about 3 hours. The morning safari starts at 6 a.m., while the afternoon one starts at 3 p.m.
During these hours, the animals are most active. In other words, these are the best times for leopard safari in Sri Lanka, in Yala National Park.
We chose the morning safari and we were lucky enough to spot 3 leopards. They were laying on top of a rock, grooming and playing.
Dozens of cars stopped in the nearby and all the tourists compete for the best place for taking a photo. It is such an imposing animal! So beautiful and grateful! I am sure you will be fascinated by this creature as soon as you will see it!
Udawalawe National Park
This park is famous for its elephants with a population of around 500 individuals. The park is smaller than Yala National Park and has pretty much the same wild animals as Yala National Park. Leopards could be seen in this park too, but extremely rare. The conditions from the park are not that good as the ones from Yala National Park. Due to a severe monsoon flooding, most of the trees died, so the leopard’s favourite habitat disappeared.
This park is perfect for spotting elephants, not for a leopard safari in Sri Lanka. Even if there are leopards in the park, the chances of seeing them are almost zero.
Wilpattu National Park
Once a great place to spot leopards, Wilpattu National park was almost entirely destroyed during the civil war. Most of the animals were killed and their habitat changed forever.
The park was re-opened in 2003 after being closed for the last 15 years. Unfortunately, in our days, Willpatu is not a place where to spot leopards. Elephants and other grass eaters are common for the park.
So, to sum up, and answer to your question which is the best park for leopard safari in Sri Lanka, I would say Yala National park. It is the place with the highest density of leopards per square meter from the island!
Book the morning safari because the animals are more active, especially leopards. Spend your night somewhere close to the park, wake up really early and prepare your camera for some memorable shots.
We choose to sleep at Laya Safari hotel. The rooms are very spacious and clean and it is located very close to the park. It is indeed a great choice for the morning safari! Try it!