‘Sri Lanka is the best all-round wildlife destination in the world. Better, even, than such sought after hotspots as the Serengeti Plain and the Amazon Rainforest’.
This is the bold claim of renowned naturalist Gehan de Silva Wijeratne, the man responsible for writing some of the most powerful articles of international significance on wildlife tourism. Mr Wijeratne has published over 300 articles and 15 books on British and tropical wildlife, yet has never been dissuaded from his belief that Sri Lanka’s disproportionately rich biodiversity makes it the world’s number one country for wildlife tourism.
Sri Lanka does have an incredibly diverse environment for a country of its size. As well as its beautiful beaches and tea-covered hills, the island boasts rich rainforests, mangrove-shrouded rivers, paddy fields, shrub land, tropical jungles and mountains. Travellers who undertake a full tour of the island, journeying through this fast-changing landscape, will see a startling number of different creatures all suited to different environments, all housed in one small country.
Sri Lanka has 26 national parks which collectively cover over 5,000km, 13% of the island’s total mass. These range from vast Wilpattu in the north-west to Pigeon Island, one of the country’s two marine parks, in the Eastern Province. If most of the world is behind in recognising the island’s wildlife tourism potential, at least the Sri Lankan government is taking essential steps to preserving it.
So far, then, Wijeratne’s claim seems to be supported. Travellers can spend a weekend on the south coast and see whales and dolphins, leopards, elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, water buffalo, sloth bears, deer, monitor lizards and various types of bird… and that list is not exhaustive.
Not only is the island suited to wildlife tourism because of its closely-compact differing environments: Sri Lanka is also one of the top countries in the world for seeing a variety of elusive animals. As well as being one of the best places to have a leopard sighting, Sri Lanka is fast being recognised as one of the best whale watching spots in the world. Blue Whales and Sperm Whales roam the island’s shores, accompanied by scores of dolphins.
Another big tourist attraction is, of course, the Indian Elephant, which can be seen at all of Sri Lanka’s main national parks. Incidentally, the island also boasts the biggest gathering of elephants in the world: the Elephant Gathering at Minneriya National Park. This internationally-recognised event occurs between June – September, where up to 200 elephants at a time can be seen congregating round the park’s never-draining water tank.
So, if the island is such an incredible destination for wildlife-lovers, why have Sri Lanka’s national parks never risen to the fame of those in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa? Mr Wijeratne added to his claim that ‘Sri Lanka is the all-round best travel destination in the world’ with a small qualification:
‘On a single factor basis, nothing can surpass the big game safaris in East and South Africa. The small island of Singapore has better visitor access to its rainforests. But as an all-round wildlife destination, Sri Lanka’s potential is unmatched’.
Whilst Sri Lanka cannot match the dramatic African plains, or the mysteries of the Amazon Rainforest, the country boasts a diversity akin to that of a larger country on a continental scale in a conveniently compact form. For wildlife-enthusiasts looking to see a lot in a short amount of time, Sri Lanka is unmatched as a travel destination for a specialised wildlife holiday.
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