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Sri Lanka Wildlife

Sri Lanka wildlife

Even though Sri Lanka is not a big country and differs in many ways from African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, Sri Lanka offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife safaris. Sri Lanka wildlife collection is rich and vivid, it includes leopards, elephant, crocodile, monkey, wild buffaloe, deer, jackal and many other animal species with a large number of birds, amphibians, insects and vertebrates.

The chances of seeing big herds of animal-like in African safari are might rare on the island. But Sri Lankan national parks are rank among the best places to witness wild animals such as leopards and elephants.

Recently conducted a survey on wild elephants revealed that Sri Lanka has the highest number of wild elephants in the region. Unlike many national parks, you will be able to witness many numbers of wild animals within a one-hour safari in Sri Lanka, Due to the large concentration of animals within a small geographical area.

Gecko is one of the most popular in-house creatures on the island. These are small, nocturnal and often highly vocal lizard. They can easily walk in the upright direction on the walls with their adhesive feet. Geckoes are totally harmless for the human and they prey on mosquitoes. They have very bright skin and about 5-15 cm long. They are mainly prey on insects and can be very loud sometimes with a noise similar to “Tschiktschik”.

Hotel gardens, parks and forests are often inhabited by many species of primates. Most of the primates in Sri Lanka are from the species of languor. And also macaques are also can be seen very often in Sri Lanka. Macaques are smaller in size compared to most of the primates. They are smaller in size, dark yellow in colour; macaques are aggressive compared to other primates, it is advisable to keep the distance from them.

Elephant, the most popular among Sri Lanka wildlife

The elephant is the biggest animal on the island. You encounter them not only in national parks but also in some populates dry zone areas. For instance, along with the highway between Polonnaruwa and Habarana.

About 150 elephants are tamed and trained to perform various activities. Today, they are mainly used in religious activities and traditional events. Elephants are not employed to do tedious and difficult tasks such as carrying heavy logs in the jungles anymore.

With more than 5800 wild elephants in the jungle, Sri Lanka has the highest number of wild elephants in Asia. Esala ceremony is participated by a large number of beautifully dressed elephants and an elephant is entrusted to carry the most sacred element for Buddhists namely Dalada or Tooth relic around the city of Kandy.

Mongooses are encountered very often on the island. They are very shy and hide in a flash upon encountering a human. They usually prey on snakes, birds, bird eggs, and insects. Monitor lizards are also can be spotted very often by the side of roads.

leopard sri lanka

Leopard, the rarest cat among Sri Lanka wildlife

The leopard of Sri Lanka (panthera pardus kotiy) is the biggest carnivore in the jungles of Sri Lanka. Other than the leopards, three other species of wild cats in Sri Lanka are the fishing cat, the jungle cat and the rusty-spotted cat.

All these three species of cats are smaller than the leopards, but they have a similar lifestyle to leopards, prominently meat-eaters. These cats belong to the order of carnivores and the family is Felidae.

Even though the national park of Yala ranks among one of the best places to witness leopards, it can be difficult to take them into your camera.  Being very shy it is not easy to spot them in the jungle.  Sri Lankan leopard differs in many ways from the other big cats in the world.

Leopards are the most fearful and biggest carnivore on the island.  Sri Lanka leopard (panthera pardus kotiy) is a sub-species of common leopard and they are endemic to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan leopards are bigger than its other counterpart in the African continent. Wilpattu and Yala are the most popular national parks to see leopards.

The fishing cat (Felis vierina)

The fishing cat is a medium-size animal which measured about one meter in length and it has a tail which is around another 30cm in length. A well-grown fishing cat weighs between 11 to 15 kg. Their body size is similar to the size of the average village dog.

The animal is brownish-grey in colour and has a coat made of short fur. Like in cats several stripes run from the forehead to the neck of the animal. There are two horizontal stripes on the pale colour cheek. Black spots can be seen along the length of the body in several rows. There are no marks on the legs but there are some rings on the tail.

As the name suggests it largely depends on the aquatic animals for its food. Fishing cat mainly live in the areas where the water is plenty, such as marsh-lands, riverine, reed-beds, mangroves, tidal creeks. They are rarely seen away from the water.

The fishing cat shows a wide distribution in many parts of the Asia and South East Asia regions. They are good hunters and capable of killing dogs, goats and sometimes bigger animals. They are a reputable fish hunter; it sits on the river banks or on a rock close to the water and hooks the fish that come to the surface, using the paws. They are very deft in swimming and catch the fish with its jaws with a short plunge.

The jungle cat (Felis chaus)

The jungle cat is considered as a small to medium-size cat weighs between five to six kilograms. It is almost one meter in length from the nose to tail. Even though the body shape is similar to domestic cats they are taller than the domestic cats due to the long legs. One unique feature of the cat is the relatively short tail compared to the body length.

The Colour can be described as reddish-brown to yellowish-grey. The tail has black rings towards the end of the tail while there are dark horizontal stripes on the leg. They occur in many parts of the world; from Egypt through the Middle East, South Asia to South East Asia. Their usual habitat is mainly confined to drier areas. The jungle cat depends on the small animals and birds to fulfil its dietary requirement. They are known to attack poultry in the villagers in some occasions.

The Rusty-spotted cat (Felis rubignosa)

The Rusty-spotted cat is a small animal and it is the smallest wild cat in the world. It weighs barely 2 kilograms and it is half a meter in length. It has a grey-brown coat with rust coloured spots with several stripes along with the head and across the cheek. It mainly preys on small reptiles, rodents, roosting birds and ground-nesting birds. They show a wide distribution in India and Sri Lanka. They are occurring throughout Sri Lanka.

Leopards considered as the main threat for these lesser cats in the jungle. Even though there are no direct completions between these cats and the leopard for resources, there is an ever-present danger to these species from the leopard. Destruction of living habitat through the deforestation is considered as a serious threat to the survival of these cats.

Mouse deer (Trangulus meminna)

One of the alternative names for the Mouse deer is known as chevrotain and it is commonly known as Meeminna by the Sinhalese language. Thi the Sinhalese name has contributed for its scientific nomenclature.

The mouse deer is a small animal which grows a maximum thirty centimetres in height. Larger animal of this genus is found in several South-East Asian countries, but still, they are comparatively smaller than the average deer. This is a species of deer without antler; greatly elongated caning teeth are substituting the antler.

Caning teeth are used for defence and fighting and they are called ‘tusks’. Tusks of males are larger in size than the tusks of females and protrude below the upper lip. Since the smaller size of its body cause them to be killed often by village dogs and house cats.

Mouse deer are to be found in low down of the food chain and their best defence is concealment. Mouse deer has the pattern of beige stripes on his coats. They have spots in the areas of darker buff background, which helps them to camouflage.

Mouse deer is an animal seen very rarely in the jungle owing to its secretive living style. They remain hidden in the jungle for most of the time. Mouse deer is an animal with a wide distribution in the island covering all the major climate zones (dry zone and wet zone). Sometimes they can be seen in the suburbs such as Colombo. But owing to their secretive habits prevent them from being noticed.

Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)

This species of deer known as muntjac, and it is found in all parts of South and East Asian countries.  Baking deer shows much larger geographical distribution within the South and East Asian countries than most of the deer species in the world. Barking deer can be divided into several subspecies and races. Usually, it is small in body size and as big as average village dog, It has reddish-brown fur and it is not similar to any other animal in the country.

It is mostly found in the wooded habitats. Antler of the barking deer is short and it has two tines and two prominent can be witness below the facial skin of the deer. The name muntjac derived from its call, which is similar to bark and very loud sometimes it is the very louder call for an animal of its size. They usually live in individually; pairs are also can be seen sometimes and occasional small family groups. Barking deer is timid and shy, best places to witness them in Sri Lanka are Wilpattu and Wasgamuwa National Parks.

Wilpattu national park considered being one of the best places to see wildlife such as barking deer owing to its abundance in the park. Wilpattu national park was closed for 18 years during the civil war in the country and today it is open to the general public.

Some of the other deer species in Wilpattu national park such as Axis deer and Sambhur population have been reduced to an alarming rate during the same period.

It is believed that illegal hunting had been the reason for the reduction of some of the animals and some of the animal population is increased, while they are not targeted by the hunters. Living habitats of Barking deer and Axis deer shows the distinct ecological differences and they occupy different ecological niches.

There is no competition for food among Axis deer and bark deer since they are living in different ecological niches. The population reduction of Sambhur in the Yala national park, however, believed to be a benefit for the barking deer.

Hog deer (Cervus porcinus)

Hog deer is one of the rarely seen animals on the island today. It is called Hog deer owing to its hog-like, stout body shape. Even though the Hog deer looks very different from the Axis deer it is closely related to the Axis deer. The antlers of the Hog deer are straight and relatively small. Its antler consists of three tines or branches and they have renewed annually. Their favourite living habitats consist of marshy surroundings, short-grass plains and grassy riverbank.

Hog deer are also can be seen in solitary or in small groups. They could be seen often in southern Sri Lanka from Bentota to Koggala. In India, they mostly occurred in Sind through Punjab and Assam and spreading eastward into Myanmar.

Even though they are not seen in the Indian sub-continent, hog deer is mysteriously still available in Sri Lanka. It is believed this species of deer were introduced during the Portuguese or Dutch period. Losing the natural habitat being the main challenge for the existence of Hog deer and they are population had been reduced to an alarming by today.

Sambhur (Cervus unicolor)

Larger body size of Sambhur makes them the third largest mammal on the island after Elephant and buffalo and easy to spot during the Sri Lanka wildlife tours. Several sub-species of Sambhur are occurred in throughout the Asian range, from India to the Philippines. The body size of Sambhur largely varied across different countries.

Sri Lankan Sambhur is being considered being comparatively larger than other specimens. Today the distribution of Sambhur is limited to some parts of the country, even though once they had a wide distribution on the island.

Sambhur is restricted to wet zone mountain forests today and it is difficult to see them outside the dry zone protected areas. Illegal hunting and habitat loss are considered the main challenge for the survival of sambhur. Only the stags carry antlers, which grows in the second year of life and the antler is renewed every year.

Horton Plains national park in the central province considered being one of the best places to witness this animal. Wilpattu, Yala, Kumana and Knuckles range also considered to have a considerable number of Sambhur. The only natural enemy of Sambhur is the leopard, and they have become an important prey for leopards especially in the mountainous areas.

The number of sloth bear in the jungles of Sri Lanka is drastically reduced in the last several decades. Still, several sloth bears can be seen in the wild-life parks such as Yala. They usually hang around the termite mounds after the shower.

Civets of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is inhabited by three species of civets namely Ceylon small civet (Viverricula indica mayori) commonly known as ring-tailed civet, common Indian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphrodites hermaphroditus) and the Golden palm civet (Paradoxurus zeylonensis).

All these members are belonging to the Family of Viverridae as commonly seeing mongoose. They can be described as nocturnal omnivores often seen in the night. Especially the claws of these members are well adapted to the environment where they live.

Sharp, curved, fully-retractable claws enable them for being good climbers. Same time hairless foot pads are used for a firm grip during the climbing. So that they heavily rely on the foot for hunting and protection.

But Ceylon small civet is mostly seeing on the ground, small patches of fern or grass are the cushion they like most for relaxing. They make their nest in a hollowed-out cavity underneath a tree trunk or a rock, usually, they give birth to 3-5 small litter. Animal of this family can be seen in every corner of the country. One species or another can be witnessed from the arid zone forest in Yala to Horton plains in the central mountain range.


Polecat is the most common among the urban dwellers and they often occur in houses. People may find them bothersome due to their disturbing lifestyle in which they run on rafters of the house and urinating through the panels of the ceiling. They have a bushy tail and it is about I meter in length from nose to tail-tip. Second species that is common among the rural people is Palm civet and they love to drink toddy (fermenting sap extracted from the coconut bud). They are commonly known as toddy cat while they are known to steal it from the buckets of the toddy tappers.

Palm cats

Palm cats play the most important part of kopi luwak production in coffee plantations in Indonesian archipelagos and Philippine.  The devour ripe coffee berries, passing the beans undamaged through their digestive system and depositing them in faecal latrines (like many must lid, civets deposit their faeces in particular central locations of their range). People gather these beans and make kopi luwak (kopi means coffee and Luwak denotes civet cat). Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffee varieties due to its rarity; it may cost as much as 500 dollars per pound.

Kopi luwak considered to be more suitable for drinking than average coffee varieties. It is scientifically revealed that enzymes and acids of the digestive system of civets make changes for the compounds, flavour and the colour of the beans. Even after this process, it contains fewer bacteria than the coffee that made after the traditional method.

The Golden palm civet

The Golden palm civet is the endemic civet species living in the country. They hide themselves during the day and live high in a tree under the canopy. Ceylon small civet is the most carnivorous in the group. They are mainly fed on fruits and berries while small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards, and frogs are also being eaten when they have an opportunity. They can be seen in several colours from bright gold to a deeper reddish-gold bordering on russet and is free of markings. This species is mainly live on trees with occasional activities on the ground.

The scent secretion of civets has made them a Sri Lanka wildlife that has commercial significance, they are special for the perfume industry. It is being used as a stabilizing agent for fragrances. The yellowish liquid that is known as ‘civet musk’ is produced by the glands of the animal that located near the animal’s genitals. Historical evidence suggests that this precious oil had been used even during the time of King Solomon in 10th Century BC. Today a synthetic chemical has been used as an alternative to the civet musk.

Civet is another member of our valuable fauna world that comprised a large number of animals. Fortunately, Civets are still not classified under threatened or endangered animal species in the island. Civet sightings are recorded in great numbers due to its sizable population in the country.

sri lanka wildlife


There are four species of non-human primate included in Sri Lanka wildlife. They are divided into three species of monkeys – toque monkey, Grey Langur, Purple Faced langur and one prosimian – the Slender Loris. The primates show a wide distribution and their habitat is ranging from the arid plains of the South-East, across the expansive tract of dry zone scrub jungle, and up into the verdant hills of the central massif, however, the slender loris sighting is very rare during the Sri Lanka wildlife tours.

It takes no more than a cursory glance at a group of macaques – sub-adult males having a rumble in the branches, mothers scolding shrieking infants, and adult males scanning the treetops for signs of danger – for the notion of such a shared history to be reinforced.

The dull brown to brownish Red Toque Macaque is the prototypical monkey – gregarious, acrobatic and cheeky. Like tiny people that delight in making mischief, these charismatic animals have become embedded in the popular imagination. The term to ‘monkey around,’ with its implication of carefree, essentially pointless Endeavour, might seem tailor-made for a group of macaques at play. There is, however, more to life than the pursuit of leisure and more to macaque society than our lighthearted imaginings tend to confer.

The society is constructed upon a matrilineal hierarchy, so while it is the males with their exaggerated canines and swaggering gait that appears to sit atop the macaque roost, it is the stable corps of related females that are the de facto leaders.

Female macaques remain in their natal troop for the duration of their lives so the relationships that they forge with other females are of tremendous importance to their individual success within the framework of the tribe. This framework encompasses a complex ranking arrangement, similar in function to the Hindu caste system, whereby high ranking mothers produce high ranking offspring by default.

Male macaques are more able to determine their own destinies as they leave their natal troops at around 4-6 year of age and must learn to play on their strength and character. Often young males with the band together to form bachelor troops, in which they hone their social and physical skills before striking out alone to join existing troops.

A male born to a high-ranking matriline will have certain advantages during his formative years – such as better and more plentiful food resources, increased acceptance of unruly behaviour by the troops – which will often hold him in good stead for the uncertainties of the future.

Macaques are omnivorous with a wide-ranging diet that includes seeds, grasses, leaf shoots, fruits, flowers, mushrooms, insects, lizards even bird eggs. Where troops live in proximity to human settlements, this diet takes in paddy, coconut and other food crops. Furthermore, the monkeys are not averse to raiding houses to burgle cooked food, flour and whatever else strikes their fancy.

Being territorial, a tremendous amount of energy is focused upon the maintenance of boundaries and it follows that the most powerful troops are usually also the largest, inhabiting prime areas inclusive of abundant fruiting trees or similar food sources. Aggressive interactions between troops are common, particularly during periods of scarcity. In these exchanges the adult and sub-adult males come to the fore, full of chattering bravado and belligerent attitude.

Several, most other common animals in the jungles of Sri Lanka are wild boar, jackal, crocodile, buffalo, monkey and deer.

Snakes such as cobra and python can be seen often in places with tourist attractions. Snake charmers showcase these snakes and demand for money when the tourists take photos. It is very rare to spot snakes in the natural habitat. There are more than 90 species of snakes on the island, but only a few of them are deadly poisonous.

Turtles in Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary

Endangered Sri Lanka wildlife – Sea turtle

Sea turtles are occurring in the coastal belt of Sri Lanka from Kosgoda to southern Sri Lanka. They usually reach the shores of the island at night and lay eggs on the beach. Therefore it may be difficult to spot them. As an alternative one can visit a sea-turtle farm located on the west coast of Sri Lanka. There are several such places allowing the visitors to see them.

Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary

Exotic fish species

The waters around the island have one of the fascinating underwater worlds. It is inhabited by more than 850 exotic fish species and many coral species. Sri Lanka attracts a large number of visitors due to these underwater resources.

Avian fauna species of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an ideal holiday destination for bird lovers. There are more than 400 bird species in the country. Out of which 25 species are endemic to the island. Sri Lanka is visited by a large number of migrating birds, especially during the winter season of the northern hemisphere.

Sri Lankan amphibian

Most amphibian species of Sri Lanka are endemic to the island. Sri Lanka is a haven for wildlife with the discovery of more than 100 species of new frogs. Most of the frogs are discovered in the island’s rainforests.

Sinharaja rain forest claims for most of the new species recorded recently. According to the researchers, with the discovery of new species, Island Sri Lanka with a land area of just 65610 km² become an amphibian hotspot of the world.

The number of amphibian species has recorded a significant reduction since the 1950s mainly owing to the habitat loss while some other human activities have also adversely affected the existence of amphibians. Even with various researchers on the species of amphibians especially from 1980s scientists have not been able to ascertain the clear factors affecting the existence of amphibians so far.

Sri Lanka an amphibian Bio-diversity hotspot

Sri Lankan biologists have been able to discover few new species of amphibians in Sri Lanka rain forests. With the discovery of new species, Sri Lanka has been able to earn the status of amphibian Bio-diversity hotspot. Sri Lanka stays ahead of other tropical islands such as Madagascar, Borneo and New Guinea which are far larger than Sri Lanka, yet posses’ equal number of frog species.

The research was conducted by a team of scientists from Sri Lanka, Belgium and America. Primarily the survey was conducted on the disappearing wildlife in Sri Lanka. Scientists have further talked about the preservation of the valuable remaining green cover on the island.

Deforestation has been identified as the main reason for reducing forests on the island. The forest cover that was as much as 60% of the total land area of the country at the beginning of the 1900s is reduced to 24% at present. The devastation of forests started during the colonial period and continues until today. Sri Lanka is identified as one of the most significant biological hot spots in the world.

Rediscovery of species believed to be extinct

Researchers have discovered that most of the species recorded from 19th-century museum-collections had appeared to have disappeared. Most frogs discovered by the scientists are “direct-developers” that hatch as a small animal without the step of a tadpole.

The other group of the frogs discovered in the research comprised of only five species. They are laying eggs in rocks, branches or leaves with a form nest as usual in a wet environment.

Research on Sri Lankan amphibians

The research team was led by Madhava Meegaskumbura, from the University of Boston in Massachusetts, US. Madhava Meegaskumbura has noted the disappearances of some of the old species in the past. He further added that it is a surprise to encounter such a large number of new species after extensive damage to the rainforests on the island.

The number of amphibian species (toads, frogs, salamanders and frogs) in the world estimated to be around 5,000. The species of amphibians are mostly semi-aquatic, they can be found in a wide range of habitats from forest and wetland to deserts and savannas.

Deforestation and poaching

Modernization, expansion of settlement and poaching is exerting pressure on the Sri Lanka government to strengthen their commitment to protecting wild animals. Sri Lanka is home to several dozens of wildlife reserves and sanctuaries.

Leopards and bears are residing in more than 10 wildlife reserves, Yala national park and Wilpaattu national parks are the main residences of bear and leopard. The number of the leopard on the island was many hundreds at the beginning of the 18’s. The number of leopards drastically reduced mainly due to the habitat loss and poaching under British rule.

Wildlife reserves and sanctuaries are under the purview of wildlife authorities and protected under government law. But still illegal poaching takes place and animals like leopard still being killed in the jungle.

A many hundreds of leopards were residing in Sri Lanka national parks in the past. The number of Sri Lankan leopards was exceeding many hundreds in the past. however, the leopard population now reduced to many dozens- through the number of leopards is on the rise for the last several years due to the conservation effort.

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