Yala is well
recognised as one of the best parks in the world to observe
and photograph leopards. The park covers an area of over
100,000 hectares and is divided into five blocks. Block one
is the most visited area since it contains the highest
density of leopards. However other areas of Yala such as
Yala East had been closed to visitors for some years and it
will take time to research leopard numbers in these areas.
Yala West consists of scrub jungle, brackish lagoons and
stunning rock monoliths scattered throughout the park, its
eastern edge is bounded by the South East coast.
It is possible to take full
day jeep safaris or to split your day into morning and
afternoon drives. Your best chance to see a leopard is
generally early in the morning and then again at dusk. You
can stay until just after dark inside the park, thus
maximising your chances of a leopard encounter. The male
leopards in Yala are very confident and are often seen
walking the tracks during the day. Young males in particular
seem to have no fear of the jeep, which can lead to some
excellent photographic opportunities.
There is also a substantial
elephant population along with spotted deer, sambar, wild
buffalo, sloth bear, jackal, mongoose, pangolins and
crocodiles. The bird life comprises over 120 species, and
ranges from lesser flamingos to Paradise Flycatchers,
Crested Hawk Eagles, and Black Bitterns. Outside of the park
are several other fascinating birding locations, including
the ancient hermitage of Sithulpahuwa, Debarawewa wetland
and Palatupana saltpans. The coastline forms a major nesting
ground for marine turtles.
Jeeps here have 'soft-tops'
to provide a degree of camouflage to humans, as well as
cover from the regular showers. The drier season falls
between May and August and the park closes for a short time
during September and October.