“There is no place on earth like the jungles, the wilderness and the exhilaration one feels when venturing into the underbrush. Yala National Park, one of the natural habitats in Sri Lanka, is home to the greatest diversity of living things – many species of animals, reptiles, birds and uniquely beautiful insects.”
Today the Mahoora Safari Campsite is full of visitors with many English guests delighting in their camping and safari experiences. They are excited about our Safari which is just about to begin. It is 5.30 a.m. and the sun is just about to rise. I started the journey with my favorite Mahoora safari driver, Piyumal, who is famously known as a “good spotter”. His keen sense of spotting a leopard on almost every Yala safari has won him this title.
We leave the Mahoora campsite and head towards the Yala National Park. My guests try to capture the sights, yet the fog and the surroundings prevent it. We head towards “Warahana” in search of Sri Lanka’s top carnivore. The jeep turns towards ‘Darshana Wewa’, a well-known rocky area where leopards can be spotted resting on the rocks on gloomy mornings. Piyumal suddenly brakes, pointing towards a leopard on top of a huge rock. He has done it again. There is a matured male leopard, around 5-6 years old, perched proudly on top of his rocky throne. The ‘Drasha Wewa male leopard’, known for his large territory around the Yala National Park’s Darshana Wewa (lake) area sleeps, as we watch. He suddenly awakes, stretches and lazily saunters towards the forest. We continue to Kota Bendi Wewa.
Seasons change and it’s the dry season in Yala. Green fields turn yellow and trees such as the Palu (Manilkara hexandra) bear the well-ripened yellow fruits that mature are ready to fall. It is also beautiful at night during this season as the vastness of the sky is dotted with a million stars. This is an exciting and adventurous time as small tanks dry up forcing reptile species such as crocodiles (Mugger Crocodile – Crocodylus Paluster) and other large amphibian species to follow the same route to larger tanks in their quest to find more water.
We stop to observe the feeding behavior of the Asian Openbill and the Painted Stork. My guests are ecstatic as they get the chance to capture the moment. We move around slowly on foot. There, lurking beneath the shrub is a Ruddy Mongoose Herpestes Smithii and a Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys Punctata), a common species in the dry zones of Yala. Three species of tortoise can be found in Sri Lanka. One would be lucky too, to spot some of the ornamental species in their natural habitats. The turtle and the mongoose draw close, but their behavior puzzles us. Their behavior soon goes from typical to hilarious. The hidden face of the turtle inside his shell darts out. The mongoose strikes, tries to attack but the turtle ducks back into his shell. The hunting mongoose tries again and again, but the turtle keeps hiding. The funny exchange lasts a whole 45 minutes and finally the mongoose tires. The turtle remains hidden. The dejected mongoose has lost today and moves on in disappointment.
The old story of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind and my guests coin a new story about the ‘Mongoose and Turtle’ amidst a lot of laughter and exhilaration. The Mahoora Safari Camp guests have captured some good footage. It has been an exciting safari with many unusual encounters in the Yala National Park.
Words and Photographed by Puwathara Jayawardena (Mahoora Naturalist)