History and Geography
Lying like a tear drop in the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka defies convention – this tiny island is packed with an enormous population of wildlife! Udawalawe National Park is the sixth largest National Park on the island. The Park is situated just south of the Central Highlands, on the boundary of Sri Lanka’s wet and dry zones, with the Udawalawe Reservoir nestled in the centre. Established in 1972, the Park was created with the objective of protecting the catchment area of the Udawalawe reservoir, which provides water for agriculture and hydro-power generation. This is spread over an area of 30,821 hectares, closely resembling an African game park!
Climate and Weather
The Park has an annual rainfall of 1,500 millimetres, most of which falls during the months of October – January and March – May. The average annual temperature is about 27–28 °C (81–82 °F), while relative humidity varies from 70% to 83%.
Udawalawe National Park is mainly a thorny-shrub jungle with grasslands and remnants of scattered teak plantations – which were started at the time of the Udawalawe Reservoir construction. Kumbuk and the endemic Mandorang trees can be found in the riverine areas. Plains govern the topography, though there are also some mountainous areas. The Kalthota Range and Diyawini Falls are in the north of the Park and the outcrops of Bambaragala and Reminikotha lie within it. While woodland of old teak trees line the River Walawe, open grassland is traversed by streams and scrub jungle.
The variety of terrain makes the land home to a range of wildlife, though fondly known as the “Elephant Park Sri Lanka” due to the sheer number of elephants living there. The extensive area of grassland devoid of forest cover makes the viewing of the Sri Lankan elephant easier than anywhere else in Asia; herds consisting of 100 or more could be seen along the river and near the numerous streams and tanks. Witnessing wild elephants cross the River Walawe almost feels movie-like! The elephant-proof fence around the boundary of the Park prevents around 600 elephants, roaming freely around the reserve, from getting out and potentially attacking the neighboring farmland. This fence also prevents livestock, belonging to farmers in the surrounding villages, from getting into the reserve!
Udawalawe National Park is home to the jungle cat, sloth bear, pangolin, macaque, langur, jackal, leopard, sambar, spotted deer, barking deer, wild boar, porcupine, mongoose, bandicoot, fox, giant flying squirrel, water buffalo, crocodile, and the water monitor lizard. Birds gather in large numbers around the tanks Mawu Ara, Thekka, Kiri ibban, Pulgaswewa, Timbirimankada, and Muwan Pelassa. Some of the aquatic birds include cormorants, kingfishers, herons, and Indian darters. Endemic species include the Sri Lanka spurfowl, the Sri Lanka jungle fowl, and the rare red-faced malkoha. Among the raptors (birds of prey) is the crested serpent, hawk, fish eagles, brahminy kite, black-winged kite, and the lovely white-bellied sea-eagle!
The Mahoora Udawalawe Safari
Mahoora Tented Safari Camps in Udawalawe Sri Lanka is located just behind the Udawalawe National Park. Our pool of expert naturalists and seasoned safari drivers host elephant safaris daily – sometimes even twice a day! Before heading out on the Elephant Trail Udawalawe, guests are welcomed with a traditional Sri Lankan lunch of rice and curry. The late afternoon safari starts at 2:30pm and concludes at 6:00pm. You are accompanied by your personal naturalist, a private safari jeep, an eagle-eyed driver, and a safari picnic!
By Puwathara Jayawardena, Mahoora Senior Naturalist