LEOPARDS, JUNGLE CATS AND
A BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS
2017 Cat and Primate
Safari in a
Nutshell: Great leopard encounters, hunting
jungle cats, a sloth bear and all five Sri Lankan Primates
including both species of slender loris. Plus, many more
unique mammal sightings.
We knew it was going to be a great week as
soon as we were picked up by our expert guide Dulan at the
airport. It was around 9pm and we were exhausted from our
international flights. We were supposed to go straight to a
safari camp bordering Wilpattu National Park; a three hour
drive to the west. After introductions, Dulan asked if we
wanted to go spotlighting for night mammals on the way to
the camp. We eagerly agreed!
That night we made numerous detours to
Dulan's secret spots. We didn't reach the camp until the
middle of the night but that was fine because on the way we
got our first taste of Sri Lanka's amazing biodiversity
including our first jungle cat - Felis chaus. It was a
little distant for my strobe to light well but it was
fascinating watching it work its way through the grassland
in search of rodents to eat.
We also saw a Red Slender Loris feeding on
fruit as we walked down an unpaved road surrounded on either
side by dense trees. The tiny primate - about 20cm tall -
initially hid behind some branches but Dulan started
squeaking at it and it soon poked its head out to see what
strange creature was making the noise. Over the next
few days, Dulan's bizarre animal call never failed to
attract the critters we were after.
Exhausted, we decided to call it a night. Arriving soon
afterwards at the camp, we were pleasantly surprised to see
that our tented accommodation wasn't exactly 'roughing it'
Day 2 - Wilpattu
Our second day started with a hike around the edges of the
park. As expected, by midmorning there were not a lot of
large mammals out and about except distant Elephants within
the park boundary.
However, there were some monkeys in nearby
trees and a few foraging giant squirrels. These are about
three times the size of your average North American or
European sciurid species and quite easy to approach.
At noon we went by jeep deep into the park.
Wilpattu is a beautiful region with a diverse assortment of
animals and bird species.
Unlike Yala and many other dry zone protected
areas, the park is heavily forested. This makes it a little
harder to spot wildlife but also means that there is a
higher density of animals and birds because the habitat is
Brown Wood Owl
It didn't take long for us to locate many of
the common fauna including wild boar, Asian elephants, herds
of chital (white-spotted deer) and small groups of wild
water buffalo. Most Sri Lankan buffalo are feral domestic
buffalo - Bubalus bubalis, or a genetic mixture of the two
species. However, the buffalo in Wilpattu are almost all
genetically pure wild buffalo - Bubalus arnee. You can
easily tell the difference by their wide outstretched horns.
Their domestic cousin's horns generally curve upward and
Although we were concentrating on mammals,
there were plenty of reptiles present including mugger
crocodiles around the lakes and green and grey vine snakes
in the trees and bushes.
There were reports of leopard sightings and
we found fresh tracks across many of the trails but we left
the park around 6pm without seeing Sri Lanka's largest land
predator. After supper we went on an intensive spotlighting
trip around the periphery of the park. During that session
we found lots of small animals including palm civets (tree
dwelling cat-like mammals) but the highlight was a Grey
Slender Loris that Dulan spotted in a tree on the edge of a
chilli pepper field. Keeping a close eye on the undergrowth
for snakes, we ventured into the bush for a closer look and
the loris obliged very nicely :)
Early the next morning we drove back into the
park. After about an hour we picked up the trail of a young
male leopard and waited for him to materialize out of the
undergrowth. Eventually he did and we watched him for some
time as he loped along the edge of the dense jungle.
Eventually he slipped away but not before I had fired off
plenty of images.
Once the leopard was gone we went in search
of other species but we got anoher great sighting later in
the day. Other than leopards we saw an impressive list of
mammals from mongooses to monkeys and a distant sloth bear -
my first but hopefully not my last!
After a sumptuous lunch of local curry
dishes, we left Wilpattu and headed for Sigiriya in the
centre of Sri Lanka's northern dry-zone forests. We were
hoping to find fishing cats but sadly we were thwarted by
the excessive rains that fell much later than expected.
However, while in Sigiriya we found plenty of other animals
to keep us busy including all three of Sri Lanka's other
Purple Faced Leaf Eater Monkey
Tufted Grey or Hanuman Langur
By day we encountered endless monkeys,
elephants, small herds of chital and mongooses. There are
four species of mongooses in Sri Lanka. The most common are
Ruddy Mongooses but we also saw a mother and baby Grey
By night we scoured the forests and fields
for cats and civets. Civets are distantly related to cats
and usually live in trees where they hunt for birds,
reptiles and small mammals. We saw a few palm civets but the
most common and the most striking civets that we found were
Small Indian Civets.
On the reptile front, we saw many monitors and more vine
snakes plus this mildly venomous Forsten's Cat Snake.
By day, there were also numerous turtles in the bush,
including Indian Flapshell Turtles and Indian Star
Tortoises. It was nice to see that they haven't all been
collected for the pet trade.
Each day in Sigiriya we also visited a different cave system
or abandoned buildings where we could photograph different
bats. We found seven species in total but I only managed to
snap images of six. Seeing so many bats up close was a treat
that we did not expect.
Left - Schneider's Leaf-nosed Bat. Right - a
pair of Lesser False Vampire Bats.
On a regular week long trip we would have gone south after
Sigiriya to hunt for some of Sri Lanka's other endemic
mammal species that are confined to wet-zone forests but
this year was just a short add on to our Sri Lankan Blue
Whale Expedition so after five days we returned to Colombo
and went in search of whales. Next year we will run a full
length Safari with all of Sri Lanka's Iconic Mammal Species.
Incidentally, the blue whale trip was an
epic adventure with daily world class blue whale encounters but more
about that in the next trip report.
Until Next Year!
Andy is an accomplished Marine and
Terrestrial Wildlife Photographer and Trip Leader at Big
JOIN US NEXT YEAR IN SRI LANKA
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encounters with big cats, elephants, primates and scores of
other endemic mammal species.
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Sri Lanka Leopard and Endemic Mammal Safari
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