There are more than 600 Asian elephants in the Udawalawe National Park.
From the map, Sri Lanka, a beautiful tropical island country located in the southeast of the Indian peninsula, is like a pearl inlaid in the Indian Ocean. Its geological origin belongs to the mainland island, and the terrain is high in the middle and low in the surrounding areas. Although the land area is small, it has rich and diverse topography: long coastline, central plateau, tropical rain forest, cloud forest, coastal plain, wetland mangrove… The long-term geographical isolation makes the island have many special species, divided as many as Thirteen national parks and more than 100 protected areas have been identified as one of 34 “biodiversity hotspots” in the world. There are more than 3000 kinds of endemic plants, ranking third in the world; 92 kinds of mammals, of which 16 are endemic. This is the easiest place to see leopards in Asia and one of the areas with the most wild Asian elephants. There are more than 450 kinds of birds, 149 kinds of reptiles, and the largest mammal in the world, the blue whale, swims in the coastal waters. The 2 daily open-top off-road vehicle trips in national parks made me feel like I was back in Africa, which is indeed the best eco-tourism destination in Asia.
Seeking Ceylon Elephants in Udawalawe National Park
Established in 1972, Udawalawe is one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka. It is home to more than 600 Asian elephants, ranking first in Sri Lanka’s national parks. Coupled with the vast savanna landscape, it is no wonder. Some people compare it to East Africa, and the colorful bird world is even more fascinating.
The first stop to explore the wild world of Sri Lanka is Udawalawe National Park, located in the Ratnapura area, about 180 kilometers southeast of the capital Colombo. As the top three national parks in Sri Lanka, nature has its own uniqueness, one of which is the large number of elephants. The Sri Lankan elephant, also known as the “Ceylon Elephant”, is the largest subspecies of Asian elephants, however, both males and females have almost no tusks. It turned out that Ceylon elephants with ivory were severely and illegally hunted during the British colonial period, resulting in genetic changes. Only 5%-7% of elephants have ivory.
I woke up before 6am the next morning and took a buggy into the national park. Shortly after entering the park, an Asian elephant slowly emerged from the bushes by the roadside. It’s not big, it looks very gentle, and it looks at us, and then walks away with a nose. At this time, the guide pointed to a fallen baby elephant in the grass by the roadside. The elephant’s mother was guarding the side sadly, and was reluctant to leave for a long time. “The baby elephant may be sick and dead. It’s better to stay away from the mother elephant at this time, and don’t disturb it.”
The white-headed ibis stork, also known as the colorful stork, has beautiful plumage, graceful posture, and a life span of up to 28 years. It is mainly distributed in India to southwest China and other places. Since the 1950s, the colorful stork has been rarely recorded in China, so it was once presumed to be extinct in China. Now it is a national first-level key protected wild animal.
Udawalawe National Park exhibits a desolate beauty during the dry season, when wildlife is easier to spot. The first Sri Lankan endemic bird species I have recorded, the blue-throated jungle fowl, is here. This is a rooster, with gorgeous feathers, coming out of the grass with its head held high, looking around, and trotting across the road. The blue-throated jungle fowl, also known as the “black-tailed jungle fowl”, is the national bird of Sri Lanka. This is a typical island species, evolving with its predators and competitors.
The off-road vehicle suddenly stopped. It turned out that there was a small puddle on the ground ahead, and an orange-breasted green dove fell on the ground. I saw this little guy approached cautiously, and then I noticed that he was wearing a pair of bright pink “boots”, which was too fashionable. Its eye rims are also the same pink, and it looks like a smart and cute little girl wearing beautiful “boots” stepping in the mud. During the dry season, water is too precious for birds. We quietly waited for it to finish drinking and leave before we started walking again.
Soon, I saw a green emperor pigeon hanging upside down on a branch for food. The feathers on its back would change into different green metallic luster with the light. Its breakfast looks very rich, like figs or black olives. Anyway, the most important thing in the tropics is all kinds of fruits.
Water birds are a highlight of Udawalawe National Park. However, some large waterfowl do not stay by the water well, but instead occupy the road. Early in the morning, I encountered such a group of white-necked storks. The birds here are not afraid of cars, and they seem to be nonchalant when the car is parked in front of them. The white-necked stork walked slowly ahead, and the reptiles and small insects on the ground appeared to be its targets. I noticed that when it flies, it straightens its neck and balances in flight like all storks. This is also one of the differences between storks and herons. The ones flying with their heads retracted are basically herons. And what’s interesting is that the storks are very quiet. It turns out that because there is no horn, there is no way to make a sound.
“Waterfowl Party” in Bundala National Park
The tour of Bundala National Park is the most pleasing to the eyes. There are not only forests, lakes and wetlands, but also the sea, with beautiful scenery and many water birds.
The second stop of the Sri Lanka eco-tour is the Bundala National Park, about 250 kilometers from the capital Colombo. It is located on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. There are a series of lagoons in the area, so it has become an important coastal wetland reserve for water birds. In 1991, it was listed as the first area in Sri Lanka protected by the Convention on Wetlands. It is recognized by UNESCO as the 4th biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka. As an important bird sanctuary in Sri Lanka, it is home to about 197 species of birds, including many migratory birds that migrate here for the winter, such as the great flamingo, also known as the great flamingo.
The wind in the early morning in the dry season is a bit bleak. As soon as I entered the park, I felt the difference in the scenery, and the dry thorny bushes gradually increased. Soon, small lakes appeared along the road, which are important habitats for wintering waterfowl. A white-breasted bitter bird paced out of the reeds. It was the first time I saw this kind of bird of the Crane-shaped Crane family. , turned out to be because of its cry “kue kue”, which sounds like “suffering evil”. It is also known as “white-faced water chicken” in China. It is not good at flying long distances, likes to run among reeds or aquatic plants, can swim, and sneaks quickly when it encounters danger.
The sun rose, dispelling the fog, and under the blue sky, an open water surface appeared, a big lake! Many waterbirds gather in the lake: colorful storks, white spoonbills, black-bellied snake pelicans, spotted-billed pelicans, great egrets, etc. The colorful stork is also known as the white-headed ibis stork. Its English name is very vivid – Painted stork. It is really colorful, especially the orange big mouth and pink long legs are very eye-catching.
It looks like a cormorant from a distance, but the neck is much slender. When you look closer, it turns out to be a snake pelican. This is a tropical inland water bird, which belongs to the only genus of snakes and pelicans, and there are 4 existing species. This species of black-bellied snake pelican in southern Asia has a slender neck like a snake and no throat sac at the tip of its mouth. It is good at diving and uses its mouth as a spearfish. The black-bellied snake pelican, which has extremely high requirements on the habitat, is now covered with large trees, which shows the excellent water quality here.
The spotted-billed pelican, which has become extinct in the country, has its breeding grounds in southwestern India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, so the camera can easily be locked. A few days later, I even photographed hundreds of pelicans congregating on the lake. It is difficult to distinguish it from a curly pelican from a distance. When you get close, you can see the rows of blue-black spots on the edges of the upper and lower mouths, which are obvious.
Where there is water, there are fish, so there are ospreys (ospreys), which are called “air fishermen”. An osprey who was enjoying “breakfast” on a high branch was in high spirits, and after eating, he did not forget to pose for me in a very handsome manner.
Sinharaja’s “Enchanted Forest”
Sinharaja means “lion” in Ceylon. Originally the royal forest of the Sinhalese, it is now the most remarkable ecological treasure trove in the entire island nation. This is the only unexplored tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka. Before exploring this “magic forest” full of exotic animals and plants, I started a series of preparations: I put my socks on the outside of my trousers and tied it tightly. The guide took out a bag of salt and wiped it with On my outdoor shoes, this is done to prevent leech
Sinharaja Forest Reserve was included in the “World Natural Heritage List” in 1988. This is the highlight and climax of my ecological trip to Sri Lanka, and it is also the place where the most endemic bird species are harvested.
A map at the visitor center shows the reserve as a strip, 6.5 kilometers at its widest point and only 800 meters at its narrowest point, stretching between two rocky terrains in southwestern Sri Lanka. The terrain is undulating and varied, with winding mountains ranging from 300 meters to 1170 meters above sea level. It is humid all year round, the soil is red-yellow calcified soil, and the complex drainage streams are distributed in a network.
My guide, Hemal, is 26 years old, and after graduating high school, he became a nature guide because he loves the outdoors. This smart guy showed me a lot of good things on the way before entering the park gate, such as a bright green garden lizard on the leaves on the roadside, as if growing out of plants, blending in with the surrounding environment.
Knowing that I like bird watching, Hemal chose a mountain trail less frequented by regular tourists. This is not my first time in the rainforest, but the expectations are high, because the “treasure house” of Sinharaja is rich in plants, mammals, two crawlers and insects and birds. There are only 147 recorded bird species in Sinharaja Forest Reserve, but 21 of Sri Lanka’s 33 endemic bird species can be seen, which is a relatively high proportion.
The humid tropical climate ensures the rapid growth of plants, and also provides food and shelter for thousands of species in the rainforest. With no human damage, it is one of the best habitats to study the origin and evolution of animals and plants. . Hemal introduced me as he walked: Sri Lanka is home to 830 species of endemic plants, of which 217 species of trees and vines are distributed in the lowland tropical rainforest, and 140 species (64%) can be seen in Sinharaja, including 16 kinds of rare plants, it is said that there are more than 50 kinds of orchids.
The Indian Pond Heron is a medium-sized wading bird that lives near waters such as swamps, rice fields, and ponds.
After walking for a long time, I realized a problem: the birds can only hear the sound, but they are hard to find. In the dim forest, the tangled vines of thousands of years, the muddy rough road, the birds are mostly active among the branches and leaves high above their heads, the light is dim and the distance is far, it is good to be able to identify from the telescope. Several times, it flew away as soon as we saw it. Fortunately, we were not in a hurry, we searched patiently, and finally found a pair of beautiful black-headed cuckoos. Cuckoos are very old birds, mostly living in lowland tropical forests, with gorgeous wings.
Hemal’s eyesight is so good that he pointed out to me the chick of the Alexander parrot hiding in the hollow of the tree. We waited patiently under the tree and finally saw the big bird come back. This Asia’s largest parakeet has been greatly reduced in the wild due to the wanton capture of humans in captivity.
While resting in the visitor center in the rainforest, I came across a star bird species – the Ceylon Blue Magpie. Its bright blue and maroon colors stand out among the green leaves, and it feels like a blue version of a magpie. This kind of bird has a special habit: the male birds will line up to mate in sequence, only one bird will mate each year, and the other birds will work together to take care of the chicks of the year, which sounds so loving. Soon, Hemal found a small parrot that looked like a tail on a high tree. This was the endemic Ceylon macaw, hiding behind a tree trunk like a shy little girl.
At the end of this unfinished exploration, the loud cry of Sri Lankan myna came from behind, as if saying goodbye to me.
The orange-breasted green dove often inhabits dwarf fruit-bearing shrubs.
Ceylon green-throated bee-eaters mostly fly in the air to prey, and rest on branches and wires.
The longevity belt is an extremely precious bird that was included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2012.
The Ceylon blue magpie belongs to the Corvidae family, and its biggest feature is the collection of broodlings.
gifts beyond yala
The popularity of Yala National Park is the highest here because it is said that there is a chance to see the Ceylon leopard. For me, however, it was the most disappointing national park, and fortunately there was a niche reserve next to it that gave me a lot.
Yala, located in southeastern Sri Lanka, has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1909, and it has a history of hundreds of years, and it has been a national park since 1938. Covering an area of 979 square kilometers (about 2% of Sri Lanka’s territory), Sri Lanka’s second-largest national park is said to be able to see all the mammals of the island nation and is also an important bird habitat. The National Park consists of 5 areas (also known as NP), only 2 of which are currently open to the public: Ruhuna National Park, also known as Sierra, which focuses on leopards and elephants and has the most tourists; Mana National Park is East Yarra and is a prime area for bird watching.
On the first day we entered Sierra. At 6:30 in the morning, there was a long queue at the gate, and the darkness was overwhelming; as soon as the door opened at 7:00, dozens of off-road vehicles streamed in, and the tourists here are the most. The natural scenery in the park is dominated by savanna, the forest is divided into wet monsoon forest, dry monsoon forest, semi-deciduous forest and tropical xerophyte, as well as freshwater lakes, rivers and bushes, and the bushes mostly grow on huge rocks. On the hills, the sea view in the coastal area is beautiful.
Lizards are a huge family, many species are colorful, most of them are not poisonous, and only a few species are poisonous.
Bengal monitor lizards are nearly 1 meter long and weigh about 20 kilograms. Their bodies have strong immunity to various toxins and bacteria, and they often prey on snakes, spiders, toads, bats, etc.
Along the way, except for Asian elephants, Ganges crocodiles, blue peacocks, and some large waterfowls that I have seen before, there are no special animals, and there are too many cars in the garden, so I always have to queue up, which makes me a little annoyed. It was not until the appearance of Shoudai Bird that I regained my spirits. This beautiful little bird has a chestnut back and white belly and chestnut wings. It should be a female bird of the Sri Lankan subspecies of the Shoudai bird. The difference between males and females of the life belt is very striking. The males show white and reddish-brown coloration, but the lower part of the body is all white.
However, the most anticipated Ceylon leopard has been missing. In the evening, as we were about to leave the national park, another surprise came to me when we were about to exit the gate. We found a blue-winged eight-colored thrush walking out of the grass and standing blankly on the side of the road. Because of their gorgeous wings, all members of the eight-colored thrush family are favored by bird watchers and photographers. However, they are timid by nature and are extremely difficult to see on weekdays. It’s a little compensation for nothing today.
The next day, I discussed it with the guide, and he suggested to go to a relatively small Lunuganwehera National Park with no group tourists nearby, just between Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park , as a passage for elephants to migrate. There is a reservoir here, and many trees have been submerged on one side of the reservoir. These white and dead trees standing in the water have become a unique scenery.
Under the blue sky, a few white-bellied sea eagles hovered above the water. This is my first close-up shot of this large bird of prey, which has a white head, tail, thorax, and belly, black or dark gray back and wings, and a graceful posture even when it is fighting on dead trees. Soon, the chestnut kite also joined the foraging ranks. This is also a common bird of prey in South Asia and Southeast Asia. They soar under the clear sky, usually do not migrate, have a fixed foraging area, and occasionally attack other predatory birds, snatch food.
The temperature gradually rose, we ended the morning hunting tour, and on the way back to the hotel, we passed a wetland and saw a lot of water birds. Among the lush aquatic plants, I quietly approached water pheasants and white-breasted bitter birds. They didn’t care much. The good habitat made the birds here not as timid as elsewhere. On a branch by the water, a white-chested jadeite is staring at the water. It has a big mouth that is disproportionate to its body, and it looks like a super “foodie”. Hundreds of spotted-billed pelicans gathered on the lake in the distance, and gulls were flying. Are they having a dinner together?
The sky was getting dark, and a small elephant appeared on the side of the roadside power grid. This is outside the national park, and the locals use the power grid to isolate the Asian elephant’s range from the human living area to ensure the safety of both parties. The baby elephant is very cute, I took a photo with it across the power grid. Due to human development and the impact on the natural environment, the habitats that many Ceylon elephants rely on have been destroyed. They have nowhere to go or find food, so they wander near human villages, and they dare to go directly to the Go foraging in the village. In order to solve the conflict between humans and elephants, the Sri Lankans have set up a pulse grid, which is not fatal to the elephants, but can serve as a warning.
Sri Lankan monkeys
Monkeys in tropical island countries are also different from their counterparts on land. Whether they are langurs or macaques, they are not as naughty and naughty as elsewhere. Is it possible that they are in a Buddhist country and have been taught by the Buddha to become benevolent and friendly?
According to the official website of the Sri Lanka Tourism Board, the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world are home to 91 species of mammals. Wee monkeys, Sri Lankan macaques and purple-faced langurs are all classified as rare due to habitat loss. , the status of these species is “endangered”.
Purple-faced langurs are not as common as other Sri Lankan primates, but I was fortunate enough to come across them twice. Relatively speaking, it is relatively common in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, but I encountered it near the rainforest eco-resort. The hotel has a bird watching trip every morning. At 6:00 in the morning, we watched birds along the road. There were three or four purple-faced langurs on the roadside. They calmly faced everyone’s onlookers, but they were only about 10 meters away from us.
This guy is too personal, with white hair on his cheeks like a white beard, and a serious expression like a tribal chief. This Old World monkey species endemic to Sri Lanka is a long-tailed arboreal animal with four subspecies, each of which differs in shape and fur color. They live in monsoon forests, mature secondary forests, semi-deciduous forests, and undisturbed cloud forests. The langur, as the name suggests, feeds on leaves. In the diet of the purple-faced langur, leaves account for 60%, flowers 12%, and fruits 28%. It especially likes young leaves with high protein and low lignin.
The second time I saw purple-faced langurs was in Galle. At that time, I hired a small boat to look for birds along the river bank and sailed into a narrow channel. A small group of purple-faced langurs appeared on the big trees on the bank. The group was active, big and small, jumping on tree trunks, shy but agile. Purple-faced langurs move 4 times faster in the forest than macaques and 2 times faster than langurs. Once upon a time, they lived freely in the suburbs and villages of Colombo, but with the process of urbanization, the habitat is gradually lost, and even the purple-faced langur population, which is more adaptable to environmental changes than ordinary langurs, is still facing endangered. situation.
In contrast, the Sri Lankan macaques, which are also endemic, are more common (some people also attribute Sri Lankan macaques to Indian macaques), and the subspecies I encountered in Sinharaja was a subspecies that inhabited humid areas. Its mid-cut hairstyle makes people laugh, and it is eating rambutan-like fruit with relish. This kind of macaque is highly recognizable. The prominent feature is the tuft of curled hair on the top of the head, and the hair in the middle part is fluffy and distributed to both sides. Its English name “Toque” means “no-brimmed hat”, so it is also called “hat monkey”.
There are 3 subspecies of Sri Lankan macaques, with red or tawny hair, and cheek pouches for carrying and storing food when foraging. Its eyes are particularly large, with yellow eyeballs. It lives semi-arboreal, mostly in forests, Semi-deciduous forests are also often found in places where human beings live, and can even be seen in temples and gardens. The population of Sri Lankan macaques has more than halved in the past 40 years and is listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Species. They are often seen in the “cultural triangle” where ancient temples are scattered, and they are called “temple monkeys” by the locals. They like to swarm on the ground and don’t seem to be too afraid of people. On the ruins of the ancient city in central Sri Lanka, in addition to Sri Lankan macaques, there is also a group of tassels grey langurs. They are small in number and live comfortably. Because of different ranges of activities and different food, they share territory with neighboring macaques and coexist peacefully.
walking ecological classroom
Traveling in Sri Lanka, the country with the highest biodiversity density in Asia, is like participating in a walking ecology class. Tropical rainforests have long been considered one of the last areas conquered by humans due to their complex environmental conditions. And these mammals, amphibians and reptiles thrived and survived on this small island in the harsh rainforest environment.
During this 10-day trip, I saw a total of 14 mammal species (including cetaceans), in addition to the Asian elephants, purple-faced langurs, Sri Lankan macaques, tassel-crowned grey langurs, and Asian huskies mentioned earlier Wolf, red mongoose, white-spotted deer, sambar, Asian buffalo, wild boar, Indian palm squirrel, gray giant squirrel, blue whale, etc. I did not meet the most advanced Ceylon leopard, but fortunately harvested the canid Asian jackal. It was in a hurry and didn’t give me enough time to shoot, and I glanced back with a harmless expression on its face. The distribution range of the Asian jackal is from northern Africa to southwestern Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian Plateau, the South Asian subcontinent and the Indo-China Peninsula. It is the only jackal that extends into Eurasia and the only wild canid in Sri Lanka .
The meerkat family is also a frequent visitor to national parks and is only found in the open mountain forests of India and Sri Lanka. Meerkat is considered an untamable animal and a vermin, and should be less popular with the locals. But it doesn’t matter to them, this one just swaggers in the middle of the road, turning a blind eye to humans.
The tufted-crowned grey langur has short, white whiskers around the cheeks and a distinct pointed tuft or crown. The back is grey to brownish grey, darkening with age.
The Sri Lankan macaque is a species unique to Sri Lanka. Its prominent features are a tuft of curls on the top of its head, red or tawny body hair, and all individuals have cheek pouches.
The purple-faced langur is a leaf-eating species found throughout Sri Lanka.
There are a large number of white-spotted deer in the forest. At first glance, I thought they were sika deer. Although they all belong to the deer family, the latter belongs to the genus Deer, and the former belongs to the genus Spotted Deer, also known as the flower deer. White-spotted deer are characteristic of South Asia and are common in forested areas of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and India. Their belly is white, and their body is light reddish-brown with white spots, and not many deer such as white-spotted deer and sika deer remain spotted throughout their lives.
Whether it is north or south, there must be squirrels in the forest, with their big fluffy tails standing behind them, and two small paws holding pine cones to chew on. However, once the size of this little cutie is enlarged four or five times, you will probably be a little muttered. When I looked up and saw the grey and white giant squirrel, I almost thought it was a monkey. It was lying on the trunk, and a large tail that was one meter long hung down. I stared at it for a long time – some animals are more cute if they are smaller. By the way, the giant squirrel in Sri Lanka is usually a combination of different shades of black and gray, and it is difficult to find the exact same.
The world of two reptiles in Sri Lanka is rich and colorful. The size of the crocodile ranks among the top ten among 23 crocodiles. It has a ferocious temperament and sometimes even attacks buffalo. However, almost all I saw were standing motionless on the shore basking in the sun with their mouths open. The body of the male common tree lizard seems to be in two parts, but the red and green combination is not flashy. The back and neck iguanas of the tree lizard are well developed and have a strong ability to change color.
My first encounter with a Bengal monitor turned out to be by the hotel pool. I looked at this big man in surprise, dragging a long tail that was longer than his body, and walked slowly by the pool, just like at my own home, not seen at all. At first glance, it looks rather scary, but in fact it has a lazy and docile temperament. The second time was even more interesting. A bengal monitor stood upright on the side of the road, as if waiting for a bus! In fact, this is a way to gain a better view of the surrounding environment, which can effectively detect predators or prey.
Travel is not enough, and wonderful experiences include meeting locals along the way. My guide is fluent in English, gentle and polite, and often helps me carry the camera. Every day I leave early and return late, and the service is attentive along the way. There are also guides from various national parks, enthusiastic homestay owners and restaurant owners… In this “land of smiles”, treating life kindly is also a purpose of conforming to nature, making people feel a deep warmth.