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Despite its relatively small size, Udawalawe National Park packs quite a punch in the wildlife-spotting stakes. The main event here is the elephants. The park is home to hundreds of these magnificent mammals, and it’s not uncommon to see herds of up to 50 feeding and bathing near the reservoir and rivers. Another draw for animal-lovers is the Elephant Transit Home, where orphaned baby elephants are cared for until they’re ready to live in the wild. So far, more than 100 calves have been rehabilitated and released, many into Udawalawe National Park.
Aside from the elephants, Udawalawe safaris offer the chance to see a variety of other mammals, reptiles and amphibians in their natural habitat. There’s also an abundance of bird life, particularly aquatic species such as pelicans and storks which can be seen strutting along the waterbanks.
The scenery is pretty spectacular too. With the rugged central highlands as a backdrop, the park has as varied topography of grassy plains, marshes and thorny shrub jungle centering around the picturesque Udawalawe Reservoir. Unlike other parks, there’s a lack of dense foliage, which makes wildlife-spotting easier.
With such a rich diversity of flora and fauna, it’s no surprise that Udawalawe is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular national parks.
A major appeal, of course, is the chance to observe wild elephants. The park is home to a few hundred of these gentle giants, so your chances of seeing them are pretty high. One of the best places for elephant-spotting is the central reservoir, where herds of adults and calves gather to frolic in the water and graze in the lush grass. And if that’s not enough, there’s the Elephant Transit Home. Here, you can watch adorable baby elephants being bottle fed three times a day from a viewing platform.
There are plenty of other exciting species to see at Udawalawe too, including water buffalo, sambar and spotted deer, monitor lizards, crocodiles, mongoose, monkeys and jungle and fishing cats. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a leopard or sloth bear, although they’re rarely sighted. The park is known for its abundance of water-birds such as the black-headed ibis, painted stork and spot-billed pelicans, as well as other endemic species such as the brown-capped babbler, Sri Lanka grey hornbill and spurfowl.
Udawalawe National Park is located just south of Sri Lanka’s central highlands,180 km from Colombo (about a four-five hour drive). The entrance to the park is about 12km from the Ratnapura–Hambantota road exit.
he park is open from 6am to 6pm year-round. The best time to see elephants is in the morning, from around 6.30am to 10am, or in the evening from 4pm to 6.30pm.
If you want to enjoy the park with less crowds, avoid weekends and public holidays.
As a general rule, it’s best to wear light, muted clothes when on a safari. If you’ve chosen an early morning safari, it’s good idea to take some warm layers as it can be chilly. You may also want to bring a sunhat, sunscreen and a pair of binoculars or zoom-lens camera.
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