Yala National Park (also known as Ruhuna National Park)is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka & It is located in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka and extends over two provinces of Hambantota district of southern province and Monaragala district in Uva province. The park covers 979 square kilometers (378 sq mi) and The entrance to the park is at Palatupana, 12km from Kirinda. The distance from Colombo to the entry point of Palatupana is 305 km.
There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala. Among the largest is Lunugamvehera National Park. The park is situated in a dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala harbors 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. The number of mammals that have been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.
The gateway to Yala National Park is Tissamaharama. A 20 km drive via Kirinda takes the visitors to Palatupana. At Palatupana, the well-designed visitor center provides information to tourists and assigns a tracker to all incoming vehicles. The park provides jeeps with soft–tops which give the opportunity to view wildlife. Dawn and dusk bring about the best timing for Yala Safari tours in the Yala National Park. Being located in one of the arid regions of Sri Lanka, the Climate of Ruhuna National Park is usually hot and dry. The mean annual temperature is 27 Celsius, although in the dry season the temperature could go as high as 37 Celsius.
Yala National Park gives the best opportunity to witness Sri Lanka’s broad variety of wildlife: colorfully painted storks in troops are seen perched at the shores of the lagoon where the crocodiles have chosen to doze off; lovely fan-tailed peacocks in their resplendent blues and greens parade about amidst the woods where monkeys hang, leap and chatter; in the bush jungle are the Elephants; crossing the tracks and wandering off into the thorny scrub jungle is the star attraction of the park: the leopard. A total of 32 species of mammals have been recorded. The threatened species include sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Leopard (Panthera Pardus Kotiya), elephant (Elephas maximus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), Wild boar (Sus scrofa), spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonessis), sambar (Cervus unicolor) and golden jackal (Canis aureus).
Nearby Lunugamvehera National Park serves as a corridor between Yala and Uda Walwe National Park. Yala is home to a considerable population of elephants which varies seasonally. The dry season of May to August is the best period to see elephants. Sri Lankan leopards (Panthera Pardus Kotiya) are said to be a distinct sub-species from their Indian neighbors. Leopards can be seen throughout the park, though the best period for enjoying the sights of leopards is from January to July.
Yala National Park is rich in birdlife and around 130 species have been recorded. Raptors include crested serpent eagles and white-bellied sea eagles. Among the water birds attracted to the lagoons are Lesser Flamingo, Pelican, Spoonbill, painted stork, rare black-necked Stork, grey heron, purple heron, night heron, and Darter. During the north-east monsoon the lagoons are visited by thousands of migrating waterfowl, including Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and turn stone, which mix with the residents such as whistling duck, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Red Wattled Lapwing, and Great Stone Plover. The forest is home to Orange Breasted Green Pigeon, Hornbills, and Flycatchers, including Asian Paradise Flycatchers, Barbets, and Orioles.
Notable reptiles are Mugger Crocodile, which is abundant in abandoned tanks, Estuarine Crocodile, found in the main rivers, and the Common monitor. Other reptiles include Cobra and Russel’s Viper. A variety of Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback, of which the Yala coast line is a major nesting ground.
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