Having previously spoken to fellow photographers who had visited different parts of Sri Lanka, I landed in Colombo with mixed expectations. Everyone I had spoken to, had experienced different habitats so I was really looking forward to my own unique Sri Lankan experience. The first thing to welcome you is the heat and humidity which can be quite challenging as you move between air-conditioned and outdoor environments. I always carry a black dustbin liner in my kit. When going from cold into hot environments, place all your camera equipment inside the bin liner and wait for 30 minutes – condensation problems solved.
My destination was in the South East part of the island and the target species was the Asian Leopard or more accurately, the Sri Lankan Leopard, a larger sub species.
The journey south to Yala was broken up by a night’s stopover in the Port city of Galle and I was wonderfully surprised at the similarity of the coastline to a Caribbean island. I used Wildlife Trails again for this trip and they really outdid themselves with great advice and accommodation placement. They also sourced a great driver and naturalist to accompany me on my journey. Nimal, drove me around for the duration of the trip and ensured that everything happened on time. Nayana joined me in Yala and was a fountain of knowledge when it came to all things fauna and flora in Sri Lanka. A big thanks to the whole Wildlife trails team.
I had planned 6 days in the park and each day was split into the usual morning and afternoon drives. Aside from the Leopard, I was keen to get some more shots of Wild Asian elephants and buffaloes. You do see a lot of domestic elephants and buffalo as you travel around the country, but seeing the wild ones within the confines of a large National Park is simply far more special.
In total, I had 9 wonderful Leopard sightings within the 6 days that I travelled within the park. Sadly only 2 sightings were conducive to good wildlife photography. It is true that the ratio of leopard in Yala is higher than in any other National Park around, but I have a feeling that the sheer number of Jeeps within the park, contribute to the Leopards becoming increasingly weary of the constant attention. Unlike in India the Jeep numbers are not controlled, so there are quite a few crisscrossing the narrow roads during the day. The Leopards are tolerant and behave naturally with one or 2 Jeeps near them, but as soon as more arrive, they up and leave, moving into the dense bush to sleep, but… and this is a big ‘but’ – Yala National Park has so much more to offer than just Leopards. The other species of mammals are spectacular and the bird life is simply awesome. I photographed many new species for my Stock Library and top of my list was the Pheasant Tailed Jacana.
On one of the mornings, Nayana took me for a walk around some of the large lakes where I rekindled my childhood love of Butterflies and Dragonflies. I used the Canon 500mm as a macro lens which yielded some pleasing results, but I will definitely be including an extension ring or two to help with the focusing distance next time. It is on walks like these, that you get a chance to interact with some of the wonderful Sri Lankan locals. All of the locals I met were friendly and keen to pass on local wildlife knowledge. A big thank you to the locals in Sri Lanka for a very welcoming and fruitful trip, I will most definitely return.