Wilpattu National Park
Magnificent spotted leopards are nowhere more relaxed and at home than here, in a park strewn with sparkling blue lakes and interior sand dunes. They take naps hanging from limbs of umbrella trees. They stroll up to one of the villus or lakes—also sometimes called tanks—to get a drink; when no longer thirsty, they may take a sun or dust bath or go back and rest in the shadows before going hunting again. Sometimes they even court in open view, males jousting, the victor often staying with his mate until offspring are full-grown.
A beautiful series of sand-rimmed freshwater “villus,” built for irrigation centuries ago, attracts a broad wildlife spectrum, from water buffalo weighing more than a ton (1,000 kg) to curious, tiny chevrotains or mouse deer no bigger than rabbits, unchanged in 30 million years, males displaying prominent tusk-like upper canines which grow continually.
Jackals come too, along with six-foot (2-m) Bengal and water monitors, sambar and pretty axis or spotted deer, wild boars and jittery mongeese—gray, ruddy, and brown. Sloth bears—sometimes carrying cubs on their shaggy backs—are especially visible when palu and veera trees are fruiting. Timid barking deer or muntjac come after dark.
Elephants might appear any time, as may rare fishing and jungle cats; endemic diminutive rusty-spotted cats, among world’s smallest wild felines; also black palm and golden palm civets.
When Wilpattu is open, visitors can stay at park bungalows and campsites (reserve well ahead), or, outside, at Hotel Wilpattu or Wildlife Protection Society lodge, and get around by vehicle on 150 miles (240 km) of roads (4WD can be helpful). Best times are rainless July–September. Park is 115 miles (186 km) north of Colombo on good roads.
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