Leopard

Fauna – Mammals

Sri Lanka boasts a complement of wildlife that would make a much larger country envious. The natural barrier of surrounding ocean has ensured that many species are endemic, while some are restricted to the south Indian zone. As with flora, the diversity of animal life is astounding and its isolation ensures an incomparable bank of genetic material.

From the largest of the land mammals the magnificent elephant, to the lowliest insects, Sri Lanka is home to many unique species and subspecies not found anywhere else in the world. It is therefore tragic that the World Conservation Union has named 43 Sri Lankan animal species as threatened with extinction. Foremost of these is the island’s own sub species of the Asian elephant, leopard, sloth bear, all five species of turtles, the estuarine crocodile and the rare dugong or manatee. Added to these are many species of birds, fish and insects and an alarmingly long list of indigenous plants.

86 species of mammals are found on the island. Over 100 areas are recognised by the State as protected, with 12 national parks in which most of these big animals can be seen. However, ongoing ethnic hostilities mean that access is only possible to four parks, namely Bundala, Yala West, Uda Walawe and Horton Plains.

Elephants
Sri Lanka boasts a complement of wildlife that would make a much larger country envious. The natural barrier of surrounding ocean has ensured that many species are endemic, while some are restricted to the south Indian zone. As with flora, the diversity of animal life is astounding and its isolation ensures an incomparable bank of genetic material. From the largest of the land mammals the magnificent elephant, to the lowliest insects, Sri Lanka is home to many unique species and subspecies not found anywhere else in the world. It is therefore tragic that the World Conservation Union has named 43 Sri Lankan animal species as threatened with extinction.

Foremost of these is the island’s own sub species of the Asian elephant, leopard, sloth bear, all five species of turtles, the estuarine crocodile and the rare dugong or manatee. Added to these are many species of birds, fish and insects and an alarmingly long list of indigenous plants. 86 species of mammals are found on the island. Over 100 areas are recognised by the State as protected, with 12 national parks in which most of these big animals can be seen. However, ongoing ethnic hostilities mean that access is only possible to four parks, namely Bundala, Yala West, Uda Walawe and Horton Plains.

Elephants are and always have been synonymous with Sri Lanka. They have been accorded the highest honour bestowed upon an animal by their guardians – participation in the holiest religious procession in the island, the Esala or Kandy Perahera. Indeed even in this, pride of place is given to the most majestic tusker, entrusted with the honour of carrying the golden casket containing the holy Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Throughout the island’s history these intelligent beasts have been associated with royalty and religion and are a recurrent theme in architecture, art and culture. It is a matter of national shame that a once widespread elephant population has now been reduced to a mere few thousand, restricted to a few protected areas. An animal that takes precedence in the nation’s spiritual identity, the elephant also tops the list of endangered species of fauna on the island. Sri Lanka’s elephants form a unique sub species of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), once found throughout the land including the moutainous jungles. They are now confined to several national parks in the low lying dry zone.

Wild Water Buffalo
This unpredictable beast charges with little or no provocation but provides immense ploughing power when tamed for the field.

Deer
Sri Lanka has several species of deer: elk, spotted deer, red deer, hog deer,barking deer and mouse deer. The large elk and the spotted deer were once widespread but now confine themselves to the mountain forests and the dry zone respectively.

Leopard
Another far ranging animal restricted by human presence, the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus) is also an endangered species. It still manages to mark out territories in the central mountains though the Wilpattu National Park is the most notable home of the leopard. Unfortunately as it is still a no-go area, enthusiasts should head for Yala, one of the few places in the world where leopards have been sighted during the day.

Sloth Bear (Melarsus ursinus)

The low country jungles are the refuge of the island’s only bear, another animal bordering on extinction. Caution is advisable in encounters as the sloth bear can be dangerous when surprised or with cubs.

Monkeys
Troops of monkeys are common throughout the island and fall into three species. The most common are the Red faced Macaque or Toque monkey (Macaca sinicaaurifrons), a bold endemic species which can be aggressive and the shy Grey Langur (Presbytis entellus). The other species is the large and shaggy Purple faced Leaf Monkey or Bear Monkey.This type is much more elusive and lives in the mountain forests.

Loris (Loris tardigradus)
This shy nocturnal animal lives in trees mainly in the forests of the dry zone. It is sometimes called the night monkey

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)
This animal can be dangerous when roused and ready to use its small but sharp tusks. It is found all over the island, especially in the dry zone where it can be seen by water holes, tanks and on the plains.

Jackal (Canis aureus)
The jackal is the scavenger of the wild, feeding on just about anything, especially carrion. They live in open spaces, mainly on the dry zone plains.

Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)
This is an elusive animal though widely distributed. It has a scaly body and a small pointed head which it protects by rolling into a ball when it feels threatened. The pangolin lives in an underground burrow and is a nocturnal creature.

Wild Cats
Three species of small wild cats live in most areas of the island: the fishing cat, jungle cat and the rusty spotted cat..

Mongoose

There are four species of mongooses throughout the island. The commonest is the Ceylon brown mongoose
( Herpestes fuscus rubidor) and the most rare the stripe necked mongoose or badger mongoose ( Herpestes vitticollis), reddish brown with a black stripe on either side of the head.

Rodents

This group is well represented, from the porcupine (Hystrix indica), hares including the black naped hare, jungle shrew, gerbil, and several types of Squirrels including the flying squirrel, giant squirrel, rock squirrel and the common palm squirrel.

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