A tiny Black Naped Monarch Captured during a Wilpattu Safari
Black Naped Monarch Captured during a Safari at Wilpattu National Park

Sri Lanka, the splendid island nation, has the amazing power of keeping you captivated with the wild outdoors, owing to the extensive range of wildlife it houses. In fact, there are many and more places on this land of charms that create wonderful opportunities for you to dive into the greenery and witness the thrill and excitement. When considering this, Wilpattu National Park can never be forgotten. Thus, we are ready to share with you all about this national park in detail, through this read. Continue reading, and you are surely going to visit Wilpattu National Park as you get to know about it!

Wilpattu National Park

The land of the lakes, Wilpattu National Park is the largest national park in Sri Lanka. Regardless of the vastness and the unmatched exposure to the wilderness, Wilpattu is one of those places that is still unexplored by large crowds. Further, Wilpattu National Park dominates over 131,700 Ha of the island and is a collective of several other forest reserves surrounding it. Moreover, there are two entrances to Wilpattu. One is from Hunuwilagama and the other is from Eluwankulama. Besides, Wilpattu has inherited a unique landscape compared to other national parks in Sri Lanka, with deciduous forests, open grasslands, and a coastal belt. Furthermore, Wilpattu got its name because of the natural lakes present in the park, “Wil” meaning lakes in Sinhala, “pattu” meaning ten in Tamil.

The History and Cultural Heritage of Wilpattu National Park

Out of all the national parks in Sri Lanka, Wilpattu is the oldest and holds a special place in Sri Lankan history as well. According to chronicles, Prince Vijaya landed in Kudiramalai point in Wilpattu on his arrival to the island in 543 BC. The soil in this area is a coppery red, due to which Vijaya named the land “Thambapanni”. Upon his arrival, he met the Yakka princess “Kuweni”. Of course, historians believe Kuweni to be the mother of the Sinhala nation. Besides, the tale narrates that the palace of princess Kuweni was in Kala Villu in Wilpattu.

There are shreds of evidence that Wilpattu has been inhabited even before the period of written history. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence to show the existence of a burial ground in Pomparippu. Pomparippu is a village south of the Wilpattu National Park. According to lore, the son of King Dutugemunu and his love, Asokamala lived close in Virandagoda and Galbediniya, two villages encapsulated by the park. Later, British rule recognized Wilpattu as a wildlife sanctuary in 1905. In 1938, they declared it a national park. Furthermore, in 1947, the Forest Department of Sri Lanka declared the Northern region of Wilpattu as Wilpattu North Sanctuary.

On 14th May of 1985, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) broke in by force and killed twenty-something employees who worked in the Wilpattu National Park. Therefore, the authorities closed down the park after the incident. During the long hectic civil war of Sri Lanka, Wilpattu was abandoned and forgotten except by the poachers, Sri Lankan army, and the terrorists. In 2010, the park resumed welcoming visitors with the end of the 30-year civil war.

How to Visit Wilpattu? 

Wilpattu National Park is situated 40 km west of Anuradhapura and 30 km North of Puttalam. The park is 188 km away from the capital, Colombo. To reach the park, one should travel on Colombo – Puttalam (A3) road and reach Puttalam town. From Puttalam, when you travel about 42 km on Anuradhapura – Puttalam (A12) road, you will see the Wilpattu National Park display board. From there, when you travel 7 km to the left, you will reach the Hunuwilagama entrance and the park office. 

The ticket price ranges between USD 50 – USD 70 for adult foreigners. Also, anyone who visits this place has the chance to enjoy the park from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. The closest towns to Wilpattu are Nochchiyagama, Puttalam, and Anuradhapura.

Climate and Topography 

Wilpattu National Park is in the dry zone with an elevation of 0 – 150 meters from sea level. The most prominent geographical feature in this land is the presence of Willus. Willus is a natural shallow lake full of rainwater. Carpets of grass surround these Willus. The park is cool even during the mid-day because of these lakes and the thick forest cover. There are around 50 willus in Wilpattu.

Despite its location in the dry zone near the northwestern coastal belt, the temperature in the park remains around 27 degrees Celsius. The dry season of the park starts in May and lasts till September. Wilpattu National Park receives its major share of rain from September to December from the North-East monsoons. With the Inter monsoonal rains which last from March to April, the park receives around 1000 mm of annual rainfall.

What is the Best Time to Visit Wilpattu National Park?

Since September to December is the rainy season in the park, the best time to visit is from February to October. Only 25% of the total area of the park is open for visitors. The rest of the park consists of dense forests with high biodiversity. 

Vegetation at Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park is home to the following three distinct types of vegetation.

  1. Littoral vegetation
  2. Monsoon scrubs
  3. Monsoon forests

Littoral vegetation includes salt grass that is found near the coastal belt, monsoon scrubs, and monsoon forests that inhabit tall trees. Furthermore, the following trees are most commonly visible in the jungle.

  1. Palu (Manilkara hexandra)
  2. Satin (Chloroxylon swietenia)
  3. Weera (Drypetes sepiaria)
  4. Milla (Vitex altissima)
  5. Ebony (Diospyros ebenum)

According to an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, Wilpattu is home to 623 flowering plant species including 27 endemic species and 21 threatened species.

Wildlife at Wilpattu National Park

Leopards lying lazily beside the villus is a common sight you will encounter in Wilpattu. Similarly, a visitor will never miss taking a glimpse of herds of Sri Lankan elephants strolling towards lakes to quench their thirst. In the same way, the sight of a lone sloth bear looking for food is another common sight that you can see in the national park of Wilpattu.

Mammals at Wilpattu

Around 33 species of mammals reside in the Wilpattu National Park, and the below list specifies who they are.

  1. Tufted Grey Langur
  2. Toque Monkey
  3. Purple-faced Leaf Monkey
  4. Indian Hare
  5. Indian Palm Squirrel
  6. Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel
  7. Golden Jackal
  8. Sloth Bear
  9. Small Indian Civet
  10. Common Palm Civet
  11. Golden Palm Civet
  12. Indian Grey Mongoose
  13. Indian Brown Mongoose
  14. Ruddy Mongoose
  15. Rusty-Spotted Cat
  16. Fishing Cat
  17. Jungle Cat
  18. Sri Lankan Leopard
  19. Asian Elephant
  20. Eurasian Wild Pig
  21. White-spotted Chevrotain
  22. Red Muntjac
  23. Chital / Indian Spotted Deer
  24. Sambar
  25. Asian Wild Buffalo
  26. Indian Jerbil
  27. Eurasian Otter
  28. Painted Bat
  29. Schneider’s Leaf-nosed Bat
  30. Indian Flying Fox
  31. Pygmy Pipistrelle
  32. Long-armed Seth-tailed Bat
  33. Indian Crested Porcupine

Among these mammal species, some are highly significant. The following sections will enlighten you about them.

Sloth Bears at Wilpattu

Sloth bears are a highly threatened species that live in these woods. In fact, the IUCN reveals that sloth bears may be the first large carnivore that the world loses. However, the Wilpattu National Park shelters a good number of sloth bears. They can be commonly seen during the fruiting season of the Palu tree which is from June to July. They feed themselves with the plants and the insects that are found in their surroundings. Besides, they are really fast, yet can be rarely spotted running.

Asian Elephants at Wilpattu

If you are excited to observe the majesty of Asian elephants, a visit to the Wilpattu National Park is simply a must. As you might already know, 10% of the Asian elephants in the world are from Sri Lanka, and the elephant population at Wilpattu National Park covers a good percentage of it. However, the best way to spot these dark black giants is going on a jeep safari. Observing the lives of these tuskers in their natural habitat itself would be a wonderful opportunity and the delight you gain likewise is second to none!

Sri Lankan Leopards at Wilpattu

There is no secret that the Sri Lankan leopards are star attractions. So, if you are also longing to observe these creatures and to capture the best of them, visiting Wilpattu National Park is simply a perfect choice. You can find Sri Lankan leopards roaming freely in the wild out there, and your guides are to help you to reach the best places to spot them at the best times of the day. However, early morning hours are the most appropriate to spot a good number of Sri Lankan leopards within the national park premises, and if you are lucky enough, you might be able to spot a few lazy leopards on trees during the afternoon hours as well.

Toque Monkey at Wilpattu

The reddish-brown colored Toque Monkey is seen in large numbers at Wilpattu National Park. To be specific, they can be commonly seen in troops, and a troop would generally have around 10 to 40 members. The swift actions and the eye-catching behaviors of these creatures are sure to fascinate your eyes and offer you a wonderful experience.

Reptiles at Wilpattu

The land of Wilpattu is a safe home for a large group of reptiles as well. During the day, reptiles will stay hidden in the jungle, away from the human eye. Still, if you reach the best spots in the park at the best times, you can surely catch sight of a few of them.

  1. Sri Lankan Flying Snake
  2. Common Bronze-back
  3. Common Bridle Snake
  4. Flowery Wolf Snake
  5. Sri Lankan Rat Snake
  6. Indian Cobra
  7. Boulenger’s Bronze-back
  8. Trinket Snake
  9. Forsten’s Cat Snake
  10. Sri Lankan Keelback
  11. Indian Rock Python
  12. Reed Snake
  13. Beddome’s Cat Snake
  14. Green Vine Snake
  15. Common Indian Krait
  16. Merrem’s Hump-nosed Pit Viper
  17. Common Wolf Snake
  18. Green Garden Lizard
  19. Painted-Lip-Lizard
  20. Lowland Kangaroo
  21. Devaka’s Fan-throated Lizard
  22. Sri Lankan Chameleon
  23. Four-claw Gecko
  24. Spotted House Gecko
  25. Common House Gecko
  26. Bark Gecko
  27. Termite-hill Gecko
  28. Common Skink
  29. Bronsegreen Little Skink
  30. Spotted Skink
  31. Land Monitor
  32. Water Monitor
  33. Mugger Crocodile

In addition, you will be able to observe Parker’s Black Turtle, Spotted Black Turtle, soft-shelled tortoises, star tortoises, and pond turtles roaming around the villus as well.

Birdlife at Wilpattu

Wilpattu is the home to an array of birds including many species of owls, terns, and eagles. When considering the bird species tout there we can identify the Sri Lankan jungle fowl, Ceylon wood shrike, black-capped bulbul, and Ceylon grey hornbill, which are some who are nesting in these woods. Moreover, the villus in the park attracts a bevy of water birds into the park. Some of the birds that you can spot here are as follows. 

  1. Little Grebe
  2. Spotted-billed Pelican
  3. Little Cormorant
  4. Indian Shag
  5. Great Cormorant
  6. Indian Darter
  7. Little Egret
  8. Large Egret
  9. Median Egret
  10. Grey Heron
  11. Purple Heron
  12. Cattle Egret
  13. Indian Pond Heron
  14. Little Green Heron
  15. Night Heron
  16. Malay Bittern
  17. Yellow Bittern
  18. Chestnut Bittern
  19. Black Bittern
  20. Pointed Stork
  21. Openbill
  22. White-necked Stork
  23. Lesser Adjutant
  24. Glossy Ibis
  25. White Ibis
  26. Spoonbill
  27. Lesser Whistling Teal
  28. Comb Duck
  29. Cotton Teal
  30. Shoveller
  31. Pintail
  32. Garganey
  33. Common Teal
  34. Crested Honey Buzzard
  35. Black-winged Kite
  36. Black Kite
  37. Brahminy Kite
  38. White-bellied Sea Eagle
  39. Grey-headed Fishing Eagle
  40. Crested Serpent Eagle
  41. Pallid Harrier
  42. Shikra
  43. Besra Sparrowhawk
  44. Black Eagle
  45. Himalayan Buzzard
  46. Booted Eagle
  47. Crested Hawk-Eagle
  48. Mountain Hawk-Eagle
  49. Osprey
  50. Indian Peafowl

Apart from that, Wilpattu National Park attracts migrant birds as well. From March to November, the park becomes the home of migrant birds. So, if you wish to observe some migrant birds as well, of course, it would be the best time!

Butterflies at Wilpattu

A good collection of vibrant butterfly species also make Wilpattu National Park their home. The greenery out there, and the colorful blossoms that one can find here and there, create a pleasant environment for these butterflies to dwell in.

Great egg fly, common Mormon, blue Mormon, common rose, crimson rose, banded peacock, great orange tip, and glad-eye bush brown are some of the butterflies which are spotted in the Wilpattu National Park. So, a visit to this park will surely create wonderful opportunities to observe them, as well as to capture their best moments.

Jeep Safaris at Wilpattu National Park

A jeep safari at Wilpattu National Park is simply one of the best things for you to do on this splendid island. In fact, the wonderful opportunities it creates for you to observe the wildlife up close and personal are indeed impressive. However, you can facilitate yourself from jeep safaris that are available in the vicinity of the national park. Online bookings are available for them as well.

However, compared to other national parks, Wilpattu is still less-known and untouched. Therefore, fauna in the region is more skittish to the human presence. Indeed, a safari guide will take you through the forest and even in the presence of wild animals. They will guarantee your safety additionally.

Half-day safaris are ample in enjoying the scenery, spotting leopards and elephants, and observing birds. But you won’t regret a full day safari which will guarantee the full experience in the wilderness. The cost of a jeep safari, their time duration, and the additional services they offer vary from the service provider. So, it is up to you to choose the best package from the best service provider in order to fulfill your experience expectations!

Photography Opportunities at Wilpattu National Park

Observing wild animals in their natural habitats and capturing precious wildlife photos is a luxury that Wilpattu National Park offers to visitors. Thus, this park indeed happens to be a favorite of any of the wildlife photographers.

The spectacular gatherings of the Sri Lankan elephants, the lazy leopards in the wild, the super-excited monkeys, and whatnot? Yes, all of them create the perfect scenery for your amazing captures. Besides, the wilderness of Wilpattu, featuring the large, open grassy areas and small patches of flooded forest form the most wonderful settings for your most perfect captures. So, owing to all these reasons, Wilpattu National Park happens to be a must in any of the wildlife photography tours. Therefore, if you are a wildlife photographer, Wilpattu National Park should certainly be a part of your journey.

Deforestation in Wilpattu National Park

As you might already know, one of the major environmental issues in Sri Lanka is deforestation. This issue impacts Wilpattu as well. In fact, the illegal deforestation of the Wilpattu National Park has started as early as 2010, since its reopening to visitors.

Since 2010, building housing schemes for those who are internally displaced by the war have been carried out in the boundaries of Wilpattu National Park. Moreover, in 2012, the Kallaru forest reserve was cleared and later the deforestation spread to Vilathikulam forest reserve. From 2015, illegal deforestation in Wilpattu for housing and agriculture purposes took a legal outlook with the patronage of a certain parliament member. However, the reports claim that nearly 20000 Ha of the Wilpattu National Park have been cleared.

In 1988, Sri Lanka had 82% of the land under forest coverage. But, the government and the military had to clear the forest to deprive the enemy of their shelter. However, in 2015, the forest coverage was only 29% of the total island. Thus, the Sri Lanka Forest Department has initiated a reforestation project worth 1 billion rupees following a court ruling in 2021. 

The Bottom Line

Above all, if you are a nature lover, or a wildlife lover to be specific, Wilpattu National Park is indeed a must-visit on this beautiful island nation. The thrill and excitement you witness as you observe the life of wildlife up close and personal, and the amazing photography opportunities you get here, are promises if you choose to visit this significant national park. So, ever planning to visit Sri Lanka? If so, make sure that you visit Wilpattu National Park to witness this delight yourself. Happy and Safe Travelling!