Sri Lanka’s National Bird, the Jungle fowl, struts proudly in the scrub. I am in its home, Wilpattu National Park in the North West of this resplendent island. I admire his golden colours as he feeds, one eye on the jeep. As he picks his way into the bushes, we slowly move along the orange dirt track, all eyes scanning in the direction of the bird calls and sounds of leaf rustle. There are very many glorious birds in this wilderness and we are about to meet many of them!
A few metres later a Peacock eyes me disdainfully. We have interrupted his day. From above, in an open top jeep, I look into his eyes with admiration for his royal stance and vivid plumage. We watch respectfully as he walks regally into the bush and wish him all the best for his up to twenty five years of life in his wild estate.
Continuing deeper into the wilderness we see some of the more than sixty fresh water lakes that give this largest and oldest National Park in Sri Lanka its name. Wilpattu – Land of Lakes. These lakes are naturally occurring depressions in the ground that are filled by rainwater and are the only such natural lakes in the island, almost all of the others [wewas] having been engineered in ancient times. In them we see mostly submerged Mugger Crocodiles cruising stealthily looking for a feed or, replete, sunning themselves on nearby rocks. Painted storks and all kinds of egrets, terns and herons feed in the shallow water while two peacocks appear to be having a fight. Later we see one performing his ballet, magnificent tail feathers fanning his moves while a peahen watches without enthusiasm.
As we go further into the Park we enter a different environment of thick trees and tall bushes separated suddenly by lush green spaces where Spotted Deer munch happily, taking little interest in us. The Sambar Deer are cautious and move quickly out of sight.
Deeper into the wilderness now, we are alert for a sighting of two famously elusive mammals, the Leopard and the Sloth Bear. We are not disappointed! Two Sloth Bears peer at us through a curtain of branches. We try to be motionless, hoping they will come closer however they take a last look at us and amble deeper into the undergrowth.
Elated, we drive to a spot where two leopards had been seen at this time on the previous day but we are just too late. Another jeep at the spot had arrived earlier and had seen a leopard emerge from the bushes, walk across the track in front of them and off around the lake. We could see him in the distance taking a last look at the two jeeps intruding into his kingdom before disappearing majestically into the trees.
Having spent ten wonderful hours watching, waiting and listening to birds and animals we turn towards the exit, about an hour’s drive away.
But wait! The day is not yet done! A large mongoose streaks across the track in front of our jeep! We stop and hit the jackpot! Two shy jackals sit close to the road in a clearing!
Further along the road a huge elephant rumbles behind the trees.
He is well known to the jeep driver as Cranky Franky so we move carefully out of his territory and end our awesome day in Wild, Wonderful Wilpattu.
[A full day is needed for a visit to this park which is home to about two hundred types of birds, endangered mammals including the Sloth Bear, Mouse Deer, Mugger Crocodiles, Monitor Lizards and so many more creatures and plant life. Please do totally respect the wildlife in this park. As it was closed for about twenty years due to the ethnic war, the animals here are unused to human contact and are shy, meaning that visitors need to be patient and ready to wait for them to reveal themselves. It would be a travesty if Wilpattu became the jeep jungle that is Yala.
Basic accommodation is available near the entrance however we elected to have more luxury accommodation in Anuradhapura, thirty kilometres away. There are iffy toilets and a lunch shelter in the park. Take hand cleansers, drinking water and lunch and leave no litter. Our jeep, which had seats for six persons and taken from the Park entrance cost Rs9000 for the day. Entrance fees for three foreigners, one local person and the driver came to Rs9500.]