Aliya Safari

areas of yala




What we refer to as Yala National Park is a protected area complex comprising five blocks as well as adjoining sanctuaries and national parks in the vicinity of Yala including Kumana National Park (Yala East), Yala Strict Nature Reserve and Kataragama, Katagamuwa, and Nimalawa sanctuaries. Further to these adjoining sanctuaries, Yala is connected to national parks such as Lahugala and Lunugamvehera where large populations of elephants are found. There are also jungles between the different national parks so elephants have corridors to move from Yala to other parks such as Bundala, Uda Walawa and Gal Oya. Yala covers very different climatic areas, landscapes and wildlife habitats. A special feature in the most visited safari areas is that Yala to some extent is a coastal wilderness and this park is the only place in the world to see Asian elephants near the coast or even on a beach. This coastal jungle area stretches from Hambantota in the south to Arugam Bay in the East. The existing network of roads suitable for safaris is mainly found more or less in the vicinity of the southeast coast.





The southern blocks of Yala

The Palatupane gate, 15 km east of Tissamaharama, is the main entrance to Yala National Park. This is block 1 of the park - the most popular safari area of Yala. Block 1 is almost exclusively used for safaris into Yala and it is also in this part of the national park one get the best chance to observe leopards as well as other wildlife and many species of water birds.

Yala block 1, block 2 and Kumana are the extreme southern areas of Yala. These blocks are defined by their arid climate and located along the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka these blocks of Yala have the Indian Ocean as a boundary on one side and on the other side there are other protected blocks of Yala and jungles. Generally very remote areas of Sri Lanka and far away from human habitation.

Full grown male leopard, evening Yala block 1

These southeastern parts of Yala National Park have similar dry or arid climatic conditions and thorny bush type vegetation is widespread. The forests fed by the rain of a short monsoon features dwarfed trees. Bonsai like trees and a quite open landscape offers good visibility as well as spectacular and scenic views. Tall trees are found only along the rivers but towards Kumana widespread low, mature dry zone forests are more prevalent than in block 1 where large areas in the past were cleared for slash and burn cultivation.

Along the coast, the ecosystem consists of beaches, fresh water and marine wetlands such as lagoons and mangroves in the estuaries of the rivers Menik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya. The large wet areas are ideal habitats for many water birds and wild buffaloes.
The area is really very dry most of the year and it is essential for animals that there is access to various bodies of water like streams, rock pools, and lagoons. Many rock pools contain water the whole year and are an important source of water for wildlife. Yala Block 1 features good wildlife habitats with open grasslands, and man made tanks provide essential water holes for animals in this dry climage. These lakes are important water reservoirs for animals and they are the secret behind the fact that wildlife watching is best in block 1.

Block 2 is the most southern part and a remote area of Yala between block 1 and Kumana. Block 2 is situated between the Menik and Kumbukkan rivers and along the southeastern coast. The landscape generally is bush type interspersed with large open plains and lagoons. Compared to block 1, the wildlife is much more shy and less frequently observed. As a nature experience this part of Yala is very interesting and the few visitors here really get to experience the great outdoors without the presence of other safari visitors, it's an area you get for yourself. For safety reasons a tour into block 2 has to make use of two 4WD vehicles. A wildlife department permit requires traveling with a back up vehicle due to the remoteness of this wilderness.

Access to Kumana is from an entrance near the east coast, 25 km south of Arugam Bay.

Kumana National Park and Panama-Kudimbigala sanctuary adjoining the park are large wilderness areas located south of and south east of Arugam Bay. The Kumana Villu and a series of lagoons are attracting thousands of migrant birds. Wildlife such as sloth bear, leopard, elephants, wild buffaloes and saltwater crocodiles can be observed in this eastern part of the Yala jungles. There are very few visitors.





The northern blocks of Yala

Access points to these parts of Yala are the Galge gates where there are entrances to block 5 (west of Galge and bordering Lunugamvehera National Park) and block 3 (east of Galge).

A Giant Squirrel, common resident in Yala's northern forests

These parts of Yala National Park can be described as a beautiful wilderness with hardly any visitors. An ideal safari area for those who prefer a private nature experience but it has to be stressed that wildlife sightings tend to be much less here than in block 1. In dry seasons we offer a specialized afternoon safari to photograph Sloth Bear in Yala block 3.

There is no dense concentration of wild animals due to dry conditions and other factors. One factor that makes wildlife watching more difficult is that animals are not used to the safari traffic, they will hide or flee.

In dry seasons we offer a specialized afternoon safari to photograph Sloth Bear in Yala block 3. There is no dense concentration of wild animals due to dry conditions and other factors.

One factor that makes wildlife watching more difficult is that animals are not used to the safari traffic, they will hide or flee.

In the large part of Yala called block 3, 4 and 5 forests are more widespread. From the mountains of Uva rivers and streams flow in a southeasterly direction. The Kumbukkan Oya in the eastern Yala and Menik River and its tributaries in the west flow across the park and provide important water sources in the dry season to wild animals of the park.

Dry zone, tall canopy, forest. Typical landscape of Yala block 4

Smaller local streams of the park normally dry out during the drought season. The further north, the higher annual rainfall in Yala and the large block 4 and areas bordering the Buttala and Okkampitiya areas receive around 1200 mm rain annually, while the southern parts only receive less than half of that amount of rain.

This northern area of Yala has vast virgin, mature forests with tall canopy and huge trees compared to the more open bush landscape in southern and eastern parts of Yala.






Kumbukkan Oya river, Yala National Park northern boundary area

Towards the northern boundaries of Yala and in the adjoining forests around the national park the habitat is again more favorable to wildlife and the density of animals is comparable to Yala block 1.

But here animals are really wild, much more shy and careful in their behavior and difficult to spot and observe. These wilderness areas consisting of national park and forest areas, anyway, are not used for safaris. Inside these forests there is a large population of Sloth Bear, probably the highest concentration in Sri Lanka, and many other rare and rarely observed species of wildlife and forest birds.

Leopards are also found in these forests. However there is no available data and their numbers are unknown. Rare species such as Rusty Spotted Cat and Slender Loris are found in these remote forests. Here wildlife tends to be nocturnal and sightings in the daytime are quite unusual.

Evening in forest north of Yala National Park, Buttala area.
Seasonally a large population of wild elephants concentrating here.

The population of elephants is thinner inside the park and more dense along the boundary, in buffer zones and in adjoining bush jungles. Lone male elephants and small herds are found in most parts of Yala; there is a pattern for the way the population is distributed though. Partly adapted to a semi arid or even a dry coastal wilderness habitat, a quite large number of lone elephants are residents of the southern blocks 1, 2 and Yala East/ Kumana.

In the northern blocks 3, 4 and 5 of Yala the habitat provides more favorable conditions for a larger population of elephants and it is here bigger herds are living.

They find best conditions during the wet season, from November to April. More elephants are found along the northern Yala boundary and adjoining ecosystems of forest and bush outside the Yala National Park. This is the pattern all over Yala from block 5, near Lumugamvehera, via block 4 towards Lahugala and Panama as well as Arugam Bay north of Yala East.

Attracted by waterholes, open grass landscapes and more frequent rainfall than in southern Yala, hundreds of elephants are circulating in a seasonal movement between Yala National Park and wilderness areas north of Yala block 4. During the dry season from May to October many of the Yala elephants are moving north towards Kumbukkan Oya river and Buttala / Okkampitiya areas, joining the resident elephants of that area. This is a traditional refuge during the drought season.