Looking For Leopards

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Southern,
Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When you`re wandering through Asia, and a safari is part of the highlight package, you`re not exactly expecting to be cruising the savanna in a Range Rover in search of the Big 5. A safari in much of Asia is more likely to mean cruising a buffet lineup of various cooked exotic, strange, and unidentifiable animals while jostling with 5 Big busloads of Chinese tourists. Sri Lanka does appear to be among a handful of Asian nations that is taking it`s responsibility for it`s resident population of wildlife quite seriously- relatively large tracts of land have been set aside and wildlife viewing is possible in a number of parks. The best known of these is Yala National Park and the star of the show is reputed to be the leopard so we started heading south to give the Princess a break from the cultural overload that I enjoy and give her a couple of days with the critters, which she enjoys.

On our way we passed through the hill country which is not only breathtaking but is home to hundreds of tea plantations- a legacy of British colonial days. Having watched Coronation Street a number of times we were aware of just how important tea is to the Brits- short of losing limbs in horrific accidents, ``putting the kettle on`` seems to be the solution to all of life's big problems (and I suspect that most Brits believe that a ``cuppa`` would facilitate the growing of a new arm in just the right circumstances?). And Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) has been one of the largest tea exporters in the world. DH (where the D stands for Dunking My Biscuit) really enjoys her pinky-out-cup-of-tea so we stopped in at one of the plantations for a bit of a tour- I came away thinking that tea drinkers are getting dangerously close to wine connoisseurs with their endless nuances of the same drink and the flowery language to describe each taste. There was also the suggestion that many of the hill towns, built by the Brits to escape the heat, retained an English village flavour (Nuwara Eliya in particular- the highest settlement in Sri Lanka) and while that may have been true at one time, it takes a pretty good imagination to see Midsomer in any of these chaotic, well-worn, and bustling towns (Midsomer Murders is another show we watched for insight into the U.K.). 

Once in Tissamaharama, we did a street-side arrangement for a jeep, guide, and driver for our safari adventure- to guarantee the Princess' comfort we even opted for a "luxury" vehicle which essentially meant we'd be sitting on padded seats instead of a wooden bench for the bumpy ride through the park. The jeep, with elevated seating, was actually pretty good and did offer up a bit of an African feel to the adventure albeit with smaller critters- the Asian Elephant was the biggest thing in the bush, and most of our highlight sightings were bird related (we saw a hawk successfully attack and kill a lime green tree snake, and an eagle unsuccessfully attack a much larger Peacock- see the attached photos for our somewhat blurred evidence of this). We were also successfully attacked by a vicious group of macaques who relieved us of most of our sandwiches- a learned behaviour thanks to the many tourists who insist on feeding critters for a photo op (often times in the shade of the many Do Not Feed The Wildlife signs).

Leopard sightings are relatively common in Yala and we did see one sleeping in a tree, but it had obviously been a poor day for leopards as every jeep in Yala seemed to converge on this spotted sleeper making it our only zoo-like experience of the day. The rest of the day we were on our own and even DH was satisfied with the amount of feathers, scales, and fur we saw. No, it doesn't match the grand safaris of East Africa, but it did make for a fabulous day and it does provide some comfort and hope that the wildlife of Asia is seeing some protection (that said, in addition to a Tamil Tigers attack, three wardens have been killed in clashes with poachers. Poaching, gem mining, logging, and agricultural  encroachment remain threats to the park).

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