Yala National Park with Niranjan and Sophie from ASL, and a couple of tourist guys. The park is a three-hour drive east of Tangalle and covers 378 square miles (242,000 acres). The part the public are allowed to see is known as Block 1, and even that covers 54 square miles (35,000 acres). By any measure it's pretty big! A hundred years ago it was a game reserve for the rich to come and take pot shots at the wildlife. At least that may have helped preserve the area from human inhabitation.
Niranjan had arranged the transport - a van took us to Tissa where we picked up a Landrover and continued to the park. Locals pay about LKR 100 to get in, but us foreigners pay LKR 2200! For the record, it worked out at LKR 6000 for van and driver (from Weligama), LKR 4000 for Landrover and driver (from Tissa), and LKR 11,000 for entry and guide, all divided between the five of us so that's LKR4200 each, or about £26 in real money. A bit steep but that's what you've got to pay for a chance to see leopards and elephants in the wild.
Actually, it was a really good day out and turned into a bit of a safari adventure. The area is mostly low-lying and sandy, with some lagoons and wetlands, and some rock hills strewn about. This is in the dry semi-arid region of Sri Lanka but it had just rained the day before and the water holes were full. The part we were in had a areas of grassy open space and areas of scrubby bushes and trees - good for camouflage! The chances of seeing a leopard were about one in three, we were told, but we DID see one! Very fleetingly, but I managed to get a photo of it. which, although a lousy shot, was better than the others managed to get!
So what did we see? Water buffalo (wild and domestic), pelicans, a vivid-blue kingfisher, wild boar, a cobra, many spotted deer, some large deer, black-collared hare, kites, eagles, someone saw the rear of a black bear, crocodiles, elephants and the leopard! There were loads of birds, large and small, and we spotted the national bird, a Ceylon Jungle Fowl, which is meant to be common but this was the first and only one I've seen in my four weeks here.
The tour lasted about three and a half hours and involved a stop at Patanangala Beach. The beach itself was gorgeous, as you'll see from the photos, but just a hundred metres back were plinth remnants of six houses which had been swept away in the Dec 26, 2004 Tsunami. Apparently 47 people died here, including holiday makers but, reportedly, few animals perished.