The temperament between the two species has been known to vary; while Mugger crocodiles have been observed to show a lighter temperament (due to being more social), the Saltwater crocodile has been observed to display a more aggressive temperament, owing to its territorial nature. Both crocodylians however, are known to be man-eaters.
Picking up from our last piece on Sri Lankan crocodylians, the following blog shares insights to the traits of our apex reptilian predator in hunting its prey and attacks on humans. Having existed virtually unchanged for the past 100 million years, the Saltwater (‘salties’) and Marsh (‘Mugger’) crocodiles that are found in Sri Lanka have been identified over recent years to display traits distinct to each species. Continue reading “Part II on Sri Lanka’s Crocodiles: Behavioral traits of an apex predator”
Often referred to as the closest living creature from the period of dinosaurs, crocodiles date back some 230 million years, and have existed virtually unchanged for the past 65 million years. Lead researcher Dinal Samarasinghe gives us insights in the first of our series covering these ancient reptiles.
Often referred to as the closest living creature from the period of dinosaurs, crocodiles date back some 230 million years, and have existed virtually unchanged for the past 65 million years. Leading crocodile researcher Dinal Samarasinghe gives us insights in the first of our series covering these ancient reptiles.
Two male elephants in Yala, named Humpy and Nelum, shadow each other over a period of months, but are careful to not make any contact or acknowledgement of the other. They turn up in the same grasslands and water holes, yet it’s as if a purposeful avoidance of the other is in place.
The first in a 12-part series touching on the unique characteristics of the island’s nomadic land giants.
With tourists in their thousands flocking to Minneriya to catch sight of the great elephant gathering, we wrapped up September by taking the alternative route, like we usually do, seeking out the land’s largest mammals at lesser known Kaudella and Kala Wewa National Parks, the latter of which is home to the island’s highest density of tuskers.
We had the privilege of having Environmental Scientist and Elephant Ethologist Sumith Pilapitiya with us, and the following piece sheds some interesting insights to characteristics of high ranking Asian male elephants.
Male Elephants are non-confrontational beings if unprovoked, adhering to a strict code of a natural hierarchical order to maintain the peace, and, they are wanderers from adolescence. Branching out between the ages of 12 to 15 years, a young male elephant begins a lifelong journey, largely alone or in temporary male groups, except when a female is in estrus when he mingles with a herd, which take him from one mate to the next, with the main objective of fathering as many offspring as it possibly can in its 60 or 70-year life span.
Friend or Foe?
Two male elephants in Yala, named Humpy and Nelum, shadow each other over a period of months, but are careful to not make any contact or acknowledgement of the other. They turn up in the same grasslands and water holes, yet it’s as if a purposeful avoidance of the other is in place. Pilapitiya is certain of a history between the two, perhaps a past relationship or a family link, but as far as evidence goes, they remain complete strangers who share the same landscape.
The probability of a male elephant in musth raiding agricultural crops is greatly reduced (despite the bull’s testosterone hike of 5-6 times the norm) as its focus shifts from food, to finding a mate.
Ancient rules apply today
Pilapitiya’s research confirms that abiding by the ancient structures of hierarchy, allows only the strongest and most experienced males to dominate lower ranking bulls which gives them a distinct advantage during mating. The dominance hierarchy among males can be overturned, occasionally, if a lower ranking bull in musth challenges a higher ranking non-musth bull. These confrontations can sometimes end in death of a bull. This was evident in Yala National Park recently, when a high ranking, but non-musth tusker named Thilak was gored to death by a lower ranking single tusker in musth.
The state of musth confers an advantage during mating as estrus females prefer to be mated by large musth bulls. The musth male guards the estrus female and mates with her several times during her estrus period of four to six days. Towards the end of her estrus, the bull loses interest in her and moves on in search of the next receptive female, leaving the female to raise the calf by herself with help from her herd. “Males leaving their natal herd and their ‘loner’ behavior,” Pilapitiya speculates, “is nature’s way of limiting inbreeding.”
But that isn’t to say male elephants spend their non-musth time in complete solitude; It’s a good a time as any to catch up with male peers; sparring only with other males, especially those known to them, akin to old mates meeting at the bar, as seen in bull herds, as the males we caught on camera in Kala Wewa.
Life as an elephant – simple as breathing, hard as death, the joy and the sadness of being alive. Nothing was ever easy for them. But nothing was ever as strong, either.
ABOUT SUMITH PILAPITIYA
Sumith Pilapitiya was formally Lead Environmental Specialist for the South Asia Region of the World Bank and former Director General of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka. He has personal research interests in elephant conservation and addressing the human elephant conflict and has been working on elephant social behavior in Yala National Park and the surrounding landscape.
Wildlife is our business, but this special sighting took even us by surprise!
On an evening walk in a sleepy corner of Sri Lanka’s east coast, south of the popular surfing town Arugambay, we came across a birders’ dream! ! A pair of recently-hatched chicks on Crocodile Rock … read on to see which species!
While commercial tourism [with the great tunnel-vision that it is known for] promotes Arugambay is a “surfing destination”, its proximity to wildlife and sites of archeological significance are often overlooked (maybe just as well!) 🙂
We often do a guided a walk to explore the area surrounding our beach bungalow Kudakalliya, a few clicks south of Arugambay and away from the busy area of the town.
That evening, we were exploring the mass of rocks and lagoons around “Crocodile Rock” which sits directly opposite our bungalow. The rock complex is flanked by beach, the ocean, a brackish water estuary and paddy fields. The combination results in some phenomenal biodiversity!
A walk on crocodile rock is usually an exercise of hypothesising and piecing together the history of this area, which appears to hold fascinating tales of ancient civilisation. A simple example of which is the series of steps cut out into the rock (with meticulous workmanship mind you).
The captivating vistas that merges the gold, blue, green and golden hues of paddy, jungle, beach and waterways keep you staring out over the horizon at the best of times, and amidst our guides’ chatter about the history of this area and how people may have lived here and what they may have done here centuries ago, we almost missed this pair of Great Thick-knee (Great Stone Plover) chicks, hidden beautifully with the contours and colours of the rock!!
They were huddled together quietly trying to avoid drawing attention to themselves while preserving the last of the warmth of the rock as the sun on another stunning Arugambay evening. The mother was probably out scouring for some grub before nightfall and would return shortly so we quickly left them, undisturbed.
Hmmmm who lived here?
Unlike mammals, baby birds can look quite different to their grown up plumage – below is an adult Great Thick-knee at our Kulu Safaris campsite, one of the best accommodation options on the border of Yala National Park.
Kudakalliya is the ideal location for the adventure seeker with a discerning taste for wildlife. A relaxed beach holiday that is enriched with wildlife at your door-step, Kumana National Park within an hour’s drive away, and the world famous Arugambay surf town a few doors down is quite compelling 🙂 But by law, we have to provide the disclaimer that once you spend a few days here, off-grid, in the company of waves, elephants, birds and spicy Sri Lankan food, there is a high risk of saying “F*&%-it” to your urban life 🙂
A guest’s account of leopard hunting monkeys up in a tree ~ while on safari with us in the Yala National Park!
Our friends and bloggers “Traveling Teacherz” visited us at Kulu camp for a few days and below is their account of an amazing sighting while on safari with us. All picture and video copyright are owned by them. Check them out at www.facebook.com/travelingteachrzwww.youtube.com/travelingteachrzMake sure to scroll to the bottom of this blog post to watch the entire video!
A young leopard chases monkeys in a tree
In order to avoid crowds, we requested to visit Block 5 for most of our safaris. We were on an all-day safari, and we had already spent time that morning being utterly amazed by the animals we saw around every corner. We watched elephants munch and cool off in the heat of the day, and by lunch time we were ready to cool off and eat, too. We stopped at the river, enjoyed a swim, and ate some tasty rice and meat. We relaxed there for a while, until the heat of the day passed. Then, we got back into the jeep and made sure our cameras were all ready to go.
We had been on a couple drives without catching a glimpse of a leopard, and the anticipation of seeing one was causing us to listen intently for alarm calls. Nearly 15 minutes after leaving the river, we heard alarm calls from langur monkeys. Our guide carefully tried to follow the sound, and we drove around the area for a couple minutes. The sound intensified, and we knew we were close! Everyone in the jeep was on high alert.
The monkeys were right above her in the trees, screeching their alarm calls. She ignored there calls at first, but, after a little while, she seemed agitated by them. We watched her gaze follow the monkeys as they jumped around in the trees. Suddenly, she made a quick move to get up, and she positioned herself at the base of one tree.
Once down the tree, she lumbered toward the bushes across the road, walking right in front of our jeep. We were the only jeep in sight. We watched as the leopard casually walked toward the bushes, then she seemed to catch movement and got into a crouched position. Within seconds, she was off chasing something in the bushes, and that’s the last we saw of her. Our anticipation had been met with a special sighting, in which we enjoyed without any other noise or jeep queues! It was truly a memorable experience.
#Summer2016 has been phenomenal for leopard sightings thus far!
Yet again, 2016 proved that the months of May-July could well be the best time to visit the Yala National Park, to spend a few exciting days on safari in Sri Lanka with Kulu Safaris.
This year, we were blessed with some unexpected rain in May that helped keep Yala greener for a little longer that usual. However, with the onset of the annual dry season and lower visitation numbers from May-July, we have experienced some great leopard sightings, with very few vehicles around to crowd the animals. Our guests had exclusive, front-row seats to some fascinating animal behaviour!
Yala Block 5 in particular has been very rewarding for our guests. Strong populations of spotted deer have definitely underpinned the health of the leopard population in this block.
True to our pioneering ethos, Kulu Safaris was a key proponent in encouraging the Department of Wildlife and Conservation to prepare and open Yala Block 5 for visitation. As the first regular visitor to this sector, we were careful in how we approached animals while on safari, always keeping a respectful distance from wild animals (in effect, we stayed well outside the comfort zone so that they never felt threatened by vehicles).
Our guests especially enjoyed the diversity in vegetation and ecology that Block 5 offered, as well as the undisturbed leopard sightings; thus Kulu spent a lot of time exploring this sector. As a result, we are seeing an encouraging degree of comfort amongst the adult leopards that are resident in this sector — they already seem relatively habituated and tolerant of vehicles. We are also looking forward to watching the first (since Yala Block 5 was opened commercially) set of leopard cubs grow up over the next year as well!
All in all, Yala Block 5 has afforded us excellent wildlife viewing this summer, and we expect this trend to continue.
This cat’s hungry — as you can see from the hollow in its lower stomach
Two amazing sightings stand out as highlights of this summer thus far. The sighting with the best optics was undoubtedly the wild-boar kill that a huge female leopard hoisted up a tree. The strength and ferocity of a wild-boar makes it a relatively high-risk meal for a leopard. Although leopards are known to commonly steal piglets from a sounder of boars, it requires patience and immense skill for a leopard to successfully take down an adult boar.
The video of the wild-boar kill below is a quick edit of what was a relatively long and uninterrupted sighting. The leopard was not comfortable with the positioning of the boar so decided to drag it elsewhere, probably further away from the road to a quieter location. From our angle, the drag looked quite comical but the leopard was determined to move the kill and did so successfully – this was one strong cat!
The other amazing sighting was an actual kill that happened right in front of us. On a game drive, we stopped to watch a herd of deer because of alarm calls. We also knew there was a leopard prowling nearby but we had lost visual.
More often than not, a deer can outrun a leopard if it has even the slightest advantage, such as warning or line of sight. Thus, leopards use their stealth and camouflage to get as close as possible before springing an attack. And this particular hunt is a perfect example of just how close a leopard can get to a herd of deer, undetected. (For us watching, it was NatGeo material! – minus the lenses).
In the video below, the deer are grazing with the leopard hidden in the tall grass, just a few feet away from the target, unaware of its presence until the very last moment. The time that lapsed from launching itself at the deer to the actual takedown was less than a second!
Kulu Safaris offers several special deals during low-season to take advantage of the exclusive access to wildlife during this time. So we advise our fans and partners to keep an eye on our promotions page !
We also welcome large groups who enjoying booking camp exclusively for themselves for a special and exclusive wildlife experience, so please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your inquiries.
Safari isn’t all being driven in a jeep … connect with nature with our fun, adrenalin-pumping activities!
Going on Safari is arguably one of the most fun, interesting, and experiential travel activities on your “things to do in Sri Lanka” bucket list. We have the largest campsite of all the operators — on one side we are flanked by jungle alongside the Katagamuwa section of the Yala National Park complex, and in front of us, we have a beautiful lake that all our tents look out towards.
While a game drive (going on safari) is the most common activity that our guests partake in, we’re seeing an increasing number of them staying back to do some of the other cool things we offer at camp.
Kayaking has been a recent hit, with clients of all ages. The serenity of being out on the water at dawn or sunset is unmatchable. Being eye-level with water birds also adds a unique and different perspective to birding, which can be a welcome change from repeated rounds in a safari jeep on dusty roads.
Our kayaks are top of the range. They are injection moulded, rugged plastic, ocean-going kayaks that are built for stability, strength and maximum safety — they are also insanely difficult to topple. All our kayaks are for two people, and even include water-proof hatches inside, so feel free to take your camera and snap a few pictures while out on the water! We are pedantic about safety precautions and life jackets copulsory.
If you read the “about us” section on our website, you would see that our founders have explored every nook and cranny of this island. We have used kayaks just like these to explore 22 rivers around Sri Lanka, and we have trusted them with our lives.
The other activity that is popular with guests is the nature walk. We advise clients that only those who have some experience with trekking and are relatively fit try this. Even though we call it a “walk”, it is as much a climb which includes navigating rocks, slopes, and manoeuvring through stubborn branches. And once you have come to terms with the terrain, be mindful that there ARE wild animals around, as seen by elephant droppings and leopard tracks on some our routes.
The walk ends on the summit of a rock that has an amazing view across the lake in front of camp and the jungle that extends beyond. It’s a great location to spend the evening watching the sun go down, or to even walk up early morning and do some birding. Our walk is through jungle that is clearly outside the boundary of the national park.
Safari is not just about driving around a national park in a jeep. It is a very spiritual experience — connecting with nature and being one with your natural surroundings. It’s a great opportunity to turn your phone off and let the aesthetic beauty of the jungle and nature come to you; take the time to embrace it and to see and feel what it REALLY means to be alive.
So next time you’re with us and feel like doing something different on your trip, try some of our activities ! Follow us on Facebook to keep abreast of anything new. See you soon!
Jeana’s back! Here latest story is about the rush of seeing a leopard in the wild and how you can NEVER be ‘used to it’! Even as a guide 🙂
Jeana is back, adding to her series of blog posts about her experience as a young guide at Kulu Safaris. Here, she recounts a memorable leopard sighting, but in the context that even as a guide who encounters leopard every day, each sighting is just as exciting as the first.
If I were to describe a typical safari “guide”, I imagine someone who remains cool and collected when being charged by an elephant, has a wealth of knowledgeable about flora and fauna, as well as has the confidence and people skills to share their knowledge with guests.
What struck me from the very beginning is that ‘calmness’ is merely an art we have to perfect over time. As a young guide, seeing an animal in the wild gives me the same adrenaline rush as any tourist. I have had to intentionally keep myself from exclaiming and pushing in front of my guests to catch a better view! I learnt fast that as a guide, I’m responsible for bringing to life the Sri Lankan safari experience.
As guides who lead clients on a safari, the pressure on us to track and showcase Sri Lankan wildlife is real and intense. Our typical ‘team’ on a game drive comprises of an excellent Kulu driver, who has a sixth sense for the jungle and a knack for picking routes (our drivers Preme, Rohana, Kumara, and Namal all qualify as excellent) and a good tracker to support our driver. We need to work in unison, as a cohesive team, to read the jungle for signs and clues, and to anticipate as well as react. There are many moving parts to a sighting: from the build up of following clues and tracks, to the nature of the sighting (eg: watching a comfortable relaxed leopard is far different to being in the presence of an irritable bull elephant in musth!). Also important is the positioning of the vehicle – are the guests rocking up with big zoom lenses and do we need to keep a distance to get their photographs, or are they happy to be a little closer to the animal etc. etc.
One afternoon in 2015, we ventured into Block 5 (also known as Lunugamwehera National Park) with our safari-modified Land Cruiser full of guests. Kumara was driving and I was the guide. Kumara’s eyes are magically accustomed to the jungle to such an extent that he can spot a monitor lizard in a tree hollow, while driving past (bear in mind that most often, the tree and the reptile are the same colour!!). As a guide, one of the aspects of your training is how to spot the little things, while keeping your eyes peeled for that hint of gold that’s out of place. It’s great to have a team that complements each other – knowing I can rely on Kumara and our Kulu drivers to spot animals early means I can spend more time conversing with guests.
We slowly take a bend and I’m looking out to my right, towards a small rocky outcrop where we had a recent leopard sighting, when the jeeps abruptly stops and the engine is switched off. Kumara looks back at me through his side mirror and points upwards … “Leopard in the tree” he lip-syncs with a smug grin. Lo and behold, a stunning female sub-adult leopard is lounging on a low branch of a “pallu” tree within 20 feet from our jeep!
Everyone in the jeep noticeably is in absolute awe of this beautiful creature, who is relaxed and comfortable in our presence. Thankfully, our guests appreciate the value of being quiet at a sighting and the only noises are of the jungle and soft camera clicks. I’m thrilled – Kumara and I share a silent “oh yeah” moment in the mirror while the guests are engrossed with the leopard.
The leopard yawns and licks and looks around until she finally stands up, stretches and descends elegantly down the trunk of the tree, before strolling casually into the jungle. We have the privilege of having her all to ourselves for close to half an hour.
As Kumara turns the engine back to life and we drive off, I feel the post-sighting buzz, as the jeep is full of chatter about the beautiful cat and the guests compare photographs. I share equally in their excitement and tell myself once again that no matter how many leopards I see… I will always be as amazed as the first time I ever saw one.
A detailed account of an amazing encounter with a pair of mating leopards – by Kulu Safaris guest Daphne Goodyear!
A warm welcome to Kulu Safaris’ first guest blogger – Daphne Goodyear! Daphne is from the United States and visited us recently. It was her first visit to Yala, and the spirits of the jungle connected with her. They offered Daphne an iconic wildlife experience — an exclusive and close sighting of a pair of mating leopards. Below is her detailed account of how the sighting unfolded. Thank you Daphne for sharing!
All photographs are property of Daphne Goodyear.
Kulu Safaris Game Drive
Yala National Park
Traveling through Yala National Park on a Kulu Safari was a first rate, extraordinary and
fabulous experience. Searching for animal sightings is very exciting because one never knows what will be seen around the next corner!
Camp, made a detour down a side road where there were no other vehicles. As we approached a thicket, my friend, Norma, spotted the very back end of a Leopard disappearing into the underbrush. She immediately said, “Stop!”
Our driver must have known where the Leopard would emerge, as he immediately made
a U turn, drove a short distance, positioned the vehicle towards an open field and switched off the engine. We began our wait. At that moment we had no idea what a treat was in store for us.
It was not long before a male Leopard walked out into the open not far from the front of our vehicle. We were all mesmerized! Because the Leopard was in close proximity, we could watch his every graceful step. The beauty of his golden spotted body defied his well-known ferocious hunting techniques.
Instead of disappearing, the Leopard lay down in the middle of the open field right in front of us. Not long afterwards, what appeared? A female Leopard! We simply could not believe we were seeing these two magnificent wild animals right in front of our eyes.
Out came my camera with the long lens! For the next forty-five minutes we watched these two Leopards conduct a mating dance, as I snapped one picture after another. How interesting it was observing the male Leopard showing absolutely no interest in the female. He lay there in the field as if nothing was going on around him. This tactic amused us all. The female Leopard would nudge him, lay down beside him, walk on top of him, circle him, and nip at him…no reaction.
Then she’d walk away, as if to say, “I am no longer interested.” Yet moments later she’d was back frolicking with the object of her affections. This happened over and over again. The male Leopard continued to lay there stoically, un-moved by her advances, acting as if she were invisible. This Mating Dance was fascinating to watch.
The male Leopard finally came to life. With little fanfare he mounted the female consummating their relationship three time right in front of our astonished eyes.
During copulation, the male Leopard bit down on the female Leopard’s neck causing her to make a loud roar. Once he dismounted, the female Leopard growled loudly again and swatted him one good! The entire process took less than 30 seconds. After it was over, the female would lay on her back with her feet in the air for a few minutes…a very relaxing pose. Then the mating dance would begin all over again.
It is an understatement to say we were mesmerized. Watching these two magnificent wild animals putting on this show was magical. Our incredible good fortune to witness this mating dance was an extraordinary moment in time for my three friends and me. And, in approximately three and a half months, Leopard cubs should be prancing around their mother in Yala National Park. A big treat yet to come for future safari-goers.
Our Kulu Safari Camp experience was awesome as we saw many different animals, beautiful birds and gorgeous flora and fauna everywhere. But the biggest thrill of all was the Leopard’s mating dance. An experience my friends and I will never forget.