Guest Blog: How to get a great bear sighting in Yala — patience and skill to navigate away from the crowds!
Our friends and bloggers “Traveling Teacherz” visited us at Kulu camp for a few days and below is their account of a special bear 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!
It was our last day of safaris, and we decided to go to Block 1 for this morning’s safari. We had seen a fish eagle hunting and herds of elephants grazing.
We were specifically hoping to see a sloth bear, even though we knew sightings were more common in April or late March, and it was only the beginning of March.
By mid-morning, we drove up to three other jeeps who had caught sight of a sloth bear in the bushes. Our driver got us in the best position to see into the bushes, and we caught a glimpse of the black fur as the bear walked around inside. We were not able to capture it on camera. We waited for a good 30 minutes before several other jeeps pulled up. We realized that the sloth bear may never come out of the bushes, even if we could hear the sticks breaking from him walking around. We decided to leave for other viewing opportunities.
After driving around for another hour and seeing plenty of elephants and mongoose, our guide got word that the sloth bear had come out from the bushes. We drove in a hurry back to that area, and saw many other jeeps in queue.
He lumbered slowly with his toes pointed inward and head low to the ground. We had our cameras ready, and steadily followed his movement toward us. I captured the top-down view as he passed right next to the right side of the jeep.
I moved to the back of the jeep to continue filming and lost a shoe in the process! I was beyond enraptured in the moment; shoes were a much lower priority. The sloth bear paused to lift his leg, and excrete a small pebble, then he kept walking down the road. Eventually he made a turn into the trees. We were thrilled about our chance to see a sloth bear in the wild!
A sloth bear zig zags his way around jeeps and down a dusty road:
A pictorial essay of just one of the amazing leopard sightings we have been treated to in February and March this year.
The opening of “Block 5” of the Yala National Park a couple of years ago was a much welcome addition to Sri Lanka’s wildlife offering, and much needed diversification from the often crowded Block 1. The wildlife has been rich, with great sightings of rare migrant birds, small herds of elephants, plenty of deer, and other interesting mammals. However, this block has been one of the best places to see leopards in Sri Lanka (arguably in the world?!?!), and recently we were treated to a special afternoon with two comfortable and relaxed cats.
On a quiet afternoon drive while on safari with our guests last month, we came across an amazing leopard sighting — two cubs from the celebrated litter who have becomes the stars of this sector of Yala were out to play. These 2 cubs were being observed by another safari jeep when we pulled up, but we kept our distance and they didn’t pay us much attention.
The two sub-adult cubs were briefly joined by a third leopard, who resembled their mother at that distance. With the same stealth that she had appeared to check the location of the cubs and give them notice on where she expects to find them later, she slunk away quietly in a sheer act of genius — as the two clubs were playing in the open, the jungle’s attention was on them. This would give her a great opportunity to spring an ambush from the flank. (Similar to the clip below!):
Watching sub-adult cubs always raises several contrasting emotions. At this age (about one and a half years old), they are still playful, a tad clumsy and extremely animated — especially if they have siblings to play-fight with. But it is also an awkward age for them because they soon will be independent (in about six months’ time) and will have to start charting their own path of life and solidify their own territory. Staying true to their age, they stalked and ambushed each other, and also displayed a lot of affection to each other that drew many heartfelt “awwww”s from the guests in our jeep 🙂
These cubs have become one of the key attractions of Block 5 and are often spotted in this quadrant of the park (which we conclude is their mother’s territory), mainly in the afternoon. This particular sighting lasted for approx. 30 minutes and we were lucky to have good light to document this experience.
Block 5 has a perfect environment for Leopards to give birth to 2 or 3 cubs (while less rare in Africa, Yala’s female leopards have littered multiple cubs quite frequently in the recent past), as the pray density is large with one of the largest herds of spotted Deer we have seen in a very long time in ANY of the National Parks. This is mainly due to the fact that during the war, the road from Sella Kataragama to Buttala was cleared on either side for approx. 100 meters (as well as the road thru Block 5 to the weheragala Dam) for security reasons — due to the risk of ambush. This opened up large tracts of grass land for the herbivores and currently the 100 meter gap is being maintained by DWC from the Galge Entrance until the Weheragala Dam.
Sunset over a waterhole in Yala National Park – Block 5:
This also habituated the deer population in this sector because it was close to the road, as there was a reasonable amount of traffic to and from the dam. From the cleared jungle area emerged a lush tract of grass on which deer now graze in abundance. The lower threat of poaching due to both the presence of military until recently, as well as visibility also helped both prey and predator thrive.
Sightings of very shy Leopards in this part the park were seen in open areas, especially while they were hunting (which is quite rare for Sri Lankan national parks). We noticed in the past 3 years that the Leopards in Yala Block 5 have become distinctly more habituated to vehicular traffic much faster than in Block 1. Two key reasons we suspect are: 1) While Block 1 claims to host some of the highest leopard density in the world, it is also arguably some of the highest vehicle density for any National Park in the world! Hence, the disturbance rate to animals is higher. 2). Block 1 consists of heavier and thicker vegetation, which means most sightings are at a close proximity to the leopards; Block 5 features more open areas and fewer roads, so visitors can observe undisturbed leopard behaviour for longer (quality sightings) from outside the cats’ comfort zone.
The area of the recent sighting was at the base of the Weheragala Dam. The lower road that runs parallel to the dam is constantly wet and slightly water logged due to the ground water seepage from the water collected in the dam. There are many tall trees that we see dead — most were felled during the construction of the dam, and some have died due to excess water.
This grass is again found only in this section of the park and possibly its thriving due to the constant moisture and wetness from the reservoir. The buffalos seem to like the grass; however we seldom see smaller herbivores nor elephants feeding on this grass. This phenomenon is worth a bit of research.
The cubs commandeered a log as their prop of choice for the evening, and continued their shenanigans as the light faded. We eventually had to leave the cubs as darkness was falling and we had to exit the park. We hoped that the mom had a successful hunt that evening and the cubs were able to feed.
Leopard sightings in the first quarter of this year (2017) have been off to a flying start – please follow us on Instagram @kulu_safaris to keep up with the latest sightings and snippets on interesting animal behaviour that we have observed.
#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!