Divided largely between the ecological ‘wet’ zones of the south and southwest and ‘dry’ zones of the north and northeast, Sri Lanka boasts an impressive biodiversity and some of the most beautiful wildlife watching opportunities in the world. Recent figures suggest that the country hosts up to 4000 species of flowering plants, 107 species of freshwater fish, 59 species of amphibians, 174 species of reptiles, 435 species of birds, 140 species of mammals and several thousand invertebrates. Across these groups species include the mugger crocodile and saltwater crocodile, great herds of elephants, blue whales, leopards, schools of dolphins, hundreds of colourful birds and reefs teeming with rainbow-coloured fish. Did you know, the country is said to be the only one in the world where you can see the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, and the largest marine mammal, the blue whale, in a single day? It is also recorded as having one of the highest rates of endemism in the world.
There are a number of national parks across the country that protect important habitats and animals. There is the Yala National Park, the country’s most famous, covered with light forest, grassy plains and brackish lagoons and filled with elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes and monkeys. There is the Uda Walawe National Park, where elephants, wild buffalo, sambar, spotted deer, and giant squirrel roam, easily spotted due to the sparse vegetation. There is the Pigeon Island national park, just off shore with powdery white sands and glittering coral gardens. In the heart of the island’s wet zone, there is Sinharaja Forest Reserve with vivid plant, bird and animal life and, on the south coast, Bundala National Park is a fantastic maze of waterways, lagoons and dunes that glitter like gold in evening sun and hold wetlands of incredible value. And finally of course, there is Wasgamuwa National Park, where the project offered is located. It is a park that exhibits some of the highest levels of biodiversity across the protected areas and is well known for its large herds of elephant as well as purple-faced langur monkeys, wild boar, sambar and spotted deer, buffalo and rarely sighted leopards and sloth bears.
Threats to wildlife include catching domestic animal diseases as well as habitat loss, especially in terms of illegal logging. For elephants, there is the possibility of increasing elephant-human clashes, as settlements increasingly encroach across the land. This causes concern because of the negative effects it can have to people’s wildlife attitudes (as well as the danger brings to both local communities and elephant populations). Ivory trading also continues to leave its legacy. Volunteering in Sri Lanka allows you to spend time working towards conservation efforts for the incredible elephant populations in the region whilst also taking part in carnivore research. Data collection, education and care-taking are central activities and are a part of important projects to discover ways to mitigate human-elephant conflict and encourage conservation efforts across communities.