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In addition to its rich history, ancient cultures and sunny beach life, the island of Sri Lanka has been identified as one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, possessing the highest biodiversity per unit area of land in Asia. The country benefits from two distinct monsoons that affect different parts of the island throughout the year, a wide range of altitudes, and a number of national parks and conservation areas that have allowed Sri Lanka’s wildlife to flourish. The exponential growth of the world’s population has led to the destruction of important ecosystems, and national parks are now more important than ever to preserve the homes of the animals that live there.

According to Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation, there are 26 declared national parks in the country. Here are three of the best national parks for an animal lover to visit.

Yala National Park

Yala is arguably Sri Lanka’s most famous wildlife park, and it is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka behind Wilpattu National Park. Located in the southeast corner of the country, around six hours outside of Colombo, Yala’s park consists of five blocks, few of which are open to visitors. The park is known for its range of ecosystems that collides with the island’s coastline, and is home to more than 200 species of birds, and more than 40 different kinds of mammals.

Yala has one of the highest population densities of leopards anywhere in the world, and is also one of the best places to spot Sri Lanka’s famous elephants. Visitors may also be able to spot sloth bears, sambar deer, water buffalo, wild boars, mongooses, monkeys and jackals.

Yala can generally be visited all year round, but aim for between May and August to spot leopards, elephants and wild boar; deer, crocodiles and birds are more likely to be visible between October and December.

Minneriya National Park

Located 180 kilometers outside of Colombo in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, Minneriya National Park is perhaps best known for the gathering: an amazing congregation of more than 300 elephants near Minneriya Lake, that takes place between the months of September and October. The gathering is the largest meeting place of elephants in Asia, and is one of the most awe-inspiring sights to behold for any elephant lover.

Minneriya is also home to two of Sri Lanka’s endemic monkey species: the purple-faced langur and the toque macaque. Mammals such as the sambar deer and axis deer may also be spotted, as well as the more elusive leopards and sloth bears that live there. There are also more than 170 species of birds that flit in and out of the park.

Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park is home to 197 different species of birds, 48 types of reptiles, 32 species of mammals and 15 species of vertebrates. It also hosts more than 50 different varieties of butterflies. Located 245 kilometres from Colombo in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, the park was the first wetland to be declared a Ramsar Site in Sri Lanka in 1991, meaning that it was designated as a wetland site of international importance. It was subsequently named a UNESCO biosphere reserve, the fourth biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka, in 2005.

One of the biggest attractions of Bundala is its massive population of greater flamingos, which visit the park in large flocks of more than 1000 birds. The park is a birdwatcher’s haven, and is home to around 100 species of water birds, half of them being migratory. Other birds that can be seen here include waterfowl, cormorants, grey herons, and rarer species such as the black-necked stork and the Eurasian coot. The park is also a breeding ground for five species of endangered sea-turtles that migrate to Sri Lanka’s shores.

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