Friday, 9 March 2012


4.30am: off for another day in the beautiful forests of Yala. Ten things I loved about yesterday:

1) Flower-filled forests reaching the sea. Who would have thought to put a wondrous national park on the beach? Good thinking.

2) A grizzled giant squirrel, hoarily lovely, slipping through the trees beside our jeep.

3) Herds of chital in the grassland and plentiful families of wild boar (big here, bigger-seeming than in India); after all, those leopards have to eat something.

4) Our bus-driver's assistant Tharanga, with the severe good looks of a leopard and a leopard's eye for wildlife. He has been polite, efficient and gravely quiet all week but once in our jeeps in the forest, in his element, he opened up, laughed heartily, spotted many distant shapes and shared his stories of travels and wild animals: 'I see leopard this tree; this one one, that one two.'

5) Sri Lanka junglefowl cocks trotting on pencil-thin legs along the road. Stunning.

6) Our first leopard, dozing in a tree. Not the best of views but, as leopards always are, heart-breakingly beautiful and, a bonus for us, seen by our whole group.

7) A second leopard seen by the whole group; the leopard to end all leopards. For an hour and a half a sturdy male sat close to us in the grass, in full view, dozing, yawning and occasionally fixing his gaze on a herd of chital nearby. In Sri Lanka lives the subspecies Panthera pardus kotiya, named for the Sinhala word for a leopard: kotiya. These leopards are intensely marmalade-coloured, closely spotted with black, and staggeringly lovely. Our male, with a powerful face and strong shoulders, looked almost jaguar-like in colour and muscle. When ready, he stood up, stretched indulgently and strolled away into the bush. As with the blue whales, sometimes words fail.

8) The first year crested hawk-eagle which flew into a tree above this leopard and the white-browed fantail which, offended by the eagle's presence, grew so agitated it twice landed on its back.

9) A golden jackal having a snooze in the short grass as we drove out of the park.

10) A ruddy mongoose scurrying past the jeep as the evening light faded.

It's a superb park and I'm very excited to be heading to it again now, though it's Saturday and the park will be busy. In Tharanga's words, 'Tomorrow locals so much.'

Those who have never seen a leopard under favourable conditions in his natural surroundings can have no conception of the grace of movement, and beauty of colouring, of this the most graceful and the most beautiful of all animals in our Indian Jungles.

Jim Corbett
Man-Eaters of Kumaon

New species from a glorious day in Yala


grizzled giant squirrel
Ratufa macroura
Panthera pardus kotiya
golden jackal
Canis aureus
ruddy mongoose
Herpestes smithii


crested hawk-eagle
Nisaetus cirrhatus ceylanensis
white-browed fantail
Rhipidura aureola
Sri Lanka junglefowl
Gallus lafayettii
Jerdon’s bushlark
Mirafra affinis
jungle prinia
Prinia sylvatica
Malabar pied hornbill
Anthracoceros coronatus
chestnut-headed bee-eater
Merops leschenaulti
brown fish-owl
Ketupa zeylonensis zeylonensis

2012 Totals
Mammals: 44
Birds: 389
Reptiles: 10
Amphibians: 3
Fish: 2

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