Kaudulla National Park is a hotspot that grabs the attention of both locals and tourists who love to experience the raw beauty of nature as it is. This national park first opened its doors in 2002. This is famous as one of the best parks to enjoy seeing elephant gatherings. You can see herds of elephants in a closer vicinity; some days there are about 100–200, and that number varies every day. Kaudulla National Park is one of the 16 national parks in Sri Lanka. In fact, it is a valuable asset to Sri Lanka as it provides avenues for hundreds and thousands of plant and animal species that are endemic and non-endemic to the country.
It is established across 6,900 hectares of land. This is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Based on the characteristics of the plant species that grow in this area, the National Park is classified as a dry zone evergreen forest. Apart from the wildlife, the scenic environment and greenery you can enjoy seeing here are also priceless. Kaudulla National Park is named an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) as it provides habitat for endemic as well as non-endemic (migratory) birds.
Location of Kaudulla National Park
Kaudulla National Park is located in the sacred historical city of Polonnaruwa, North Central Province, Sri Lanka. It is located 197 kilometers from Colombo. You can use the Colombo-Trincomalee Road to reach this park. It will take nearly 4 and a half hours to reach the place from Colombo, passing the towns of Negombo and Kurunegala, and from Kurunegala along the A6 road, passing Galewela, Dambulla, and Habarana towns.
Flora and fauna in the area around Kaudulla National Park
The ideal purpose of a national park is to conserve plant and animal species in their natural habitat. Apart from elephants, Kaudulla National Park provides a habitat for many other animal species. Many mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects can be seen on this land. Foxes, some deer species, wild boar, monkeys, porcupines, and different endemic as well as migratory bird species are abundant in this national park. In addition to the previously mentioned mammals, leopards (only a few of them live here), small black bears, and sloth bears may occasionally be seen in the area of this national park. Spoonbills, Spot-billed Pelicans, Sri Lankan Green Pigeons, Cranes, Kingfishers, Peacocks, and Eagles are some of the abundant and frequent visual birds in the Kaudulla National Park. It is reported that there are nearly 160 bird species that have been encountered here.
Apart from mammals and birds, there are freshwater fish, frogs, toads, and freshwater turtles (Indian black turtles and Indian flap-shelled turtles) that also have made habitats around the water reservoir. It is reported that there are around 26 freshwater species that have made habitats in the Kaudulla reservoir and the other water bodies in the Kaudulla National Park. And also, there are about 25 different species of reptiles that live in this precious land area.
The Kaudulla reservoir is one of the earliest built reservoirs by one of the earlier kings who ruled Sri Lanka, named Mahasen, mainly for plantation and irrigation purposes. Apart from that, it provided water for the survival of wildlife throughout the years, and up to date, it is still providing it. Therefore, it is a very valuable asset to this wildlife park.
There is grassland around the surrounding area of the Kaudulla reservoir, which facilitates the observation of wildlife and wildlife photography in advance.
The main water reservoir in the Kaudulla National Park is the Kaudulla Reservoir, as mentioned above. But there are several other lakes and reservoirs located on this land. Olumandu Lake, Relapanawa Reservoir, Aluth Oya Stream, and Puliyan Kalla Lake are a few such bodies of water. Therefore, this national park is known to be covered by water bodies for nearly two-thirds of its total land area.
Climate and the best season to visit
The dry season lies between April and October in the area where Kaudulla National Park is located. The best period to visit is suggested as being from August to December, when you can see the frequent gatherings of the elephant herds. In the other months of the year, we can also see the elephants here, but the elephant population can be split and spread across the nearby other national parks, like Minneriya National Park. However, elephants can be seen almost every month of the year. Therefore, we can call it a year-round elephant-spotting destination since you can always find elephants regardless of the climate.
The main rain source in this area is the northeast monsoon. The annual rainfall in this area is around 1,500–2,000 mm. The temperature here varies from 20.6 to 34.5 throughout the year.
There is a distinct dry season in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, where animals find it extremely difficult to find water for their survival. Therefore, the water reservoirs in Kaudulla National Park attract many animal species, especially during the dry and drought seasons. During the dry season, herds of elephants and other animal species migrate towards the Kaudulla reservoir from many other surrounding national parks, like Wasgamuwa, Minneriya, and Somawathiya, as these national parks are bounded by and interconnected with each other.
Places to stay around Kaudulla National Park
There are several lodges, villas, and many other spots available that you can find for your stay with good food and other facilities.
You can enjoy the safari ride here for a reasonable price. Watching elephants, birds, and other wildlife in close proximity is an amazing experience that you can get here. There are bumpy trails throughout the area across the national park, which does not make you feel bored during the ride.
You can go on a safari here. This is the most exciting thing about coming to Kaudulla National Park. It is a bit expensive if you are traveling alone on the safari jeep. But if you are with a group of friends or with a group of people, you can always share the cost, and it is really worth the cost. Usually, there are two safari tours per day in this area. One is around 6 a.m., and the other is around 2 p.m. The safari jeep drivers are well aware of the spots where you need to be taken to get the most out of the safari. Early morning tours can give a high chance of spotting more birds, whereas evening tours give a high chance of spotting lots of elephants, especially around the area of the centerpiece, which is the Kaudulla reservoir.
On a good day, you may view and encounter herds of elephants of various sizes. Seeing close to 60-70 wild elephants in one go is not unusual in this area.It is always fascinating to observe elephants and their behavior silently in their natural habitat without disturbing them.
Not just the elephants, the undisturbed nature here is also very calming and soothing. The best view comes here in the evening, according to the locals who have visited here. Furthermore, there is a great landscape here in Kaudulla National Park, mainly with grasslands and dense forest areas here and there, and there is an ability to take some excellent photo shoots throughout the day.
In this wildlife sanctuary, there are small, water-collected natural pools apart from the Kaudulla reservoir. Most of the time, you can closely encounter elephants and many other animal species in these areas, more so than in the free grassland areas. Also, since Kaudulla National Park is an evergreen forest, there is an ample amount of plant material that the herbivorous animals can feed on.
Even if these wild animals are not dangerous unless disturbed for any reason, your safety should always come first. It is always better to carry a bottle of water with you if you are planning to go on a safari ride in the Kaudualla Park during the daytime because you can feel tired during the ride in the sun.
Enthusiasts of wildlife such as ecologists, zoologists, and naturalists, as well as many other researchers and nature lovers, love this place as it provides an ample amount of space, protection, and freedom to the wild animals. A friendly tour guide and staff will make your safari more enjoyable.
There are several elephant corridors and areas where you may encounter elephants on the road when visiting this park. particularly in the areas surrounding Habarana. Now the elephants are pretty much used to coming near the areas where the human populations mostly live during some seasons of the year. As a result, you may encounter these giants not only within Kaudulla National Park but also in areas nearby.
(Featured Image Credit: Viraj Kodithuwakku)