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Sri Lanka - In search for 3 smaller cats

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Tempted for a long time by earlier trip reports from Sri Lanka I finally managed to set up a trip to this great island in July 2018.
This was a part of a longer trip (6 weeks) and due to this and for high cost I cut it down to a 5 nights trip and focused on two areas only. 2 nights in Wilpattu NP and 3 nights around Sigiriya. My main targets were the three smaller cats and Sloth bear. 


As many of you already know I am on a "lifelong" mission to find and photograph every feline species in the world and Sri Lanka gave me the opportunity to boost the number a bit.


 I used the famous an VERY excellent service from http://www.birdandwildlifeteam.com/ and my guide were Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana. 
Couldn´t be more satisfied with the service. Always willing to put in alot of hours spotlighting and do what it takes to find a certain species. This is what real wildlife guiding is all about. I wish this could be the standard all over the world. Great company as well. 



Wilpattu NP


I stayed at the lovely Wilpattu safari camp http://www.wilpattusafaricamp.com/ who has a great setting very close to the park entrance and also in a good area for spotlighting at nighttime which is forbidden inside the park but can be done in its immediate vicinity.

The food at this place is beyond excellent and this is said by me... who is not a food junkie at all. 
Well, the whole Sri Lanka have crazy good food.


Most people come here for the Leopard. I was here primarily for the Sloth bear and for spotlighting at nighttime outside the park. 


Typical road inside Wilpattu NP


We begin with the dayshift...



Asian Elephant. Only three individuals seen whereof two bulls playfighting at this lake.








By far the most common mammal in Wilpattu, Chital or Spotted deer. If you miss them, you must be blind.




Indian hare. Also very common in Wilpattu with multiple sightings. Mostly by night but some during the day as well.




Wild waterbuffalo. Common inside Wilpattu.




The guy with many names: Indian muntjac, Red muntjac, Barking deer...

Very helplful guy when it comes to finding Leopards in Wilpattu. We followed it´s distinct call several times but unfortunateley the Leopards eluded us.




Ruddy mongoose. Lucky encounter one day. Terrible picture though...




Golden jackal. Not very common. Only one sighting per day. I got the impression that they getting fewer and fewer by the day in Wilpattu.








Grizzled giant squirrel. Also called Sri Lankan giant squirrel. Only one sighting. In our camp actually. It´s a beautiful fluffy squirrel.




 Seen inside Wilpattu NP on two sightings - Sloth bear! The first very brief of around 5 seconds. The second one much longer. Both on very early morning in the first light. They can be a hit or miss here, by no means a guarantee.




As Sloth bear was a big target for me here in Sri Lanka I was of course satisfied with this.




Notable birds were this beautiful couple of Asian green bee-eater...




...and the not so beautiful Lesser adjutant stork.




The dayshift is over and it´s time for this Indian star tortoise and me to head back home (to camp) and get ready for the nightshift at the borde areas of Wilpattu. 

When Sloth bear is in my pocket I still have three cats to find...



Next episode: The nightshift

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Sloth bear down already, and some nice pictures! (Both of the bear and others) Looks to have been worth it already

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Posted (edited)

Time for the nightshift to kick in.

As I said, it is forbidden to spotlight inside Wilpattu NP but the border areas are as good as anything when it comes to wildlife.

There is alot of small road network and the spotlighting is one of the best I ever had.




Jungle cat.  Another one of my targets. Easily ticked off the first night when spotlighting outside Wilpattu NP. Seven Individuals seen. They were everywhere on the grasslands chasing big grasshoppers. Thick bush made it very hard to get them in the camera.




I knew they would be the easiest of my three target felines but couldn´t imagine seven in one night...




Diving for grasshoppers!






Fishing cat!

Second night spotlighting in Wilpattu - Booom! There it was. Close to a small water area just a few hundred metres from my camp. 

Sri Lanka is probably the best place in the world for this rare cat and the quality of the sighting was phenomenal! 




Probably a young cat as it was quite small. 

Didn´t stayed too long and moved away after a minute or so.




On top of it all, the worlds smallest feline - Rusty spotted cat.

Even if Sri Lanka probably is the best place in the world for them, they are by no mean a guarantee.
 Another target and the hardest one beforehand. Well, I didn´t had to worry too long. Already on our first night outside Wilpattu NP we got a fantastic sighting of this feline.

 In fact we got a double sighting of the same cat. A second look 1 ½ hours after the first one and I got two different pictures of the same individual.  



 Fantastic sighting to be able to get such a close look at this cat. Many times they see them for a quick glimpse, running away in the lower vegetation. But not this time!





My best sighting here in Sri Lanka and the one I worried most about. 

Thanx to fantastic guiding and of course a bit luck I could tick off all my targets even before leaving Wilpattu. Crazy. 




But the nightshift is far from over. Indian small civet is rather common when spotlighting. This guy also looking for big grasshoppers like the Jungle cat. 





Gray slender loris. Charming creature and a common sight when spotlighting.





They live only in southern India and in dry forests on Sri Lanka. 





No wonder they are called "slender" :) 





Sri Lankan white-spotted chevrotain

A nervous little "Mouse-deer", endemic to Sri Lanka. Two seen outside Wilpattu. 





No nightshift without bats.

In this abandoned house a group of Schneider´s leaf-nosed bats had made their home.




Some noticeable birds in the night. This Brown fishing owl can tick Homo sapiens of his list... 





Black naped monarch.

Sorry to disturb this diurnal species in it´s sleep.




Indian nightjar.

Is it any birds who is the "birds of the night" it must be nightjars. I do hate them a little bit when spotlighting and you think it´s something interesting reflecting. Just to discover your Nightjar number 84... 




Next episod: Sigiriya

Edited by Antee

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Wonderful @Antee. What a successful first night drive! 


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Posted (edited)

You may have been looking for smaller cats, but you found a big bear and much diversity!  I am sure the recent tragedy in Sri Lanka is very upsetting for you.


Great fishing cat and gray slender loris!  All in 5 nights.

Edited by Atravelynn

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@Antee, congrats on all 3 cats the first night.  That's fantastic and you got great pictures as well.  Sri Lanka was already high on my list but I bet your report will make it even higher...



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You are making these hard to find cats look easy. 

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Zim Girl

What an amazing selection of wildlife seen already - enjoying this!

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Whoa @Antee! So many animals I didn't even know existed. I'm really enjoying this TR!


That gray slender loris is just incredible and delightfully weird. I think I may have a new #1 bucket list animal to see!!

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@antee - Whoa! Slender Loris!!!! Brilliant sighting that - I've only ever seen one here in Southern India! and that was on my running route on the hills one summer many many years ago! 

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Fantastic sightings. I was wondering about going to Borneo,  looks like it'd be equally rewarding to go to  a much closer destination. 

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Damn, that's the luck that'd make me buy a lottery ticket after those drives! Good, crisp spotlight photos too.

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Posted (edited)



After my two succesfull nights in Wilpattu I moved to Sigiriya. 
This is not a nationalpark. In fact it is one of Sri Lankas most touristic places as this ancient rock fortress is a Unesco world heritage site. 

However, there is some good forests here with alot of wildlife. As it is not a nationalpark it is also free for spotlighting how much you want. 

Much wildlife is the same as in Wilpattu but there is also some unique creatures here which is hard to find in other places.


I stayed at Sigiriya Village hotel: https://www.colomboforthotels.com/sigiriya-village/

You have an endless of options here. Hotels/resorts/guesthouses are everywhere.


As my targets already "home" I could concentrate to find other species, but of course I hoped for more cats as you can find the three small ones here as well. 

Let´s begin with the dayshift




Classic picture of Sigiriya rock




This is the forest we searched in




Mixed forest with some farmlands




There is a moat around the ancient fortress. At sunset I was told that an endemic primate used to spend their night close to the water...




...and they did. Purple faced langur. Endangered species endemic to Sri Lanka. With a decreasing population by the day because of habitat loss. 




Much more common and more or less everywhere in this area, Tufted gray langur.




Relaxing style




New generation Tufted gray langur




Another endemic primate in Sri Lanka is the Toque macaque. Easily found in Sigiriya. This one enjoying the sun´s last rays. Perfect spot for private time to reflect about your day. 




New generation Toque macaque








Indian palm squirrel. Very common everywhere.




Long-winged tomb bat. Seen in rock crevices were a few individuals dayroosting in Sigiriya 




Indian flying fox. Huge roosting colony seen on the way back to Colombo from Sigiriya. Searched a while for them as the first two places were empty.




I think this is a male... :) 



A couple of noticeable birds from Sigiriya



Indian peafowl




Stork billed kingfisher



Also some reptiles from the dayshift.



Oriental garden lizard. Or is it the dragon from Game of thrones? Not sure. 




A fight for life and death! This Asian water monitor struggled with a Toad for half an hour. 




Toad defended himself by blowing himself up.




Also secreted a secretion that makes it taste bad. You could clearly see how bad it tasted for the Monitor.




Someone needs a artificial leg. Toad´s leg has seen better days.




In the end the Monitor gave up. It tasted too bad. 

The outcome of this fight were very poor though. No meal for the Monitor and no life for the Toad... 



Next episode: The nightshift in Sigiriya

Edited by Antee

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Fascinating toad and monitor sequence.  Maybe another animal will come along and dine on the dead toad.  Nice going with the Toque macaque--a baby and a backlit!

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Great photos - love the one of the langur just chillin' on a log

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WOW!  Incredible shots of rare and endemic animals --- Sri Lanka is on my list --- so many places to go!

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With the recent bombing I keep seeing articles about how Sri Lanka tourism is down 80%.  I believe the US still has a travel warning in place but despite that it might be a good time to start planning.   I assume prices would be cheaper but I am not sure of that.   I think I know what I am doing this weekend though...:)



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On 5/16/2019 at 8:07 PM, Atdahl said:

With the recent bombing I keep seeing articles about how Sri Lanka tourism is down 80%.  I believe the US still has a travel warning in place but despite that it might be a good time to start planning.   I assume prices would be cheaper but I am not sure of that.   I think I know what I am doing this weekend though...:)



Fewer tourists the better! 
Perfect timing for visit Sri Lanka.

As always it is no reason for staying home after a disaster like this. A country is never as safe as after an attack like this.  

Edited by Antee

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Nighttime in Sigiriya.

I had 3 nights here compare to 2 in Wilpattu, simply because it used to be a greater chance of the smaller cats here. But as I have already cleaned up on them I didn´t actively looked for them all the time. 

I still managed to get excellent views of two felines again... 



Fishing cat. Large individual. Much bigger than the one in Wilpattu.







Didn´t stayed too long before it went away in the bushes.

Two Fishing cats in 5 nights, great! 




More White spotted Chevrotain. Never seen out in the open. Always seeks comfort inside the bushes. I guess the life is not easy for a very small deer like this... 




Asian palm civet.  4 individuals seen in Sigiriya including a female with two babys.




Jungle cat. Another 2 individuals seen in Sigiriya when spotlighting. None during daytime. Be aware for some hybrids, especially in Sigiriya.  Pink nose, long legs/ears and the darker "line" at the throat is good indicators.




This one we saw on quite big distance but whistle it to a few metres from us. Very curious. My guide told me that some females are easy to lure with whistling sound.




Last Jungle cat of the trip.




Rufous horseshoe bat.  Seen in abandoned house in Sigiriya.




Many of them... 




Eurasian otter.  Surprising encounter on the last night in Sigiriya of two individuals.




Lesser false vampire bat. How does it feels to be called a false species? :)  Love the ears on Vampire bats.



Only one noticeable bird from the nightshift.



Another Brown Fish owl.


Some reptiles.




Forsten´s cat snake. 




Sri Lankan kangaroo lizard. Endemic to the island. 



Also seen on this trip but without any photos:


Indian giant flying squirrel --- Seen only one time in Sigiriya. A quick glimpse. We waited for him to come out of his hole at dusk. He did and glide away… 


 Asiatic long tailed climbing mouse --- One seen on the ground in Wilpattu and one fell into the open car from above in Sigiriya… suddenly there was a mouse with panic in the car.  


 Black rat --- Two seen when spotlighting in Sigiriya.


 Indian gerbil --- Eight seen the first night in Wilpattu while spotlighting. Running back and forward on the road. Then not a single Gerbil…  


 Golden palm civet --- Quick glimpse of this endemic species in Sigiriya while spotlighting. Two shy individuals disappeared quite quickly in a high tree. Not very easy to see and you need some time for them. 


Eurasian Wild boar --- Seen inside Wilpattu NP in daytime. They keep their distance, shy. 


 Indian grey mongoose --- A troop was seen along the railway at a breakfast stop enroute to Wilpattu from Colombo. Then also quick glimpse in Sigiriya. 


 Leschenault´s rousette (Fulvious fruit bat) --- Seen in Wilpattu. 


 Black bearded tomb bat --- Seen in abandoned house in Sigiriya. 


Dusky leaf-nosed bat --- Seen in abandoned house in both Wilpattu and Sigiriya. 


 Indian leaf-nosed bat --- Seen in abandoned house in Wilpattu. 


 Lesser large-footed bat (Myotis hasseltii) --- Seen in Wilpattu. 


 Least pipistrelle (Pipistrellus tenuis) --- Seen in Sigiriya. 


 Sambar deer --- Seen only in Wilpattu. Not very common and can be hard to see in this two areas. 


Stuff I missed 
The major thing I missed was the Leopard in Wilpattu. Always on the wrong place at the wrong time. Missed a pair of them by minutes and so on. We even got an extra “free” morning drive inside the park but without seeing any Leopards.  With all this luck with the smaller cats I am happy to be unlucky with the Leopard :)  Otherwise we cleaned up really well in the “dry zone” with only “wet zone” species left.  There is a minimal chance of Indian crested porcupine and Indian pangolin as well which I didn´t see and some more bats and rodents. 
39 species in 5 days is nothing else than excellent and the quality of the sightings were extraordinary in many cases.





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So you missed the leopard.  Those can be seen other places, unlike the other species you saw.  39 in 5 days, with many excellent photos is a tremendous success.  Your night time photography is excellent.

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