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Trapped inside Wilpattu National Park


Let’s be clear, our Yala National Park safari had far better sightings than ‘5 jeeps’, and we had ample room in our Mahoora jeep to just utilise 1 jeep and not 5 – it was just me and my husband after all and booking an ‘elite’ package means we have the jeep to ourselves! It was really the fact that there were just 5 other jeeps, at most, on a Yala safari in Block 1, where usually there over 100! Yala National Park Block 1 is famed for having the highest leopard density per square km in the world, thus it’s generally the most heavily congested. 


“There are stories you hear about the 26-year-long civil war, and there are stories you don’t. My story is just one of the many stories you don’t hear or read about, an insignificant story in the grand scheme of things. But when it happens to you, it isn’t just a story. It’s a part of you explained in a story.

See, I wasn’t always a Mahoora Naturalist. This happened during my time as a Park Ranger in Sri Lanka; I served as a ranger for 10 years at Wilpattu National Park, with the wartime and warzones overlapping. I remember it like it happened last week – it was the height of the war when I was doing my rounds looking for poachers. When wartime poachers sneak into the Park, you better believe they aren’t there for a Wilpattu safari experience! Camping for 3 – 4 days at a stretch, they would shoot any animal they see, dry the meat for food, and smuggle it back to base. My fellow ranger and I drove deep into the Park towards where we suspected a poacher camp to have been recently abandoned.

Still quite far from the red zone, we stopped the jeep at the sight of a fallen tree and got out to move it. But, it was a trap! We heard a gun cock and then shots were fired. The bark from the tree in my hands exploded and pieces flew everywhere. The poachers missed us by the inch of a tree bark! We fled on foot and took cover in the trees, but to our dismay I realised I’ve left my rifle in the jeep… the same jeep which was now kicking up a cloud of dust and speeding away!

With just the clothes on our back, we were forced to spend the night in the jungle. We didn’t even have a flashlight on us! Before the last light of day left us, we cautiously made our way to the canal region and slept there. You ask me if I was afraid of predators, but with more than a decade of experience in the wild, I can tell you that humans are the real predators! Cold and shivering in complete darkness, we took turns as the lookout. But neither of us slept a wink, despite the mounting fatigue.

As dawn breaks, we hear a jeep approaching. This was it. We were shot at and survived a night in the jungle, helplessly surrounded by carnivores and scavengers, but the real predators have just rolled up. With no more trees for cover, we crouched low at the base of the canal and hoped they wouldn’t see us. But it wasn’t the poachers coming back to finish the job, it was the army along with our ranger colleagues who radioed in our disappearance. We had survived, miraculously.

Although my experience – this story – changed me, it didn’t stop me from doing what I love. After the war ended, I hung up my Ranger hat and put on my Mahoora Camps one! Perhaps being a Mahoora Naturalist and birder, heavily armed with wildlife stories, isn’t as glamorous as being a wartime ranger looking for poachers… but hey you get to safely enjoy unlimited Wilpattu National Park Safaris and, most importantly, don’t get shot at!”

By Saranga, Naturalist at Mahoora Wilpattu.

The extraordinary safari of 5 jeeps


Let’s be clear, our Yala National Park safari had far better sightings than ‘5 jeeps’, and we had ample room in our Mahoora jeep to just utilise 1 jeep and not 5 – it was just me and my husband after all and booking an ‘elite’ package means we have the jeep to ourselves! It was really the fact that there were just 5 other jeeps, at most, on a Yala safari in Block 1, where usually there over 100! Yala National Park Block 1 is famed for having the highest leopard density per square km in the world, thus it’s generally the most heavily congested. 

So, naturally we spotted the big cat in Block 1, but this time without a convoy of other jeeps racing us to it! Even though 2019 has been a low season for tourism, it’s really the year to go on a jeep safari in Yala and make the most of a relatively jeep-less National Park.
Of course when you think of going on a ‘leopard safari’ exclusively, you’re bound to get a few persistent jeeps tailing you. The more enjoyable route is knowing there’s so much more to see in Yala than just leopards. With the help of our Mahoora Naturalist, jeep driver and wildlife tracker, we managed to catch a glimpse of the fuzzy sloth bear, wild boar, sambar, spotted deer, crocodiles, a host of endemic birds, an annoyed mud-crusted buffalo we fondly dubbed Mud Lord, grey langurs playing tag, and elephants in Yala – all in the first hour of our Mahoora Yala Jeep Safari!
That being said, as far as jeep safaris go, this had been the most memorable as well as oddly romantic. With the lack of jeeps in Yala National Park right now, it felt as if we were the only ones there, like this was our private jungle. It got even better around breakfast time; freshly brewed tea and cookies for dunking, local hand-squeezed orange juice, freshly-cut fruit, sandwiches, pol rotti with katta sambol, and a chocolate muffin awaited us with an incredible view of the river. The cherry on top is that we were the only ones there, which really carried through the rest of the experience.
Of course – and this wasn’t a fault of anyone but my irrational-turned-rational fears – since I’m prone to what my husband calls ‘unconventional drama’ I encountered a rather upsetting loo break. On flushing, 3 frogs enthusiastically sprang up from the corner of the toilet bowl, flushed out of their hiding spot. My scream thus promptly scared away any chance of spotting another sloth bear, at least that’s what my husband believes.
- Talia & Sirraj (booked a safari via Mahoora Tented Safari Camps on 6th June 2019)

The Drunken Bears of Yala and the Irresistible Trees of Palu


Much like the lighting of the Olympic Flame to inaugurate the Olympic Games, the fruiting months of the Palu trees inaugurates the season of the Sloth Bear!

Yala National Park is amongst the oldest and best known of Sri Lanka's 15 National Parks. It covers approximately 1300 square kilometres and is home to a range of ecosystems found nowhere else in the country. There are 44 species of recorded mammals in Yala, which include the Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Elephant and – sighted mostly during Palu season – the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear!


Typically during the months of May to July, a Yala National Park Safari may bring your camera the joy of sighting these furry mammals on or below the branches of Palu (Manilkara hexandra) trees during the daytime – a rarity as sloth bears are the most nocturnal of the bunch! You might even see these slow moving fur balls get ‘drunk’ as over-ripe Palu fruits ferment rapidly and is known to get bears a little tipsy! As Palu trees fill with golden fruits, ripe and scented within the dry zone jungles of Sri Lanka, it calls to Sloth Bears from afar like a siren – and if there is anything that's irresistible to a wild Sloth Bear, it's the scent of the succulent Palu fruits. These are quite sweet hence a refreshing energy booster especially during months of hot weather, making it a possibility to witness bears in a happy daze lounging on the branches – almost like the bear equivalent to chilling with mojitos in the summer!

These otherwise elusive bears – the only member of Family Ursidae in Sri Lanka – are found in dry zone forest habitats. Mostly solitary by nature, they amble through the forests, emitting noisy grunts and snorts while walking, and keep their nose close to the ground in search of insects and fresh fruit. During the fruiting season, fruits like Palu form a major component of their diet. Sightings during any Yala Safari during these months show an increased level of activity of bears closer to Palu trees.

How to spot a bear-ridden Palu Tree:

  1. The Palu or Ceylon iron wood, is a hardwood tree with a blackish-grey vertically furrowed trunk. The leaves are small and dark green with a broadly obovate shape. Flowers are yellow before they turn into fruit.
  2. Book an all-inclusive stay with Mahoora, which includes two safaris with a naturalist and tracker.

An Ode to Coconut Ice Cream in the Wilderness



When the mid-afternoon sun hangs high,

And in the shade do sleepy animals lie,

What bliss it is to taste a lusciously cold dream,

Made entirely out of coconut ice cream.


The fluffy texture alike a summer’s cloud,

With soft notes of flavour hitting you aloud,

A dry zone forest your ice cream parlour,

Handcrafted with love by Mahoora Yala.


With one taste of this impossibly creamy dish,

You can’t help but preposterously wish,

For a bigger second helping of this coconutty glee,

Towering above you for as far as the eye can see!

Wings and Feet on the Star Deck


The air was heavy and still while the warmed scent of an afternoon in the wild settled heavily on the Stargazing Deck at Mahoora Safari Camps in Yala. I propped my feet up on a beanbag and let the lazy afternoon lull me into a state of moody happiness. The air was alive with butterflies and beetles. My beer started to sweat as the day grew hotter and more bugs wandered into the Deck for shade and, quite possibly, to keep me from napping by mildly annoying me. This was achieved by flying at 40 mph into various parts of my body. Little did they know it was oddly welcoming as it resulted in the most unorthodox massage which, no doubt, made its way into an anecdote over cocktails served at Mahoora’s iconic 7-course dinner in the wild.
I soon realised this was merely Act I of their perfectly coordinated performance. Neatly lined on the banister was the beginning of Act II: so you think you can dance. Little wings and legs from beetles and butterflies collided with each other, almost earnestly, as they dismounted from the banister with grace and landed mid-air on another insect with, well, less grace. This dance lasted till sundown, at least for me, as I had to head back to my tented accommodation for a flashlight. I didn’t expect to be out this late and entertained this greatly by bugs on a misadventure of sorts, but, in hindsight, I’m glad they kept me from what could only be a boring afternoon nap.

Mahoora Mobile Tented Safari Camps offer you the chance to experience an adventure which will dazzle, inspire and astonish. 
Choose from many locations and enjoy them with a team of individuals who set the benchmark for safari camping in Sri Lanka.


Mahoora Tented Safari Camps, 20/63,

Fairfield Garden, Colombo 08,

Sri Lanka  

T (+94) 70 2228222

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