Yala combines a strict nature reserve with a national park, bringing the total protected area to 126,786 hectares of scrub, light forest, grassy plains and brackish lagoons. It’s divided into five blocks, with the most visited being Block I (14,101 hectares). Yala National Park affords the greatest opportunities to sight the Sri Lanka’s broad variety of wildlife. Including Sri Lankan Elephant, 44 species of mammals are resident in the Yala national park, Yala has one of the world’s densest leopard populations and is renowned as one of the best places in which to see one of these stunning cats. The threatened species are sloth bear (Melursusursinus), water buffalo (Bubalusbubalis), Wild boar (Susscrofa), spotted deer (Axis ceylonensis), sambar (Cervus unicolor) and golden jackals (Canisaureus).
Around 150 species of birds have been recorded at Yala, six are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Jungle fowl, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Black-capped Bulbul, and Brown-capped Babbler. The number of water birds inhabiting wetlands of Yala is 90 and half of them are migrants. During the northeast monsoon the lagoons are visited by thousands of migrating waterfowls. including Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and turn stone, which mix with the residents such as whistling duck, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Red Wattled Lapwig and Great Stone Plover.The forest is home to Orange Breasted Green Pigeon, Hornbills, Flycatchers, including Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Barbets and Orioles.
Yala National Park has a variety of ecosystems, including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, freshwater and marine wetlands, and sandy beaches. The forest area is restricted to around the Menik River while rangelands are found towards the sea side other habitat consisting with tanks, water holes, lagoons and mangroves and Chena lands.
During the dry season (May to august) is the best period to see the elephant. Leopards can be seen throughout the park, though the best period for enjoying the sights of leopards is during January to July. Sloth bears are most active in the palu season. Yala had been a center of past civilizations. A monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa, appears to have housed 12,000 inhabitants. Now restored, it’s an important pilgrimage site. Believed to have been part of the ¬ancient Ruhunu kingdom.