Yala West (Ruhuna) National Park is well recognised as one of the best parks in the world to observe and photograph leopards. The park covers an area of over 100,000 hectares and is divided into five blocks. Block one is the most visited area since it contains the highest density of leopards. However other areas of Yala such as Yala East had been closed to visitors for some years and it will take time to research leopard numbers in these areas. Yala West consists of scrub jungle, brackish lagoons and stunning rock monoliths scattered throughout the park, its eastern edge is bounded by the South East coast.
An excellent 'Natural World' wildlife documentary was filmed here featuring the 'Leopards of Yala', by Gordon Buchanan. Two local leopard experts, Jehan Kumara and Ravi Samarasinha assisted with the research and filming, Ravi continues his study of the park and its residents. One of the main findings of the film was that Yala has well over thirty leopards, probably the highest density anywhere in the world. It is also thought that Sri Lankan leopards are a distinct sub-species from their Indian neighbours, and the largest leopards in Asia.
It is possible to take full day jeep safaris or to split your day into morning and afternoon drives. Your best chance to see a leopard is generally early in the morning and then again at dusk. You can stay until just after dark inside the park, thus maximising your chances of a leopard encounter. The male leopards in Yala are very confident and are often seen walking the tracks during the day. Young males in particular seem to have no fear of the jeep, which can lead to some excellent photographic opportunities. There are similarities between Yala and the best National Parks in India for photographing tigers, in both cases the big cats have become habitualised to the jeeps thus enabling us to enjoy a privileged view of these magnificent animals.