This was the earliest morning of the trip as we set out towards Yala National Park at 5am. We got to the park office around 5:30am where our driver had someone come early to get us our permit. Lucky he did that because there were about 30 vehicles waiting for permits and we managed to drive up to the gate and were third in line when the park opened at 6am. Only 5 minutes in and we got our first lucky break – the shy sloth bear. It was still dusk so after a few blurry shots at ISO 8000, I took a video with my iPhone then, as it got close, flipped up my flash while it was digging right next to us. None of the photos are fantastic but it wandered off into the bush within minutes so only about 6 trucks actually caught a glimpse. We were pretty excited since I honestly had no expectations to see one. Our guide hadn’t seen one in months.
A short drive later, our guide heard monkeys give an alarm call near some water buffalo. We stopped and waited. Suddenly, the buffalo picked up a sent or heard the calls as well and started to react. We backed up and followed them as they moved to confront the threat – a leopard! The leopard was lying in a small opening in the bush and had no interest in bothering the buffalo but since they had a couple of young ones, they are on the defensive. After a few huffs and threatening advances, the buffalo moved on. We couldn’t believe we crossed off 2 of the major mammals in the park so early in our safari. It was definitely better than the night before! We managed to see a lot more including 2 more leopard sightings, one where we lucked out with our position among the many vehicles – the leopard walked out of the bush and right past us. We finally got the closeup we wanted. Our guide was as excited as we were so we knew the stars had aligned for us since you can never guarantee what you will see when you go on safari. Having a great guide and driver is also key.
So after a great morning safari, we picked up our bags at the hotel and started the long drive to our next destination, with a quick stop in Bundula National Park, known for its birds and another at a huge fruit bat colony – not for the squeamish – the are the size of seagulls! In the park, I got a great shot an langurs jumping across a stream and a kingfisher with a catch! Definitely one of the best days of the trip!