Noel Rodrigo on Leopard Safaris

The Interview

By Helena Gonzalez

When did Yala National Park open to the public?

In the time of the British colonists Yala, or Ruhunu, National park was a famous hunting park for big game. It only became a national park in 1938, and later on a wildlife sanctuary in 1990.


Tell us briefly about Yala National Park?

Yala is Sri Lanka’s second largest National park and is divided into five blocks. Out of these, Block One has the highest density of leopards in the world, and is therefore the ideal place to see them in the wild.


How many leopards are there in Block 1? 

Plus or minus 60, including cubs.


When did you start Leopard Safaris?

I started Leopard Safaris in 2006, but before that I spent all my free time in the jungle and did camping trips with my friends (of course on a less luxury basis).


Of all the national parks in Sri Lanka which one do you prefer, and why? 

Yala and Wilpattu because I get to see my cats.


A moment to remember?

When a leopard cub was sleeping next to my tent.


What is your best moment in the day when living in the park?

Dawn. Yala shows one of the most colorful sunrises you can see in the world. 


What would you recommend those who want to visit the park?

Keep in mind it’s not a zoo – all animals are living in their natural habitats, so please respect that.


Why is the leopard so special?

Because it’s the most elusive and ultimate cat, and the greatest survivor. Leopards can adopt themselves easily and even survive in the biggest cities without being seen.


Apart from the leopard, what it the animal that you prefer to observe and why? 

The sloth bear because – unlike its name- they’re always busy and active.


And the most funny one? 

The Hoopoe bird having a sandbath. It looks so funny with its ‘hairstyle’.


What other animals live in the park?

In addition to the highest density of leopard anywhere in the world, there are sambar, spotted and barking deer, water buffalo, abundant birdlife, butterfly swarms, land monitor, mongooses, fishing cats, wild boar, monkeys and crocodiles. And of course there are the elephants. Often roaming in herds of up to 100, the park's main residents are estimated to number more than 10% of the world's wild elephant population


What are the menaces for the park?

The general public who don’t respect nature. This park is one of the most virgin unspoilt areas, but at the same time one of the most visited in Sri Lanka.


How do you think we could improve/regulate the actual situation of the park?

If I was in charge I would try and restrict the number of vehicles getting into the park. The people who have the power to do that aren’t interests, so that has to be changed first. 


Lastly Noel can you share with us your favourite phrase...

A leopard never changes its spots!


A smell/scent...

Smell of carcass. For sure there will be a leopard around!


A sensation…

When a big Tusker charged my jeep!


Interview by: Helena Gonzalez

Edited by: Zoe Thomas

Photographs by: Noel Rodrigo

Thanks to Noel and the stay at Leopard Safaris.









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