The Ridiyagama Safari Park is a project by the Department of National Zoological Gardens, opened to the public on March 28 this year. The project’s key aims are to provide a suitable natural habitat for excess animals of the Dehiwela Zoo, conduct breeding programmes on threatened animal species, and to educate people on animal conservation.

Matara Beach. The Safari Park is located in the Hambantota district. Matara, Tangalle and Ranna are a few places you would pass on your way.

The road leading to the park from Ambalantota Town.

Some parts of the 13km road leading to the park are still under construction, and this can result in a very bumpy ride. We hired a three wheeler from Ambalantota, and it cost Rs. 500 to get to our destination.

The entrance to the park. Tickets are priced at Rs.200/- for locals.

Since the park was opened only recently, and has yet to gain popularity, visitors come in small numbers. The shuttle bus service takes visitors around the park.

The World Herbivore Zone is home to a wide range of herbivorous animals, such as this monkey.

A peahen nesting. The park is also home to a number of peacocks and peahens.

Southern Sri Lanka is home to many exotic birds. The  park, however, does not have a bird zone, unlike the Dehiwela Zoo.

Ostrich

The safari guide chills with a park guard.

Labourers work on the landscaping of the park.

In one part of the park, exotic deer graze, while in the background buffaloes bask in the water.

Too shy to face the camera.

Monochrome in monochrome.

This electric fence is one of the final barriers separating the African Lion Zone from the Park Staff.

African Lion Zone: 35 acres. The ‘king of the jungle’ yawns at the bus lazily. This is one of four lions currently residing in the park. Two of the older lions are from the Dehiwela Zoo, one of the younger lions was born in the Zoo, and one was brought from abroad. The park caretaker also tells us that a few months ago, a fifth lion had died, and the post-mortem revealed the cause of death to be a poisonous snake bite.

A ‘Sri Lankan’ Lion. Yes, according to the guide, this one year old male lion was born at the Dehiwela Zoo.

Yes, that’s a camel. In Southern Sri Lanka.

Sooriyawewa

The “Asian Elephant Zone”. Supposedly roaming free in a land area of 54 acres, are the Asian Elephants.

The whole project currently takes up a land area of 80 acres, but more plans are in the pipeline. ‘Step 2’ of the project will expand the park up to 500 acres to include more ‘Zones’, facilitating space for the Bengal tiger, leopards, sloth bears, Asian/African herbivores, cheetahs, reptiles, a butterfly garden, and an animal breeding and conservation center.

The Department of National Zoological Gardens also intends to set up camping sites and circuit bungalows, as well as a leisure area for kids.

The park may attract more tourists and locals, if the proposed Step 2 goes according to plan. As for the animals, they do seem to have a much better environment here when compared to the confines of the Dehiwela Zoo.