It’s March 2022, and I am finally back in Sri Lanka. The last time I was here was April of 2017, and I can still recall every moment (when I wasn’t drunk) of being in this paradise of an island where my husband is from and where one of his brothers still lives.
It was never supposed to take so long to get back here. We had plans to return by 2019 however plans changed. Then in 2020, tickets were purchased and ready to go. COVID lockdowns happened, and the trip was cancelled again. By the time March of 2022 rolled around, I was not going to cancel even if I had to swim there.
One of the things I was looking forward to most was getting back to Yala National Park to photograph leopards and maybe even get to explore blocks of the park that were closed when we were here in 2017. At that time, we could only go to blocks 1 and 5 but not 2-4. So it was high on the list because I wanted to photograph leopards with my new kit of toys: Sony A7R III and Sony 200-600G lens.
Our last (and first) visit to Yala was spectacular and gave us many excellent photographic opportunities. Unfortunately, leopards were not among those. We hired a jeep and tracker for six days and went out twice daily. Sadly by the time, it was becoming clear that leopards were in a bit of trouble in Sri Lanka. We did not get a sighting of a leopard until the evening of the last night in Yala block 5. It was a fantastic moment, such a release of pent-up energy. I can barely remember the moment. What I remember most is tracking the leopard from the jeep, then a flurry of shutter clicks as the big cat crossed right in front of us, about 10 feet in front of our jeep. Exhilarating!
03/2022 Back in Yala. We are staying at Cylon Wild Safari and I have access to two of the best wildlife guides and trackers Sri Lanka offers. One is Avi, my husband’s nephew, and the other is Indika, the lead tracker from Cylon Wild. Indika is well organized, highly professional and widely respected. He has our permits organized, and we are in the jeep before first light. Yala opens at 6 am, and Indika plans to have us be the first ones in. This turns out to be very important.
Indikas plans work flawlessly, and combined with his expert jeep driving; we were the first ones in Yala when it opened and the first to make it deep enough into the park that you are finally where you have the best chance to see the big cats that run this park. And there she was, sitting and surveying her territory. The leopard we found was in the open and unbothered by us. She sat for 10 minutes and let us photograph her unrushed. I had so much time with her that I got hundreds of photos, all the same. I, unfortunately, wasted the opportunity to get some video. I was just so thrilled that within 10 minutes of entering Yala on the first trip, we had this incredible luck with such a stunning queen of a leopard.