Best Wildlife Documentaries about Sri Lanka

Compared to other countries, say Africa, Sri Lanka’s wildlife has seldom made it to the screen. There have been a few notable productions in recent years, including the Nat Geo Wild 3-part series “Wild Sri Lanka” which bought Sri Lanka’s wildlife back into the spotlight after the Civil War ended in the country. But most of the best wildlife documentaries about Sri Lanka were made much earlier, dating back to the late 70’s. Below is a list of some of the best wildlife films made about Sri Lanka.

The Leopard that Changed its Spots (1978)

Produced in 1978, this wildlife documentary filmed by the late Dieter Plage is mostly set in India. But, there’s a spectacular section about Sri Lankan Leopards filmed at Wilpattu National Park that includes some wonderful leopard footage – fast forward to 25.30 in the link below to see one of the best leopard hunts (or attempts) ever caught on film!

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Monkeys of Sri Lanka (1979)

From the long-running TV series “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” hosted by the late Marlin Perkins, this episode about Sri Lankan monkeys originally aired in 1979. It features primatalogist Dr. Wolfgang Dittus and was filmed in the Polonnaruwa region.

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Marlin Perkins and Wolfgang Dittus in “Monkeys of Sri Lanka”

The Last Round-Up of the Elephants (1979)

Also from 1979 and again filmed by Dieter Plage (who spent a great deal of time filming the wildlife of Sri Lanka back in the 70s and 80s) this film chronicles the last catching operation of elephants to be trained for forestry work in Assam [now banned by the Indian government]. But it also features a great section about Sri Lankan Elephants; particularly the arduous process of translocating a ‘problematic’ pachyderm to Wilpattu National Park (fast forward to the 25.45 mark to watch the section).

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The Last Tusker (2000)

After the Civil War started, foreign crews had little access to film the wildlife of Sri Lanka and very few wildlife documentaries were produced during the 1980s and 1990s, most of which are now lost or hard to find. This documentary from 2000 chronicles the sad downfall of the iconic tusker known as ‘Walawe Raja’ of Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka. In this film by Mike Birkhead for the BBC, this tusker is the main character of the program and constantly (and questionably) referred to as the ‘Last Tusker’. In the story, we see it suffering from a bullet wound in its head while trying to fight off competing males.

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Leopards of Yala (2000)

Directed by Mike Birkhead (who also did quite a number of films on Sri Lankan wildlife) this documentary about Sri Lankan leopards was filmed at Yala National Park. Presented by wildlife cameramen Gordon Buchanan, “Leopards of Yala” was produced in 2000 for the BBC and also features some exciting wildlife footage. Many wildlife enthusiasts consider this documentary to be the best film on Sri Lankan Leopards; it features Jehan Kumara and the late Dr. Ravi Samarasinghe, one of the initiators of systematic leopard observations in Yala Block I.

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Wildest Islands: Sri Lanka (2012)

Produced for Discovery Channel in 2012, “Wildest Islands: Sri Lanka” is a concise look at the unique biodiversity of Sri Lanka, ranging from the lowlands where leopards, elephants and primates roam to the misty central highlands.

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Night Stalkers (2012)

Using IR technology and thermal cameras, this documentary from 2012 is one of the best films that show the nocturnal behaviour of Sri Lankan leopards. Filmed at Yala National Park, it follows an international film crew as they attempt to get a glimpse into the rare nigh-time activities of local leopards.

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There are more ‘modern’ films on Sri Lankan wildlife, notably the wonderful “Wild Sri Lanka” series from 2014 which included 3 parts covering different ecosystems in the country. But the above are considered some of the best produced internationally, as they were made during a time when access to Sri Lankan jungles was difficult and the equipment used was rudimentary, but hey – it got the job done!