One of the most primeval and intriguing animal species found in Sri Lanka is the crocodile. These predators date back millions of years to the age of the dinosaurs. There are two primary species found on the island. The smaller and more placid of the two is the Mugger or Marsh Crocodile (Crocodylus Palustris). They are an average sized crocodilian with sizes ranging from 8-13 feet. One of the key features to identify this crocodile is the wide snout and grey coloration. They are found mainly in the dry zone regions of the island in water bodies from inland natural and manmade lakes as well as rivers and tributaries. Feeding mainly on fish, this species as all crocodilians will prey on larger mammals such as Spotted Deer if the opportunity presents itself. Generally this species is less aggressive than most other species of crocodiles, but is yet a formidable ambush predator which waits for prey to come close. This species is also more gregarious than other species and are often seen basking together in large numbers, especially in the dry seasons when water is limited. Females lay eggs in holes dug in the sand, and during the height of the dry season, these reptiles burrow themselves deep underground in tunnels on the banks of the lakes and rivers where they reside.
An interesting fact about this species is the documentation of them having sticks and branches which are balanced on their heads which it seems is a means of luring birds to find nesting material. This will be one of the only records of reptiles using tools. The best places to see mugger crocodiles in Yala National Park, where one can observe over 20-30 individuals at times during the dry season where most of these animals group together in the last remaining waterholes and manmade lakes such as Koma Wewa, Dharshana Wewa, Heen Wewa and Diganwala. If one waits long enough in a water hole it would be possible to witness these predators preying on an unsuspecting Spotted Deer or Grey Langur coming to the waters edge to quench its thirst. Further this species is known to travel long distances on land, and sightings of them feeding on leopard kills and carcasses far away from land are quite common in Yala. National Parks such as Wilpattu and Bundala are also good locations to see this species of crocodile.
The Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus Porosis) is the largest species of reptile on earth. This species has a fearsome reputation as being the most aggressive species of crocodilian. Ranging from 12-20 feet this gigantic reptile is the undisputed king of the river. But as its name suggest they are sometimes seen in the ocean as well, as they travel from river to river using the ocean to move between them. Their bodies are adapted to withstand the high levels of salt, and are even known to swim long distances over 100 km between islands in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
This species can easily be identified by the black and yellow coloration as well as its large size. They are mainly found in brackish waters, lagoons, estuaries and mangroves in the West, South and Eastern coasts. On rare occasions they are found inland but more often than not this species is found closer to the coast. It is capable of prevailing over almost any animal that enters its territory, including other apex predators such as sharks, varieties of freshwater and marine fish including pelagic species, invertebrates, such as crustaceans, various reptiles, birds and mammals, including humans With the highest number of deaths of humans due to this species it is often considered a serious threat to people. This species can even be found near Colombo with small populations found in the suburbs such as Ja Ela, Wattala, Attidiya and Ratmalana. The Muthurajawela Wetlands in the outskirts of Colombo is one of the places close to the city where these species can occasionally be seen, where boat-rides are organized to experience the wildlife in these waters. The Madu Ganga and Bentota River in the south-west coast are also rivers where this species can be seen during boat safaris. The highest numbers of Saltwater Crocodiles can be seen in the Nilawala River in Matara. A boat safari on these waters give a visitor a unique experience to witness one of the most dominant predators on the planet from the relative safety of the boat. Hatchlings can sometimes be seen in the water close to mangroves where they seek refuge from birds, fish and larger crocodiles. But the excitement of coming across a giant 16 foot dominant male crocodile at eye level, swimming along the rover with its back and tail postured up to showcase its dominance, can be considered one of the most thrilling and awe inspiring wildlife experiences Sri Lanka has to offer.