In February 2012, a group of close friends were huddled around a freshly lit crackling campfire, inside Yala National Park. The last rays of the setting sun were awakening the nocturnal wildlife around them. The familiar ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-trr’ call of the Indian nightjar signalled that nightfall was descending on the dry zone jungle. They had made this journey countless times before, having been introduced to the jungle at a very young age. Back in the late 1980’s, their young minds were influenced to gain an appreciation for the wild outdoors by their adventurous parents.
Having returned from a successful Safari observing and photographing ‘Hamu’, a dominant male Leopard in the park at that time, they had congregated around the fire to share stories and reminisce the day’s adventures.
Yet that night was destined to be different, Radheesh Sellamuttu who heads up Leopard Trails today, had a plan to draw his closest jungle comrades together to launch a safari business in Sri Lanka. He had spent his 20’s planning camping expeditions into the wilderness for friends and would now use this and the jungle lore of Sri Lanka that he had learnt from his father and uncle in his formative years. A successful day on the local stock market, a sighting of the dominant male, and a few drinks later, the team agreed around the campfire to enter the safari business. The business would be founded on some of the same principles they had learnt from safari operators across the world that they had built relationships with.
They were armed with enthusiasm, energy, and an extreme passion for wildlife. The first camp was established on the banks of the gem river that meanders through Yala, with 3 canvas guest tents, a simple lounging area and a small canvas gazebo as a kitchen. Tents, equipment, supplies and guests had to be driven across the gem river to reach camp. A young Sri Lankan game ranger, qualified in South Africa, was hired to guide guests on Safari in the sole vehicle owned by the company. When it broke down, which it seemed to enjoy doing, guests were taken bird watching along the periphery of the camp.
These humble beginnings, with countless trials and tribulations along the way, are the foundations of a dream that would grow into Sri Lanka’s premier tented safari operation.
Today, Leopard Trails is thriving on an innovation based ethos, constantly improving their offering in line with global safari trends, albeit with a unique Sri Lankan touch. The team has expanded to include internationally qualified game rangers and camp managers, with a passion for hosting, tracking, and guiding their guests across multiple national parks in Sri Lanka. The guides and owners travel regularly to Africa on guide exchange programs, improving their knowledge and evolving their techniques. The same game ranger that guided those initial guests, today leads the in-house guiding team as head ranger and head of guide training.
The founders of Leopard Trails still remember that night around the campfire in 2012 that led to where they are today. It is their wish that each and every guest that passes through their camps, leaves with a newfound or rekindled appreciation to conserve the remaining wilderness regions on our planet, for future generations to come.