There are all kinds of amazing creatures to be found in the exotic land of Sri Lanka. Whether it’s out in the wild or in a national park (of which there are 26(!) to choose from), you definitely won’t get bored of all of the amazing wildlife and other great sights to see as you travel around the island. But there are also some dangerous animals in Sri Lanka that you’ll want to steer clear of. For the most part the Sri Lankan wildlife is relatively sedate, and it’s unlikely you’ll come across anything that’ll do any harm.
A few animals may even look tough but aren’t dangerous at all. The Sri Lanka Sloth Bear is one such example; while this bear may be big and scary looking, they tend to keep to the forest, and their diets are mainly focused on insects rather than humans.
There is a beastie or three that’d like to call you food if you’re not careful though, and you’ll definitely want to steer clear of these. The good news is we’ve got your back, and we’ve collected the worst of these together so you’ll know exactly what to keep an eye out for as you travel Sri Lanka.
We’ve got 7 to check off our list today, including snakes, scorpions, spiders, and even the grand old elephant. So strap in and get yourself ready as we go through the top 7 dangerous animals in Sri Lanka you’ll want to avoid when visiting.
Sri Lanka Snakes
Wart snakes, boas, pythons, sea snakes, vipers—all kinds of snakes call Sri Lanka home. And while most are relatively harmless, there are a few of the highly venomous kind lurking about. Enough at least that you’ll want to be wary, especially of the following five:
Kicking off our five snakes is the Cobra, which most will find pretty recognisable thanks to the wide, hooded shape of their heads. Cobras can be found just about anywhere in Sri Lanka, even roaming the capital city Colombo.
The best way to avoid an encounter with a cobra is to make sure that you’re staying somewhere free from mice, rats, or other rodents—cobras are known to go where their appetite (and their prey) takes them. Cobras have also been known to take advantage of rodent burrows to get about and lay eggs, although they’ll typically only come out in warmer temperatures.
Russell’s Viper (Tith Polonga)
The Russell’s Viper—also known by its other name the Tith Polonga—is definitely to be steered clear of, and if you’ve done much in the way of Sri Lanka planning, you may already have been introduced.
The Russell’s Viper is incredibly venomous. So venomous in fact that it’s considered to be the culprit behind the majority of snake bites in all of Asia.
A fairly major issue with this snake is its likeness to pythons, which aren’t at all venomous. The best way to avoid being duped and getting a nasty surprise is to look at the head: both have triangular shaped heads, however the Russell’s Viper has a pointed snout, while the python’s is blunt.
You can also tell the two apart by their patterns. The Russell’s Viper is covered in brown oval shapes, over a greenish/yellowish body, while the patterns on a python are more blotchy and cloud-shaped. From a distance they look look incredibly similar though, so be wary.
Carrying on with another viper, the Saw-scaled Viper can typically be found around the coast, in addition to Sri Lanka’s arid zone.
They can be identified by the distinctive arrow on their heads, along with the zig-zag pattern running along their bodies.
Again, these guys can do some serious damage, so be sure to keep your distance if you come across one.
There are two different species of Krait living in Sri Lanka: The Ceylon Krait (also known as the Sri Lankan Krait) and the Common Krait. Both are considered highly venomous.
Of all of the Sri Lankan snakes, it’s the Common Krait that’s the most dangerous. All it would take is 0.6mg of venom to kill a human, and what’s more, their fangs are so tiny you’d barely even feel them. Even if you did, the effects at first wouldn’t be much more than a little swelling.
An hour or two after a bite the muscles will start to become paralysed. The facial muscles will become tight, vision and speech will become impaired, and after 4 to 5 hours death could occur from respiratory paralysis.
While this sounds pretty morbid and gloomy there is a sliver of good news: neither the Common Krait or the Ceylon Krait show up anywhere near the capital city Colombo, and they only come out at night. The Ceylon Krait can typically be found in wetter areas, usually in forests. The Common Krait on the other hand tends to spend most of its time around the drier arid parts of the island.
Hump-nosed Pit Viper
Indigenous to Sri Lanka and India, the hump-nosed pit viper wasn’t considered to be a highly venomous snake until fairly recently. The Sri Lanka Medical Council saw fit to putting it on the list, adding that the snake has been responsible for the majority of Sri Lanka’s snake bites.
The hump-nosed pit viper can be recognised by its small arrow shaped head and long nose. They’ll typically be coiled up too, with their heads pointing upwards.
The average hump-nosed pit viper typically grows to between a foot and a foot and a half in length, has extra long fangs, and isn’t at all friendly (again, they’re the no. 1 culprit behind Sri Lanka’s snake bites). They’ll typically be found in forests, but also in suburbs—particularly Ottawa and Homagama—scurrying amongst the leaf litter.
The Indian Red Scorpion is either a reddish, brownish, or greyish colour overall, with distinctive grey ridges and orange or yellow pincers. If you see something that even slightly resembles this it’s best to play it safe and stay back—the Indian Red Scorpion has been recognised numerous times as the world’s most lethal and dangerous scorpion.
Previously thought to be found in just India, Nepal, and Pakistan, Sri Lanka started to see more and more reports of Indian Red Scorpion stings started surfacing over the last decade, and after a few studies into the matter, it was confirmed that it has indeed become an inhabitant of the island.
It’s thought that the scorpion first made its way over to Sri Lanka some time in 1987, in the suitcases of Indian Peace Keeping troops. Once it arrived, it soon started spreading itself over the Jaffna peninsula.
Over the last 10 years Indian Red Scorpion stings have become more and more frequent, with it being responsible for as many as 80 deaths between 2012 and 2013 alone.
This is definitely a top one to avoid.
Sri Lanka’s home to a fair few different species of spider, although they’re typically harmless, for the most part.
The ones to look out for are the tarantulas, which, thanks to all of the deforestation, have found themselves forced out of the forests and into more built up areas. That being said, the chances of crossing paths with any large tarantulas are pretty unlikely, although you may come across a small one or two.
As far as most tarantulas are concerned a bite wouldn’t do much more damage than a little pain and swelling—no more worse than a wasp sting. If you were to get bitten by a Fringed Ornamental Tarantula however, that would be a different story entirely.
Endemic to Sri Lanka, the Fringed Ornamental Tarantula is among the most poisonous spiders in the world, and definitely one of the most dangerous animals in Sri Lanka. Not only could a bite from this tarantula leave you in intense pain, but it could go as far as inducing a coma. They also love to attack without any warning, so it goes without saying that if you see any large tarantulas, leave them alone and walk away slowly.
The good news here though is they’re easily noticed; with legs spanning some 20cm, they’re about the size of a human head! Although that just makes them sound all the more terrifying…
It won’t come as any big surprise to learn that you’ll find mosquitos on this list. They can be found just about anywhere, and whether you’re in the north, south, east or west, there’s no escape.
In fact, of all the dangerous animals in Sri Lanka, mosquitos are actually more deadly than any of the other animals on this list combined, on account of how common they are.
The mossies in Sri Lanka not only carry malaria, but also dengue fever too. For the unaware, this means joint pain, muscle aches, rashes, and fairly severe headaches. More extreme cases can even result in death by low blood pressure.
Since the mosquitos are found just about everywhere—especially near fresh water—make sure you’re well prepared with plenty of bug spray, and use mosquito repellant each day.
Another of the most dangerous animals in Sri Lanka is the leopard, although it’s not like you’ll have to worry about coming close to one as you travel around.
Sri Lanka has become one of the world’s premiere safari destinations, thanks to the myriad national parks and incredibly diverse wildlife found on the island. It’s here in the safari parks that you’ll find the country’s leopards.
As of 2008 however the Sri Lankan leopard has unfortunately been added to the endangered species list, making the chances of spotting one of these majestic big cats ever more slim.
Another prominent member of Sri Lanka’s wildlife is the elephant, and while more typically found in Sri Lankan national parks or game reserves, it is possible that you could happen across a wild elephant or two while you’re out and about on the rural roads.
If you do happen to come across some elephants out in the wild then it’s important you drive by them slowly and calmly, and whatever you do don’t beep your horn—elephants can spook easily, and if one decides to turn on your car/motorcycle, it won’t be you and your vehicle that comes out on top.
As with all other animals on our list, staying calm is the name of the game.
Monkeys are another common animal that’s endemic to Sri Lanka, and while they’re mostly more mischievous than dangerous, there have been a couple of less than desirable incidents over the years.
The Toque Macaque is one of three Sri Lankan species of monkey, along with the Purple-face leaf Monkey and the Tufted gray Langur. At times these can be quite aggressive and dangerous, so you’ll always want to take a degree of caution around them. You can never be entirely sure exactly what a Macaque could read as a threat.
As previously mentioned, all of Sri Lanka’s monkeys can be incredibly mischievous too, and renowned for stealing anything they can get their hands on, especially if it’s food. Just about anything that hasn’t been bolted down is at risk of being stolen, so be wary.
Are There Sharks in Sri Lanka?
Sharks can be found all throughout the ocean surrounding Sri Lanka, at any time of the year. There’s believed to be at least 63 different species of sharks calling the country’s ocean home, with very few of them ever seen.
Contrary to popular myths and legends (thanks Jaws), most sharks are totally harmless to humans, and the same goes for Sri Lanka’s. Only 11 shark attacks have ever been recorded in Sri Lanka, the last of which was over 50 years ago in 1970.
In fact, there’s a huge push for shark conservation in the country, and 5 species of shark enjoy legal protection.
Are Snakes a Problem in Sri Lanka?
While there are many snakes in Sri Lanka, very few of them are actually poisonous, and the chances of getting close to any we’ve mentioned today are quite slim.
If you do happen to come across a snake as you travel around Sri Lanka though it’s important that you don’t panic, and that you certainly don’t try to kill it. On occasion you may find a snake making its way into wherever you’re staying, especially if there are rodents lurking about. The best thing to do in this scenario is to try and trap the snake (a water bottle should do the trick for smaller ones) or usher it to the door.
If ever you cross paths with any potentially venomous snakes out in the open it’s always important to remember that, unless provoked, they’ll leave you alone.
If you do get bitten by a snake, then the first thing you need to do is wash the wound with running water, and then make your way to the closest government hospital (most are typically only 45 minutes to an hour away).
The deaths that do occur by snakebite in the country are typically relegated to only the most rural areas. As always, remember that they’re much more scared of you than you are of them.
Are there Venomous Spiders in Sri Lanka?
As we previously touched on, Sri Lanka is home to the Fringed Ornamental Tarantula, one of the most poisonous tarantulas in the world (in spite of peoples proclivity to keep them as pets).
While all tarantulas sport pretty impressive fangs, it’ll take a lot for the vast majority of the tarantulas to actually use them, and most are non-venomous anyway.
There are countless additional species of spider living in Sri Lanka besides tarantulas, and these are all harmless too.
If you liked this article on the most dangerous animals in Sri Lanka, why not check out some of our other South Asian travel guides!