The COVID-19 pandemic constitutes one of the greatest challenges in the history of the tourism industry. Travel restrictions imposed in many countries to manage the global spread and community transmission allow to study the environmental effects on tourism destinations. Here we investigate the case of wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka, a country that has experienced unsustainable wildlife tourism practices before COVID-19. Semi-structured interviews of wildlife tourism stakeholders of Sri Lanka’s national parks demonstrated how the travel restrictions during COVID-19 provided a temporary relief from environmental impacts. We discuss various measures on how to maintain more sustainable practices of wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka and other countries in the long term seizing this unusual opportunity.