Any wildlife naturalist or even an inquisitive adventurer wouldn’t think twice to grab the chance of joining a safari on witnessing Elephants. They are magnificent creatures – not to forget ‘Giant’ as well. Although Sri Lanka is famous across the globe for its amazing elephant density of 7,500 – we locals in the urban areas rarely get to see Elephants roaming freely in their own habitat.
But we are not far from this experience either. It’s just that we aren’t really aware of where to spot these Mighty Giants. Firstly let us look at the Difference between the two main types of Elephant species in the world.
African & Asian Elephants
African Elephants are much larger compared to Asian Elephants, which are found in Sri Lanka. And they are easily distinguished from the shape of their ears. Asian Elephants have rather small curved ears while African Elephants have huge fan like flap ears. Apart from this, there’s over 10 other characteristic differences like muscles, tuskers etc. Sri Lanka is one of the few places in the whole world, where you can witness herds of Elephants together in a wilderness environment.
Elephants can be easily spotted in the dry zone wildlife parks of the North Central, Southeast and East. If you’re lucky enough, you’d even see them outside of the conservation limits when they cross the elephant corridors.
Udawalawe National Park
As said above, the best place to witness elephants are in National Parks. And if you’re looking for a quick adventure from Colombo, travelling to the southern would save up plenty of travel time. That being said, Udawalawe is ideal for your trip. You can witness Elephants year around. Although a few hundred of them have been recorded, some studies have shown over 1000 elephants reside here. The Udawalawe reservoir makes up a great gathering place for herds. If you are a wildlife photographer or an aspiring one, fix your vacation between October and April as the best views are spotted during this period.
Yala National Park
Yala can be considered as the mini-Africa of Sri Lanka. The dry savannahs of this Southeast Coast’s sanctuary is home to many other fascinating species as well. Mostly famous for its density of Leopards, Yala also houses a number of Elephant herds. If you’re really in search of great photographic angles on a sunset backdrop, Yala is for you. As it borders Kumana National Park, you’d also be able spot migratory and endemic birds as well. However, due to a large number of people visiting this National Park, one would not really enjoy an exclusive intimate wild experience here in Yala.
Minneriya National Park
Located on the North Central province of Sri Lanka, Minneriya reservoir has a significant historical importance. Minneriya National Park is also famous for its own ‘Great Migration’, called ‘The Annual Gathering of Elephants’ which marks the largest number of elephant gathering that usually takes place in the dry seasons of June, July and September. During these times, rivers dry up due to the heat hence elephants are forced to gather around the Reservoir to drink, bathe and roam around the grass. The Gathering is usually hosted by both Kaudulla and Minneriya National Park, which borders the latter. However, Minneriya is quite far from the urban Colombo (probably around a 5 hour drive) but it’s based within the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, you might as well plan an extended vacation to discover all the historic sites and ruins around the area.
Wilpattu National Park
Located on the North West of Sri Lanka, Wilpattu is the oldest and most protected Wildlife National Park in the Island. Under and hour’s drive from Anuradhapura, and a 3-hour drive from Colombo, Wilpattu is quite famous for its Elephants, Leopards and sloth bears. Spotting herds of Elephants in Wilpattu forest park is quite rare, but you would definitely come across some wild bull elephants roaming around and bathing by the lake. Plus, the good thing is that, many regular tourists don’t visit this area, hence a true wildlife adventurist can bask in the serenity while on a safari.
Elephant Transit Home – Udawalawe
Established by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Elephant Transit Home is a shelter of rehabilitation for orphan elephant calves. Unlike a regular zoo, this home is dedicated to bring up displaced elephants and release them back to the wilds when they’re able. There’s about 40 rescued elephants in the transit home currently, as soon as they turn 5 years old, they’ll be sent back to the wilderness. The good thing about the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe is that, minimal human contact is ensured to let the animals feel homely. However during feeding time, visitors can observe these mighty baby giants feasting and having the time of their lives.
If you’re in two minds whether to visit a Nature Park or a relaxing beach getaway, we’d definitely recommend the wild option. Especially if you’ve never been on a safari to witness elephants, you must begin with visiting the National Parks of Sri Lanka. We must say that every National Park is different from one another with their own unique environments and wildlife species.
However, avoid overrated Orphanages like Pinnawala, where the habitat is vastly manipulated when compared to the wilderness. And in some parts of the island, Elephant riding is considered a unique local experience, but many believe its animal cruelty and it’s best to avoid such activities at all costs. Enjoy a good safari, capture some really nice pics and make the best out of your mighty vacation.