Asian Elephants are one of the few remaining mega-herbivorous species in the world and they happen to be the most loved mammal in Sri Lanka. Despite the ongoing conflict between man and Elephant in the rural areas, everyone remains to be fascinated in observing their intelligent behaviour. The Sri Lankan Elephant population is about 2500 – 3000 and they hold great national value as a major tourist attraction. There are many places to see elephants around the country which have been declared as sanctuaries for these majestic animals as well as several other species. The large number of Elephants in a relatively small land brings a high chance of sightings. Visits to these areas are always rewarding for wildlife enthusiasts and can be experienced in numerous Sri Lanka holiday packages!
Located in the central hills of Kegalle, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was established in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Spreading across 24 acres, it is a special place where abandoned and disabled wild elephants get care and protection. Being an excellent breeding center, the Orphanage has witnessed the birthing of twenty-three elephants since 1984, a huge conservation achievement. It also has the greatest herd of elephants in captivity in the world.
The elephants at Pinnawala are fed around 76 kg/170 lb of green manure and around 2 kg/4.4 lb of rice bran and maize daily, the adorable infants under the age of three are bottle fed by caregivers or volunteers. The adult elephants work in the orphanage itself, earning their keep by helping with various chores, such as collecting food. After meals, they are taken to the Maya Oya River twice a day for a leisurely bath to cool off in the shallow water. The main attraction is the opportunity to observe the bathing elephants from the broad river bank as they play and splash about. The orphanage is very popular among local and foreign tourists and all admission fees are used to look after the elephants. It also offers elephant rides and allows photographing.
Udawalawe was declared a national park in 1972. Spanning an astounding 30, 800 hectares, it is a former teak plantation that is now home to an estimated 400-500 elephants as well as other animals and birdlife. They graze in scattered herds in the grasslands and scrub jungle, amongst the remnant teak trees, quenching their thirsts and cooling off in the Udawalawe Reservoir. Excursions into the park in the back of a jeep are available with a guide. The best times for these safari rides are early mornings and early evenings as the elephants are most likely to be out in the open, grazing and interacting with one another on the marshy banks of the reservoir.
There is an orphanage nearby which takes care of elephants that have been injured or abandoned and baby elephants that have lost their way in the park. After being cared for, they are released back into the park as adults.
Minneriya National Park was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938 to protect the catchment of the Minneriya tank and the wildlife of the surrounding area. Usually during the year July to August, there are between 150-200 elephants living in the park, however, during the dry season from, an extraordinary event known as the ‘elephant gathering’ occurs. Elephants from surrounding areas, such as Wasgamuwa National Park, Matale and Polonnaruwa migrate to Minneriya in search of food, water and shelter.
The gathering is a wonderful opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts and travelers to observe the social behaviour of elephants in the wild as they bathe and play in the receding waters of the Minneriya tank and graze on the fresh grassland sprouts which are left behind. The gathering is one of the most unforgettable and fantastic event in the international wildlife calendar.
Wasgamuwa National Park is a dedicated area of conservation and is often said to be the most beautiful national park in Sri Lanka and the best place to see wild elephants in their natural habitat. Located in the eastern part of the country, just south of Minneriya National Park, Wasgamuwa shows historical evidence that it has been inhabited by man during the ancient Sinhala kingdoms in BC. The elephants found in this area are slightly more fierce and dangerous as they are less accustomed to humans than other elephants found in Sri Lanka so visitors are strongly advised to be cautious when observing a herd within the park.
Elephants can also be found in all the other dry zone national parks in Sri Lanka such as Yala and Wilpattu. Numerous conservation projects have been established by Sri Lanka’s top Wildlife Conservation Societies to encourage their population growth and to minimize the human-elephant conflict in rural areas.
A company in Sri Lanka has recently found ways to recycle elephant waste turning the project into a successful conservation starter which not only looks at elephants as gentle giants but also as mobile paper factory on legs. Elephants ingest a large amount of fibre during meals which is then pulped in the stomach and excreted in hot fresh blobs of dung. The dung is then manufactured into paper after being, boiled, sanitized and dried in the sun. The result is unique, artistically textured stationary which can be varied according to the elephants’ diet. More than just a conservation innovation, pachyderm paper could prove an important source of income to the villagers thus a significant help in human-elephant conflict.