One of the best things you can do in Sri Lanka is to go on safari! Really! Yes, it is not Africa. And yes, you can not spot giraffe, rhino or lions but you can see places of unreal beauty with hundreds of wild elephants and leopards. No animal is as closely identified with Sri Lanka as the elephant and few other countries offer such a wide range of opportunities to see them.
So where is the best place in Sri Lanka to see these beautiful giants?
1. Udawalawe National Park
One of the country’s best places to spot elephants – most of the park is covered in light, arid scrub, with very little forest cover. The reserve covers 30,821 hectares and it’s situated in the Uva province near the town of Ratnapura (“city of gems”, traditional center for the Sri Lankan gem trade).
Safari in Udawalawe National Park was truly amazing! We saw many elephant families with babies, which was adorable and cute! Elephants seemed happy and healthy. It was such a great experience to see them living in their real habitat.
Safari price: a trip with one of the 4WDs waiting outside the gate should be around Rs 3500 for a half-day for up to eight people with driver.
2. Minneriya National Park
Minneriya National Park is a national park in North Central Province of Sri Lanka. August and September in Minneriya are particularly memorable, as hundreds of elephants congregate around Minneriya Tank, the largest meeting of Asian elephants in the world – popularly dubbed “The Gathering”.
3. Kaudulla National Park
This park is close to Minneriya, within half an hour’s drive in the North Central Province (close to Polonnaruwa). Park is home to over 200 elephants and is part of the elephant corridor between Minneriya and Wasgomuwa National Parks.
Do you know what’s the difference between Asian and African Elephants?
- African elephants are much larger than their Asian cousins
- The ears of an Asian elephant are proportionally much smaller
- Head of Asian elephant is higher than its shoulders, as opposed to the African, which appears to walk with its head down
- Only male Asian elephants grow tusks and even then (only 7% of the population), not all males will have them. In African elephants, both sexes generally (but not always) exhibit tusks
Sri Lanka elephant population
The Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka estimates that there are 5879 elephants in Sri Lanka, which is still the highest population in whole Asia! Despite that elephants have been listed as endangered as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations. Loss of habitat due to human activities such as deforestation, war, poaching and by farmers defending their crops or villages have taken their toll.
National parks on the island are focused on conservation of elephants and their environment through research on movements, ecology, and behavior, and through community programmes.
Elephant Orphanages vs National Park Safari
Elephant orphanages like Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage are government organizations that are not focused on conversation but on making money from the visitors all over the world. Elephants there are just a toys in chains that bring money to local ‘big bosses’. It’s so sad to see them. They seemed not well nourished and unhappy. Guards there hit them with sticks if they don’t ‘listen’ or don’t pose for the visitors’ cameras.
Don’t visit the elephant orphanages, go see them in the wild in one of many national parks on the island!