Seeing elephants in Sri Lanka is one of our expectations when visit, especially when we are here for the first time and we look forward to this impatiently. This can happen along the road side or at a Buddhist temple. Elephants, as demonstrated by Buddhist tradition, take part in religious festivals, albeit wildly disputed. Elephants also carry tourists, what is increasingly being questioned around the world.
An elephant in Dondra Temple.
And most importantly, there are really many opportunities to see the elephants in Sri Lanka in their natural environment, where they live freely and happily. Although I still have the image of the sad eyes of elephants taking part in the parades in my mind to those genuinely smiling in the wild makes a huge difference.
Approximately 15% of Sri Lanka’s surface is covered by nature conservation sites such as national parks, sanctuaries, natural reserves and strict national parks, all managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. There are over twenty national parks, from the oldest such as Yala or Wilpattu National Park to those recently recognized as Madu Road, Chundikulam, Adam’s Bridge and Delft are available to tourists. Among them are several known from a large number of elephants.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is the second most popular national park but also the best in Sri Lanka for watching elephants almost all year round. In addition to the elephants there are monkeys, deer, crocodiles, mud buffalos and occasionally leopards. Udawalawe Water Reservoir, around which the park extends, is a great place to see many bird species native to Sri Lanka, and from November to March there are also migratory birds. It is a park with a savannah type vegetation. The best time to observe elephants is in the dry season, when in the early morning or evening they go out to the large lakes. About 500 elephants live here permanently.
Minneriya National Park
In the famous Cultural Triangle (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy), there are two small national parks: Minneriya and Kaudulla. Both are located around two ancient reservoirs around which hundreds of elephants gather each year between July and September. The Gathering, as it is called as an elephant event, is said to have been around for centuries and always in the dry season, when the water sinks in the reservoirs, and the green, lush grasses spring up . The grasses are true delicacy for the elephants . This event is a real attraction and huge numbers of tourists come to it. However, to respect this eternal gathering you should hire, a responsible driver who will show you this feast at the right distance for both your and the elephants safety and the serenity of these majestic wild animals.
Yala is Sri Lanka’s most popular and most visited national park. Largely, this is probably due to the largest population of leopards that live here. It is also a very good place to observe elephants, bears, deer, jackals, crocodiles, monkeys, buffalos and many bird species. It is best to visit Yala from February to July.
Sometimes, in September, and even in October, it is temporarily closed, please check for details on the official website of the park.
Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya is the only park that can be visited by both jeep and by boat. This park is less well known and is located around the largest waterborne Senanayake Samudraya. Boat hire in Inginiyagala is available, in the office of Department of Wildlife Conservation (phone no; 063-2242002).
Elephants can be seen throughout the year, but the best time is from March to July, when elephants move along the shores of Senanayake Samudraya and you can watch the elephant bathe. It is also a great place to observe birds which nest in the area.
All national parks are open from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm, and you can only visit them with by jeep or by boat, except Horton Plains, where you can walk alone. For information on all national parks, ticket prices and the possibility of spending time in the parks, please visit the Department of Wildlife Conservation website: www.dwc.gov.lk.
Another famous tourist place where you can see elephants in Sri Lanka is Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It was established in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife in Sri Lanka to provide care and protection for orphaned elephants found in the jungle.In 1978, the orphanage was taken over by the National Department of Zoological Gardens and the captive breeding program was launched. Since then more than twenty elephants have been born. The goal of the orphanage is to create living conditions for these animals that are as close to their natural environment as possible.
There is a heated debate whether to visit this place or not?
The authorities of the orphanage ensure us that the elephants live in very good conditions, and the chains on their legs are to ensure the safety of the people who visit the place and do not cause discomfort for the animals.
The undeniable fact is that this orphanage is a form of a zoological garden and we ourselves have to answer the question whether we want to see this place or not?