Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

An Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

 

“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant;
The only harmless great thing.”

John Donne

After a brief stopover in the pretty village of Ella, I was on my way to Udawalawe National Park, specifically to do an Elephant Safari. I had booked into a very fancy hotel, making a departure from the little guesthouses I had been staying in. It must’ve been upmarket, with some giant cricket bats commemorating previous guests, the NZ and Sri Lankan cricket teams on the NZ tour of Sri Lanka last month. It certainly led to some interesting conversations over the next couple of days – way out of my depth given my knowledge of cricket!

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

 

The main event in these parts however is the Udawalawe National Park. So it was another very early start, 6.00 am pick up, for a jeep safari tour. I had assumed that I was buying a seat in the jeep, so was rather surprised to learn that the whole jeep was for me alone. Even then, there are only around 25 jeeps visiting the park each day, and while you’re in the park, its size (nearly 310 square kilometres) means we seemed to have it to ourselves for the most part.

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

It is a nice luxury to have what feels like a private tour, but also very expensive. First of all, the jeep tour cost around $40US, then the entrance to the park another $30US. A guide joined us at the main entrance as we headed into the park, and it was only after about or 10 minutes that he mentioned he was an unpaid volunteer. Rawi, the guide, told me he needs to work as an unpaid volunteer for 5 years until he will be hired as a Ranger, which is what he is really hoping to do. He’s been working for 4 1/2 years so far, so 2014 will be the year! Rawi told me with surprise that some people don’t take guides, while I on the other hand was surprised to realise that I had just hired him! So obviously he needed tips, as did the driver. Coming from a country where tipping means rounding up the dinner bill, and only then if you’ve had great service, I always find tipping very stressful. I’m happy to tip, but the big mystery is how much. It’s only just dawned on me that tipping is a way of life here in Sri Lanka, and the entire guest house hasn’t come out to wish me well on my journey but that I should’ve been tipping instead of waving.

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Anyhow, I digress….the cost aside, the safari was fantastic. We came across around half a dozen different herds of elephants, which Rawi says is very lucky. Sometimes you might only see 5 or 10 in a tour. We on the other hand, couldn’t seem to shake them – it seemed that around every other corner there were more! I’m definitely not complaining. The elephants didn’t seem to mind us too much, and we were incredibly close to them, although one elephant did try to take on a jeep in front of us at one point. Rawi told me that mostly they will leave us alone because we’re bigger than they are, but if we’d come on foot it would be a different story.

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Rawi told me lots about elephants I didn’t know, which to be fair was nearly zilch. I had asked which was the male and learned that the male generally lives apart from the herd and the elephant in charge is the matriarch. Smart animals. They are quiet and slow in the mornings because they are tired, they never sleep at night. They eat around 200kg of vegetation every day, and drink around 150 litres of water. They also eat mud because of the minerals it contains. All of this is needed to give them the energy to walk around 20 kms each day, not to mention keep their 5000kg bodies ticking over. Sadly the Sri Lankan elephant is now an endangered species, although many are still killed every year, mainly to protect locals’ crops and property. Only a very small percentage of Sri Lankan elephants, about 5%, have tusks, so they are not poached for ivory, but unfortunately there is still some poaching for their meat.

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

Getting a guide was definitely worth it. Rawi’s eagle eyes spotted birds and animals that were completely invisible to me. We saw a jungle cat – both of us were quite excited and hoping it was a leopard (it wasn’t), as well as birds of all description, deer, lizards, peacocks, the elephants of course, and even a crocodile. It was a fantastic morning, and I immediately I wanted to go again. However instead I came back to the hotel, very happy, and settled in to a relaxing afternoon by the pool in my upmarket resort hotel. Better make the most of it while I can!

Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka

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