Elephant fountains, elephant carvings, elephants on coats of arms, elephants on parade. Elephants, it seems, are everywhere in Sri Lanka . Sri Lanka has spectacular National Parks to rival any African safari, with wild herds of elephants in their natural habitat. In Uda Walawe National Park it is not uncommon to count upwards of 250 elephants in one afternoon. The sight of 10-30 animals pulling up tussocks of grass on the rolling savannah, trunk-wrestling playfully or ambling down to the reservoir to drink and bathe is a common occurrence.
The Majestic Sri Lankan elephant: A heritage that has lasted over 30,000 years and which will continue to enchant and mystify the beholder. The elephant's graceful and majestic gait belies its massive size and sheer strength. Revered and loved by all Sri Lankans, the elephant holds a special place in the hearts of our country's people. Our holidays will not just take one to view the elephant, but will go one vital step forward in giving an insight on these different types of elephant and their physical characteristics in their natural habitat.
There are two methods of elephant observation. They are observing them in national parks and unbounded natural habitats.
The well-known national parks include Yala, Minneriya, Bundala, Uda Walawe, Lahugala, Wasgamuwa and Wilpattu. In these areas, the animals cannot be observed from open jeeps.
The natural habitats include Maduru Oya, Handapanagala, Habarana, Ritigala and Suriyawewa. In these areas, one could observe the animals without any restriction.
The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, established in 1975, commenced with seven orphans. Today some of these orphans enjoy the fortune of seeing their offspring born in the same location. The original objective of establishing this orphanage inclined more towards tourism, but it soon became a conservation and education centre. With the help of local and foreign elephant experts, Pinnawela started a scientific captive-breeding programme for elephants. The free movement of the herd enhanced the chances for receptive individuals of both sexes to get together and mate. The nearby river played a dominant role in this regard, and in 1984 the first baby of Pinnawela was born. The success story of Pinnawela has drawn the attention of scientists from all over the world and the important message of conservation is there for all to see.
In 1995, in addition to Pinnewala, the Wildlife Department opened an ‘Elephant Transit Home' in Uda Walawe National Park, so called because the orphaned elephants are in transit, and are released back into the wild as soon as they were old enough to cope on their own. Funds to cover the costs of feed and veterinary treatment are raised locally including an adoption scheme in which schoolchildren in Colombo contribute pocket-money to adopt ‘their' elephant.
Every visitor who goes elephant watching – whether in the traditional safari jeep, a bungalow or from the new community-run, tree-top platform near Yala – is generating jobs and helping to ensure a future for these wonderful animals. Every visitor who does so will take home some elephant memories that they will never forget.