Thursday, May 10, 2018
A female elephant shepherds her calf between her legs. It scurries beneath her belly, following her trunk and disappearing from my sight as they pass through the tall grass. For a moment, I have to remind myself I’m in Sri Lanka, not somewhere in Africa. Despite the Sri Lankan elephant being noticeably smaller and darker than the African elephant, the setting feels similar: thick brush, muddy earth, a large pool of water where the animals drink. Even the safari vehicle is the same. But here, at the the Udawalawe National Park in southern Sri Lanka, a four-hour drive from the capital city of Colombo, the elephants are the main attraction—not the supporting actors to big cats.
If you’re lucky, you might spot a cat. There’s a small population of leopards inside the park, but they camouflage well, making them almost impossible to see. Elephants, on the other hand, are absolutely everywhere—crossing the grassy, tree-filled park at every turn. There are more than 500 of them (they roam in herds of up to 30), which makes Udawalawe one of the only parks in the country where you’re guaranteed to get a good look.
“Sri Lanka is one of the few places where Asian elephants can be watched for long periods, just behaving like elephants—not running from cars, not raiding crops, just being elephants,” says John Roberts, director of conservation for Minor Hotel Group. On a good afternoon, you’ll catch sight of them around the watering hole alongside water buffalo and dozens of species of birds (there are more than 180 kinds in the park). “Keep your eyes peeled and you may also see sambar deer, water buffalo, jackals, and monkeys, including the gray langur and the endemic toque macaque,” says Sashan Wirasinghe, manager of Abercrombie and Kent Sri Lanka, which organizes tailor-made trips in Sri Lanka and into the park.
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