by The Passionate Traveller
From my very first visit to a zoo, I have always loved elephants. As my trip to Sri Lanka grew closer, it dawned on me that I would finally get to see these incredible creatures in the wild for the first time. Sri Lanka is home to around 6,000 Asian elephants – that figure was almost double at the start of the 20th century, but they are now listed as an endangered species. As well as being working animals in many parts of the country, they are also unfortunately exploited for tourism purposes, although thankfully this practice is becoming less popular. Many tour operators, like Riviera Travel, do not visit these sites and instead focus on seeing the animals in their natural habitat like Yala National Park.
The day of my visit to Yala finally arrived, and soon after entering the park, we were greeted by a lone elephant grazing amidst the bushes, looking ambivalent to us passing in our specially adapted safari vehicle. We paused for some time to ensure the elephant had plenty of room and also for us to watch in awe as it plodded a little closer to us.
As the elephant turned and trudged off, we continued our drive into the park and into an area of muddy ponds. Once again, we were in for a treat as a mother and her calf were cooling down from the warm evening sunshine. Watching the mother spraying her youngster with water from the pond was so poignant, yet comical. The pair seemed to be playing as much as anything else, again, completely oblivious to how intrigued we were with our ready cameras.
Further on into the park and it was not just elephants of the animal variety that caught our attention – a giant rock formation that looked uncannily like our giant grey friends came slowly into view. It seems that even geology is a fan of these magnificent beasts!
In between we saw a whole host of other creatures that we had only ever seen through our television screen before. Water buffalo, crocodiles, wild boar, bee catchers, monkeys, monitor lizards and even a chameleon, which our incredible guide somehow spotted despite its perfect camouflage. As the drive drew to a close and we headed to the park’s exit, we stumbled upon an elephant family. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the whole holiday for me – we sat and watched the two adults and two calves, grazing and tossing branches around. We shared their company for a good while, as they showed a little interest in us at first, before getting on with their important business of munching sticks and branches.
We left the park happy to have seen them in their natural habitat, doing what they do best!