Bouncing around in the back of an open top jeep being driven down a dusty dirt trail in Sigiriya on a sunny late afternoon, I’m on my way to Minneriya National Park located in central Sri Lanka. I’m about to embark on an elephant safari and I feel like John Wayne in his famous African adventure movie “Hatari.”
Regulation requires that upon entry to the reserve every vehicle must be provided with a guide. At first I did not understand why a guide was required, but I would soon find out.
Our guide whose name was Sugath Liyanage, explained how he lives close by in a local village and all his life has loved elephants, which are a sacred animal in Sri Lanka. He is currently going through a voluntary five-year period of guide work before he becomes a fully paid guide.
Sugath informed us that there are up to 300 elephants that reside in this reserve and if we are lucky, today we may also encounter a herd of buffalos and many different types of birds such as storks, jungle fowl and the brown and black-capped bulbul. Also birds of prey including the grey-headed fish eagle and the white-bellied sea eagle also call Minneriya their home. Toque and grey Langur monkeys and herds of spotted deer can also sometimes be seen.
Look very closely we are told and you maybe lucky to see a Jackel or two lurking in the shadows.
If we do encounter these animals then that will be a bonus, but today we are on a safari and looking for elephants and for the first 20 minutes we see none. I have this horrible sinking feeling that today will be the day all elephants on this reserve will be in hiding and will not appear. I’m thinking, you know that old classic line, “you should’ve been here yesterday.”
Well 20 minutes into our hot and dusty trail ride and amongst the thick undergrowth we suddenly make out a few elephants, my heart skips a beat and a few moments later we come to the end of the trail and the park suddenly opens up, we now could be in any game park in the world. It is beautiful, miles of open land surrounding two massive lakes. Elephants, massive huge elephants are everywhere all sizes and ages. It was amazing to be so close to these majestic animals, some were in packs, younger elephants were playing, others were lying in mud baths and some were swimming. Further down the park elephants were roaming in the bush and there were little baby elephants sticking close to their mums and even some large males were hanging around. The reason they are hanging out, its mating season and the big bucks are hoping for some “elephant fun”. Generally the large males do not hang out with the herd unless its time to mate. Elephants generally live in close-knit family groups, led by a matriarch.
The dominant female is usually in charge and literally, when I say charge, get to close when there are young and baby elephants around and that is what they do, charge. Our guide explained to us that there were a few angry elephants in the reserve, that were known to charge quite often and from a distance at one time we witnessed one of these aggressive beasts charge a jeep that had encroached to close. As our safari continued, we got caught in a precarious position while we were a watching a group of elephants. Without our drivers or our guide’s knowledge another pack appeared from the bush behind us and were not happy we were invading their space. For a moment we were eyeballed by two angry herds, there were maybe 20 massive elephants, then, suddenly two charged our jeep. Then I realized why each vehicle must have a guide on board because in that instance the guides experience saved us from maybe getting attacked, an incredibly frightening but exhilarating moment.
*When the elephants charged, our guide stood up tall in an aggressive stance and yelled out to let the elephants know that we were not moving and in that instance they both backed off and returned to their herd.
The herd moved on, our heart rate slowed and the safari continued. Seeing these magnificent beasts so close in an environment where they can roam wild and not locked up in a cage in a zoo is a truly wonderful experience
*We organized our elephant safari through the staff at the Sigiriya Hotel.
*Safari duration is approx. 4 hours.
*Ensure you wear comfortable clothes, a hat, walking/trekking shoes, and take sun block, insect repellant and a camera.
HOW TO GET THERE
Jetset Travel Rose Bay
(02) 9371 8166
Photography and words Kelly Tang