For thousands of years, elephants have captured the imagination of young and old; man, woman, and child. These magnificent animals can be found dotted throughout history – from the mighty Mammoth to the matriarchal African elephant. Looking back into history from Hannibal of Carthage to the Hindu god Ganesh, elephants have been alongside humans in a very lengthy and complicated relationship. One such relationship, that stretches back many thousands of years, is the relationship between Sri Lanka and elephants.
The Sri Lankan elephant is one of three subspecies of the Asian elephant. Due to deforestation and loss of habitat, the Sri Lankan elephant has been listed as endangered. It has been reported that thepopulation numbers have dropped by 50% over the last 60 to 75 years. Over the last few years, elephant lovers and visitors to Sri Lanka have the opportunity to meet and play with the elephants, as well as learn the history of this complex relationship between beast and man.
The largest populations of elephants in Sri Lanka can be found in the north, east and southeast of the country. Small groups are scattered outside of the national parks and protected areas, but the vast majority of elephants can be found in Udawalawe National Park, Lunugamvehera National Park, Wilpattu National Park and Minneriya National Park. There are also many private reserves and conservation efforts that allow visitors to interact with the elephants.
The elephants found on the conservations are predominantly rescued elephants after a life in captivity. These organizations give them a retirement of sorts. Visitors can interact, walk with, and bathe elephants while being accompanied by an elephant expert will talk about the elephants in captivity, conservation efforts and the relationship between elephant and Sri Lankans. There are numerous conservation organizations scattered across Sri Lanka and it is easy to make contact with one of them.
Most conservations offer a similar itinerary for information sharing and elephant interaction. Your experience will mainly consist of the following:
- Meet an expert on Sri Lankan elephants and learn about the history of elephant captivity.
- You will get to learn more about the organization and the relationship between mahout and elephant.
- A guided interaction will allow you to walk with, bathe and interact with the elephant.
- Some (not all) organizations will allow you to ride the elephant. Some with a harness and some organizations prefer not to use one.
The entire experience will last about 3 hours. Please remember to pack extra dry clothing for after you have bathed the elephant. You will also need sunscreen, a cap,insect repellent, and light comfortable clothing.
However, I am sure many would also prefer toview these magnificent animals in the natural habit. In Sri Lanka, you are able to see wild elephants in the south of Sri Lanka in the Minneriya National Park, Kaudulla National Park, and Eco National Park.
Being able to interact and connect with an elephant is a magical experience. The humble, gentle giant will always leave you with a memorable experience and a lasting impression.