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Elephants


The elephant is the luminary of Sri Lanka’s wild life. It is also the largest and most beloved land animal in the island. Elephantine behavior is fascinating to watch and has a great national value as a tourist attraction. It is not surprising, therefore, that tourists come to Sri Lanka, specifically to see elephants.

What is the elephant population in Sri Lanka?

Most estimates are at 3,000. They are scattered all over the country in small pockets and about 500 of them are domesticated. Sri Lanka has about 10% of the Asian elephant population. This large number in a relatively small land makes the chance of elephant sightings very high in Sri Lanka. 

What are some of the fun tourist activities with elephants?

Jeep safaris in national parks give good opportunities to see the social behavior of elephants. To make it more exciting one can campout within the national park for the night. Elephant back safaris through a jungle track can be a memorable experience. Seeing elephants participate in parades and festivals (also known as Peraheras in the local dialect) can be spectacular.

What are the best locations to see elephants?
National Parks:
•    Yala(Ruhunu) National Park
•    Wilpattu National Park
•    Maduru Oya National Park
•    Gal Oya National Park
•    Bundala National Park
•    Horton Plains National Park
•    Udawalawe National Park
•    Wasgamuwa National Park
•    Weerawila  Tissa Sanctuary
•    Udawattakele Sanctuary
•    Knuckles Mountain Range

The Elephant Orphanage - See baby elephants wandering around their cramped foster home or bottle fed and bathed by their human foster fathers at Pinnawala. Baby elephants that are found abandoned or orphaned in the wild are brought to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala where they are sheltered, fed and taken care of. It is home to some 60 or more elephant orphans. The river bathing is the highlight for tourists.

Elephant Transit Home - The Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe brings back injured, sick, and orphaned elephants, rehabilitate them for 2-4 years and release them to the national park. The recent release of 8 baby elephants (June 14th, 2008) made international news and was a milestone in Sri Lankan elephant history.

What are the best times to watch elephants?
Usually elephants stay in the jungle to shelter from the heat of the sun. In the morning they come out to the open to eat grass. The best times to watch elephants are early in the morning and late afternoons when the sun is not strong.

Is it true that elephants love self spa treatments?
It sure is. They use mud to cover their body against the heat. You can see elephants at tanks, rivers and water holes playing, swimming and drinking water. They love rain and play in the rain, especially when it rains after a dry season. After which they powder themselves in dust. They also like to massage each other.

What is an elephant herd?
Elephants rarely live alone. They live in herds like a large family. Sometimes elephant herds consist over 50 elephants or more. The grown male elephants usually live alone. They return to the herd during the mating season.

Who takes the lead – the male or female elephant?
Unlike humans, the oldest female elephant is the leader of the herd and guides the family to places where plenty of food and water are available. The leader protects the members of the herd from any danger and makes sure that the baby elephants are properly looked after.

How do the jumbos drink milk?
Even though born to a single mother, a baby elephant drinks milk from all female elephants. All of them take care and protect the baby elephants.

What are the typical eating patterns of an elephant?
Elephants need lots of food to keep them healthy and strong. A grown elephant eats between 100 to 200 kilograms of grass or leaves everyday and need lots of water.

What is an elephant graveyard?
Some people believe that elephants have grave yards and come near to a water resource when they are about to die. Some do not believe it and say that when elephants become old, their teeth decays and difficulty of consuming heavy branches of trees make them come to a place where there is grass and water.

What is the connection between Kandy Esala Perahera (as well as some of the other festivals known as Peraheras) and the elephant?
Elephants parade the street at night in Peraheras. Officials and chieftains wear traditional costume and dancers leap to the timeless rhythm of the drums. It is known as one of the world's grandest and most spectacular street parades.


Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe
Building trust takes time; re-building, even more. Trust, especially when it has been breached, is a lifetime’s work between humans and elephant. It requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and time. Perhaps the greatest achievement on the part of the Elephant Transit Home has been the re-building of trust between humans and elephants, especially in cases where that trust has been betrayed by humans themselves. It provides the opportunity to leave the past behind and to move on to a brand new future.

The Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe is a rehabilitation centre, a psychological healing centre, a trauma recovery centre, a centre for sober living, and a hospital, all combined into one. An adopted elephant spends between 3-4 years here. This is a time for recovering, healing, and above all, learning to stand on its feet. Although they are in a sense of being “mollycoddled” by their foster parents, mahouts, and veterinary surgeons, the elephants are taught to become independent. The aim is to raise the baby elephants with love rather than anger, and during that process, strengthen them to be independent. Soon, they will be on their own in the mighty jungle with no one to advise them of the pitfalls that lie ahead.

The following is the latest update on the elephants that have been released. A total of 64 have been rehabilitated and restored to sound health since the inception of the home in 1995.

Year Elephants were Released by the Elephant Transit Home

Numbers of Elephants Released into the Wilderness

1998

4

2000

5

2002

8

2003

11

2004

11

2006

9

2007

10

2008

8

 

Elephant Safari Tips
Be an enlightened traveller when you are visiting areas where elephants roam. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you are on a safari jeep don’t get off the jeep at any point during the safari. You are in the territory of the elephants and must respect their space.
  • Don’t throw snacks, fruit seeds, and grains into the wilderness. This may affect the balance in the eco system and its plant growth.
  • Don’t throw stones or any other objects at animals. This can jolt their minds into a traumatic past and get them started on a negative path of showing contempt towards humans. Any harmful behaviour can create a breach of trust between humans and elephants, so avoid such selfish behaviour.
  • Don’t try to pet any elephants in the wilderness. Respect their space.
  • Listen to the tour guide and driver who accompany you on the safari. They are experienced and know the terrain.
  • Tip the driver and tour guide in a fair manner. If the safari jeep and guide services cost Rs. 2000 for an excursion, tip anywhere between Rs.100-Rs.200 per person.
  • Don’t shout and scare the elephants away. They are relaxing. Let them be.
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The elephant is the luminary of Sri Lanka’s wild life. It is also the largest and most beloved land animal in the island. Elephantine behavior is fascinating to watch and has a great national value as a tourist attraction. It is not surprising, therefore, that tourists come to Sri Lanka, specifically to see elephants.

What is the elephant population in Sri Lanka?
Most estimates are at 3,000. They are scattered all over the country in small pockets and about 500 of them are domesticated. Sri Lanka has about 10% of the Asian elephant population. This large number in a relatively small land makes the chance of elephant sightings very high in Sri Lanka. 

What are some of the fun tourist activities with elephants?
Jeep safaris in national parks give good opportunities to see the social behavior of elephants. To make it more exciting one can campout within the national park for the night. Elephant back safaris through a jungle track can be a memorable experience. Seeing elephants participate in parades and festivals (also known as Peraheras in the local dialect) can be spectacular.

What are the best locations to see elephants?
National Parks:

The Elephant Orphanage - See baby elephants wandering around their cramped foster home or bottle fed and bathed by their human foster fathers at Pinnawala. Baby elephants that are found abandoned or orphaned in the wild are brought to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala where they are sheltered, fed and taken care of. It is home to some 60 or more elephant orphans. The river bathing is the highlight for tourists.

Elephant Transit Home - The Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe brings back injured, sick, and orphaned elephants, rehabilitate them for 2-4 years and release them to the national park. The recent release of 8 baby elephants (June 14th, 2008) made international news and was a milestone in Sri Lankan elephant history.

What are the best times to watch elephants?
Usually elephants stay in the jungle to shelter from the heat of the sun. In the morning they come out to the open to eat grass. The best times to watch elephants are early in the morning and late afternoons when the sun is not strong.

Is it true that elephants love self spa treatments?
It sure is. They use mud to cover their body against the heat. You can see elephants at tanks, rivers and water holes playing, swimming and drinking water. They love rain and play in the rain, especially when it rains after a dry season. After which they powder themselves in dust. They also like to massage each other.

What is an elephant herd?
Elephants rarely live alone. They live in herds like a large family. Sometimes elephant herds consist over 50 elephants or more. The grown male elephants usually live alone. They return to the herd during the mating season.

Who takes the lead – the male or female elephant?
Unlike humans, the oldest female elephant is the leader of the herd and guides the family to places where plenty of food and water are available. The leader protects the members of the herd from any danger and makes sure that the baby elephants are properly looked after.

How do the jumbos drink milk?
Even though born to a single mother, a baby elephant drinks milk from all female elephants. All of them take care and protect the baby elephants.

What are the typical eating patterns of an elephant?
Elephants need lots of food to keep them healthy and strong. A grown elephant eats between 100 to 200 kilograms of grass or leaves everyday and need lots of water.

What is an elephant graveyard?
Some people believe that elephants have grave yards and come near to a water resource when they are about to die. Some do not believe it and say that when elephants become old, their teeth decays and difficulty of consuming heavy branches of trees make them come to a place where there is grass and water.

What is the connection between Kandy Esala Perahera (as well as some of the other festivals known as Peraheras) and the elephant?
Elephants parade the street at night in Peraheras. Officials and chieftains wear traditional costume and dancers leap to the timeless rhythm of the drums. It is known as one of the world's grandest and most spectacular street parades.