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Sri Lankan Elephant Safari

November 1, 2014 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

unnamed (14)Holding on for dear life, we are driven demolition derby style down a steep dusty dirt trail in the back of an open top jeep. It’s a hot, dry and sunny afternoon and I feel like John Wayne in his most famous non-cowboy role in the safari movie ‘Hatari’.

If we survive this hair raising and bumpy trail ride then our remuneration will be an open plains wild elephant safari. Our exciting adventure is taking place in Minneriya National Park in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka located in the North Province and approximately 182 kilometres from the capital, Colombo.

Upon entering it is required that every vehicle be provided with a guide. At first I didn’t understand why this regulation was obligatory but I would soon find out.

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Our guide on this day is Sugath Liyanage who lives nearby in a local village and he tells us that all his life he has loved elephants, which are a sacred animal in Sri Lanka. Liyanage is currently going through a voluntary five-year period of guide work before he fulfills his lifelong dream to become a fully paid guide.

Liyanage tells us that there are up to 300 elephants in this game park and if we are lucky today we may also see herds of buffalos, spotted deer, monkeys and many different types of birds. Rare and endangered species such as the Sri Lankan leopard and the sloth bear also call Minneriya National Park home.

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Encountering these other animals would be a bonus, but today we are here for an elephant safari and to hopefully observe these giants living in their natural environment. After 20 minutes of being bounced around in the back of our jeep not one single elephant has been sighted and I have this horrible sinking feeling that today is the day all the elephants in the reserve will be in hiding. I’m thinking of that old classic line “You should’ve been here yesterday.”

Suddenly in the distance, deep in the thick undergrowth we finally see a few elephants. My heart skips a beat and moments later we come to the end of our jungle trail ride and the game reserve surprisingly opens up with miles of open green plains surrounding two enormous lakes. It’s absolutely breathtaking. There are huge elephants sashaying everywhere. It’s a surreal feeling to be so close to these majestic animals. Some are in herds by the lake, younger elephants are playing in mud baths and others are swimming. Further down the reserve elephants are roaming in the bush and there are baby elephants sticking close to their mums. I also notice there are large males behaving unusually friendly.unnamed (10)

As a rule generally the large males do not hang out with the herd explains the guide, but it’s mating season and the big bucks are hoping for some amorous elephant fun.

Elephants generally live in close-knit family groups, led by a matriarch. The dominant female is usually in charge. Get too close and invade their space and that is exactly what they do. Our guide explains to us that there are a few known angry and aggressive elephants in the reserve that have been known to charge vehicles. Does he really have to tell us this? The answer is an emphatic yes.

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As our safari continues, we find ourselves unwittingly caught in a precarious position while observing a herd of elephants. Another herd with baby elephants unexpectedly appears from the bush behind us and they’re seriously unhappy that we are in their space.  About twenty irate elephants watch our every movement and then unexpectedly two young and aggressive bucks charge our jeep.

Our guide quickly assesses the situation and clambers up on the roof, standing tall in a dominating stance swinging a stick and lets out a loud scream. In that instance both behemoths slow down their rampant attack, eyeball us then slowly back off and return to the herd. A terrifying yet exhilarating moment that my partner actually describes quite differently, but due to censorship reasons her version cannot be printed here.

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Now I understand why each vehicle must have a guide! Our guide explains that standing tall above the elephant and hollering loudly shows dominance and temporarily distracts the elephants and generally nullifies their aggression. But don’t try this at home!

The herd moves on, our heart rate slows down and our safari continues. Seeing these magnificent beasts so close in an environment where they can roam wild is a truly wonderful experience.

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Our journey soon comes to an end and our drive out of the reserve with the sun setting is infinitely more peaceful than our manic entry. As we get out of our jeep I hug our guide to thank him for the knowledge he imparted and for his experience in stopping two huge angry young bucks from what could’ve been a defining and premature end to our Sri Lankan adventure.

HOW TO GET THERE  Jetset Travel Rose Bay (02) 9371 8576 


WHERE TO STAY  Hotel Sigiriya, Sigiriya Galle Face Hotel, Colombo 

ELEPHANT SAFARI Organized by Hotel Sigiriya

Words and pictures by Daniel Resnik

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