Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sri Lankan Elephant

There are three subspecies of Asian elephant: (1) the Indian elephant, found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malay Peninsula, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam (we saw captive Indian elephants in Thailand); (2) the Sumatran elephant, found on the island of Sumatra, part of Indonesia; and (3) the Sri Lankan elephant, found on the island of Sri Lanka. There is also genetic evidence that elephants in Borneo, another island of Indonesia, should be a fourth subspecies. There are two other subspecies that previously became extinct: (4) the Chinese elephant, which disappeared in the 14th century BCE; and (5) the Syrian elephant, which became extinct about 100 BCE. 
A Sri Lankan elephant in Udawalawe NP with two painted storks. 
The Sri Lankan elephant, which has been listed as endangered since 1986 by the IUCN, was high on my list of animals to see when we visited Sri Lanka. I was not disappointed. I think Judy counted 160 or more that we saw. 
Elephants in Minneriya NP.
Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia. The range map of Sri Lanka below, from Wikipedia, shows where elephants are found in Sri Lanka. I've marked the national parks where we saw them. 
Where we saw elephants in Sri Lanka. The range map is from Wikipedia.
In Minneriya, there were large numbers of safari vehicles out to see the elephants. Here a group of elephants breaks through the safari line-up to go toward the reservoir. 
Another group of vehicles watch this elephant cross the road. 
This huge bull was walking down the middle of the road as we were leaving Minneriya and had to be out in a few minutes. It was twice as big as our vehicle. I could tell the driver and our guide were trying to figure out what to do. They ultimately pulled over and started yelling to get him to go off the road. He eventually did. It was actually a pretty intimidating circumstance. 
The Sri Lankan elephant is the largest subspecies, reaching a shoulder height of 6.6 to 11.5 feet and a weight of 4,400 to 12,100 pounds. Only 7% of males have tusks, or 2% of all the elephants (I think we saw two elephants with tusks). A 2011 count determined that there are 5,879 elephants in Sri Lanka, but I believe our guide, Sanjay, said that number is now lower. 
Drinking at a waterhole in Udawalawe NP.
Sanjay learned that Judy loves elephants so he arranged a safari for her to see lots of elephants in Minneriya National Park, where elephants go late in the day to Minneriya Resorvoir to drink water. It did not disappoint, we saw 130 elephants there, including a teenager with tusks and a number of very young ones. 
Elephants in the grass and trees in Minneriya NP.

A baby near the reservoir.
Another baby.
In Udawalawe National Park, we had our best view of elephants when two came out of the trees to a waterhole and were then joined by a third. The lighting was good and they were animated and moving around. We also saw a few other single elephants. 

In Udawalawe with painted storks flying in the foreground. 
This was an impressive scene as they left the waterhole side by side. 
In Yala National Park we saw a number of different groupings and some single elephants, but nothing like Minneriya. 
This big guy was in the water in Yala spraying himself with water in the 95 degree heat. 
Finally, in Bundala National Park Sanjay said we likely would not see an elephant, but we saw one at some distance in some trees. 
One of the two tuskers we saw - this one in Minneriya NP.
Judy has always loved elephants, but I think the elephant love was elevated on this trip. 

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, definitely elevated. Our mass sightings in Minneriya NP was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. It was fun to watch them gradually come out of the trees, not unlike the giraffe experience we had on our walking safari in Zimbabwe.