Having learned about the appalling treatment of elephants in the tourist industry while in Thailand we have been reluctant to participate in any elephant-related activities. However after some research and reviewing the Born Free foundation website we came across the Uda Walawe national park.
The national park was established in 1972 to provide a 119 square mile sanctuary for wild animals. There are usually around 300 resident elephants as well as crocodiles, water buffalo’s, monkeys, a few leopards, wild peacocks, pelicans, eagles and a wide range of smaller birds.
To visit the park you need to organise an official jeep which can be found outside the park entrance. You pay for your jeep and driver who then drives you inside the park to the ticket office. A park guide is provided with your tickets so you set off to explore the park with the guide and the driver.
The guides are expert at spotting and naming many different species of animals and birds. These are some of the photos:
The national park provides a safe environment for wild elephants. Many of the female’s are pregnant and there were several baby elephants. We were fortunate to see a one year old baby elephant feeding from its mother at fairly close range. We saw around 30 different elephants in different parts of the park in total.
There is a large lake and several smaller ponds, marshes and streams throughout the national park. The grassy habitat is ideal for elephants.
We were also lucky to see a crested serpent eagle with a snake in its claws. We witnessed the impressive sight as the eagle flew away with its catch held firmly in its claws and dangling below.
This was the first safari experience for both of us and was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip to Sri Lanka. The driver had full respect for the animals and cut the engine as soon as he got close. The elephants were not bothered by our presence and they went about their business (mostly eating grass) as if we were not there.
With the exception of baby orphaned elephants who are cared for in the Elephant Transit Home the park rangers ensure there is no human contact with the elephants. Once elephants reach 5 years old they undergo a careful process to successfully release them into the wild.
The total cost for the driver and jeep, guide and tickets was around £60 for both of us and the safari lasted for around 2.5 hours. The jeeps are fairly new and have comfortable seats which is necessary as the tracks are bumpy! There were also relatively few other jeeps too and during the whole time we were there we only saw another 3 or so.