The elephants come out in droves at the Minneriya reserve in Sri Lanka, making it a hotspot for any nature lover.
For some unknown reasons, I am attached to elephants. I find them charismatic, friendly, calm and they are quite social beings. And yes, if troubled, we will get to experience their wrath too.
I can spend hours, days or even months watching them, observing their behaviour.
One of the best places to spend time with them is Minneriya National Park, situated in the north central province of Sri Lanka. When water and grass dries out at the nearby park, they move into Minneriya as it has a man-made reservoir and enough fresh grass to feast on. This movement happens in the month of September and October. On any given day, one can easily spot 100-odd elephants of all sizes. I have heard stories of people who have seen over 500 elephants at a glance in the park.
These elephants move from Wasgamuwa National Park, Angammadilla National Park, Somawathi Chathiya Sanctuary (Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee districts) and forest areas in Matale. They travel approximately 20-50 km to reach this park.
They are believed to come out from the jungle in the evening. However, I decided to explore the park in the morning to familiarise myself with the surroundings and to see if I could get lucky enough to spot herds. Before I could reach the open grassland, I happened to see a beautiful grey-headed fish eagle. This park is a haven for birding too.
The grassland was simply breathtaking. I was speechless and found myself at a loss of words to describe my experience. Male elephants almost lose their senses when they are in the musth. Musth is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterised by highly aggressive be-haviour and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. Testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times. I was very fortunate to see these two elephants chasing and fighting with each other, felling trees and trying to cool themselves by splashing water. They were all over the habitat.
By the time, I reached the park in the second half, I could see herds of elephants and vehicles in the park. Minneriya has become a hot tourist destination in recent times. Tourists explored the scary option of getting closer to the elephants by nudging the drivers/guides who obliged, greedy for tips that they were offered. They were willing to indulge in this dangerous stunt for merely a few bucks. In my opinion, keeping some distance is always advisable.
I had a great time watching the young ones. Some of them were lesser than a few weeks-old. This is an amazing place to understand elephant behaviour. While I watched them spend time with each other, I happened to notice that they were quite friendly. Elephants are very protective when it comes to their young ones and their herd. The herds are mostly headed by the females and she is the one who decides and guides the herd.
Minneriya is one of the best places in the world to watch elephant congregation or may be this is the only place where an elephant gathering like this happens. This is a must-watch sighting if you’re a nature and wildlife lover like me.
— The writer is founder R SQUARE and www.natureinfocus.in