Sri Lanka, the Elephants kingdom

safari éléphants

Elephants, Sri Lanka’s icon

A bit of history…

Elephants are a native specie in Sri Lanka, and if you could go there BEFORE 1800, you would have seen a lot of them everywhere, from the beaches to the mountains. As I have always been fascinated by the animal, I could’nt visit  Sri Lanka without observing elephants !

But since the XIXth century, with the creation of coffee and tea plantations and irrigation systems, elephants living space has significantly reduced. And in the meantime, the Sri Lankan government was encouraging people to either slaughter or domesticate elephants. So this is how we went from 15 000down to 5000 elephants in Sri Lanka.

Why you should’nt ride elephants

Elephants are wild, massive and dangerous mammals. Therefore, riding them is absolutely not natural and most of the time, they are abused all their life for you to be able to ride them. Yet, this is thousands of Asian elephants carrying tourists all day long, every day. So if tourists started to change their habits in Asia, not asking to ride elephants, that could create a change in the tourism industry and elephants well being…so please, think about it for your next trip to Asia. 

kaudulla national park

kaudulla sri lanka

The best ways to approach elephants in Sri Lanka

In the wild

Now that you know more elephants in Sri Lanka, you will understand that the best way to observe them is in their natural habitat, in the wild !

We had the chance to go on a safari in Kaudulla National Park, one of the Sri Lanka’s protected areas, near Sigiriya. If you go there between may and september, you will be able to see more than 200 wild elephants between Kaudulla and Minneriya national park. Depending on the days, you have more chances to see them in Minneriya or Kaudulla…just ask your guesthouse or hotel in Sigiriya, they know about it and will organize everything for you.

During our visit to Kaudulla, we saw monkeys, birds, and then a few elephants…that quickly turned into more than 100 elephants, gathering to go to the lake ! It was so impressive and magical to see them interacting, and see how organized and complex are their social bonds. 

There is only one downside to this safari : the number of jeeps near the elephants dramatically increases from 3.00pm. When we arrived, we were not even 3 jeeps around them, but then, it was more than 60 jeeps near the lake. So i really advise you to go for this safari early, around 1.00pm, and leave around 4.00pm, when it gets too crowded.

safari sri lanka

éléphants sauvages

In the Elephants Conservation Centers

You can also go to an elephant sanctuary to approach them in a more personal way. These sanctuaries mostly take care of domestic and abused elephants. But once again, you will need to get a lot of information, because a lot of elephant sanctuaries are juste taking adventage of well-intended tourists like you and use elephants to make money without providing them with the right care and food. 

In Sri Lanka you will find the famous Pinnawala Orphanage, that i wouldn’t recommend. We heard really bad feedbacks about it and made the choice no to go : these elephants spend a lot of time chained, living everyday the same day, just going to their bath so tourists can see them in a nice environment. When you know how many miles a day an elephant needs to walk…you know this is not the right place for them. 

Instead, we chose the Millennuim Elephants foundation, close to Pinnawala. You can feel that thia place makes less money than the Pinnawala Orphanage, but they put on so much effort to sensibilize their visitors about elephant conservation and about the fact that they shouldn’t ride them. All is not yet rosy either : some tourists sill ride elephants there, for the good reason that an elephant costs at least 60$ per day to feed and care for, so they can’t afford saying NO to every tourist wanting to ride them.

In conclusion, prefer to observe wild elephants in their natural habitat…or take as much information as possible before choosing which elephant sanctuary you want to visit! 

millennium elephant park

bain éléphant

Practical information: 

  • Kaudulla National Park : May to september is the best period to see elephants in this area. Get information from your hotel or guesthouse about where the elephants are on this specific day and if they can arrange a safari for you. Despite the heat, i strongly advise going on this safari not after 1.00pm, to avoid the crowd in the National park. You can count a minimum of 40 USD per person for this half day safari at Kaudulla…remember that the more people they are in your jeep, the cheaper it gets !
  • Millennium Elephants foundation : You can reach this foundation by tuk-tuk from kandy. The visit lasts between 2 and 3 hours and costs around 40 USD per person.

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