Sri Lanka: Habarana – Minneriya, Kaudulla and Hurulu Eco Park
An exciting adventure looking for elephants in the Sri Lankan jungle
One of the reasons we were drawn to visit Sri Lanka was the opportunity to see some wildlife, especially elephants. The area near Habarana in Central Sri Lanka is one of the best places to go to see elephants. Here you will find two National Parks, Kaudulla and Minneriya and the Hurulu Eco Park which was granted biosphere status in 1977.
Our trip to Sri Lanka over the Christmas vacations came towards the end of the rainy season and they had had plenty of rain, which had caused a lot of flooding. This had resulted in many of the areas in Kaudulla and Minneriya to become flooded as they sit in a flood plain. One thing we discovered is that whilst elephants are okay playing in the water they don’t like wading through it – so many of the elephants had moved from Minneriya and Kaudulla to the Hurulu Eco Park. So, this is where our journey took us.
There is no end of jeep safari options available around the Habarana. Our driver had hooked us up with someone he has worked with for some time and when we turned up at the staging area at Hurulu we were a bit shocked to see a somewhat run-down Landrover. Anyway, we went with the flow and headed out into the jungle.
It turned out that our Landrover was ideal to head-off of the beaten path along some of the “rougher” trails. Even though it was drier here than in the adjacent parks it was a quagmire in spots with deep troughs of boggy mud. Whilst our “old-banger” of a Landrover clawed its way through the mire other 4x4s on the trail were not so capable and ended up getting stuck. Luckily for them, our Landrover had a winch on the front and we were able to pull them out of their boggy prison.
With everybody safely unstuck we were soon our way again and we rewarded for our good samaritan work with a sighting of a small herd of elephants, including some babies.
We were patiently watching the herd go about its business when our driver started to drive a bit like a mad-man, turning the Landrover around and heading off at speed. I was standing up at the time looking at the elephants from the back of the vehicle – I was summarily thrown about and ended up on the floor. What had happened was that there was a male with the group who was known to take a dislike to jeeps and he had decided to charge us and another jeep – so we were out of there. I managed to regain my position (if not my pride) to see this angry bull elephant heading our way. Luckily, he gave up once we had retreated some way. Phew, that was a little scary!
I hadn’t managed to capture any of this on my camera – but luckily we came across a young German couple during a hike a few days later who was in one of the jeeps we rescued. They had been watching all the time we were being charged and had caught the whole thing on video. Below is the footage they took!
Our nerves tool a little while to settle down but we were soon on the lookout for more wildlife. The next thing we came across was an eagle who was quite happily chilling out on the track as us and a couple of other 4x4s stood by and took pictures.
We were quite content with our safari but as we were headed back to the gate we came across another small group of elephants, with a couple of adults and two babies. We were able to get so close – it was a truly amazing and spiritual experience. It actually bought tears of joy to our eyes!
We were very sad to leave the Eco Park. As we were leaving our driver pointed out a large bees nest suspended from a branch of a tree. I would not like to stir that bees nest!
As we left the park and pulled on to the main road the traffic ahead had ground to a halt. There in front of us, an elephant had appeared from the jungle and crossed the road. Amazing! We inched our way forward to where we could see a small herd of elephants who had obviously cross the road and were now feeding at the side of the road. These are truly wild elephants, there are no fences around to stop them wandering pretty much where they want to go. Very exciting – but also concerning for them and the passing traffic. There are believed to be 7,500 wild elephants in Sri Lanka. In 2019 293 elephants, 96 people were killed in human-elephant conflict. Sad!!
…. In summary
If you are in Sri Lanka you absolutely must do an elephant safari at one of the main National Parks. As with all safaris be prepared to be out in the sun for several hours:
- Wear a hat
- Put on plenty of sunscreen (factor 30 and above)
- Take plenty of water
- Don’t forget your camera or phone!