Sri Lanka: Udawalawe National Park & The Elephant Transit Center
Udawalawe National Park is home to one of the largest elephant herds. We were there to visit the Transit Home where orphaned elephant calves are bought to and raised.
Udawalawe National Park lies on the boundary of Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces, in Sri Lanka. This park was established in 1972 as a sanctuary for the wildlife displaced by the constructions of the adjacent Udawalawe Reservoir. It covers about 120 square miles (about 31,000 hectares) and is home to around 600 to 700 elephants and plenty of other animals, birds and reptiles. It is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to take a safari and observe wild elephants.
We had come to Udawalawe not to go on another safari but to visit the Elephant Transit Home, a facility that takes care of orphaned elephant calves – until they are independent and able enough to be released back to the wild. Over the years the ETH has taken care of over 250 elephant calves with most returned back to the wild.
There are feeding times when the calves are given human baby formula milk. These occur every three hours throughout the 365 days of the year. Public viewing of the feeding is permitted daily at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. You need to get there at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to the feeding starting to get a good spot in the viewing area. The viewing area is covered so it is nice and shady. Try and get to the right-hand side where you get a better view of the milk feeding station.
The ticket price for entry is 500 LKR for adults and 250 LKR for children (approximately 3 USD and 1.5 USD).
We arrived in time for the first feeding at 9:00 am there were not a lot of people waiting so we were one of the first in, stopping only briefly to look at some baby owls nesting in the hollow of a tree. On Pryantha’s advice, we hustled to the front and to the right-hand side of the viewing area and waited expectantly. After a short time, they started to let the waiting small herd of orphaned elephant calves from their paddocks and they started running towards us and the piles of food that had been set-up for them. It was one of those moments that makes you so happy that the tears start to well-up. It was mesmerising to watch the elephants munching away – it was obviously the tiniest ones that captured everyone’s attention. Once all the calves were out the bottles of milk were bought out to the feeding station and the calves were distracted from their chowing down on leaves to the milk and several made their way across and began to suckle on the giant bottle of milk. So, cute! After 20 minutes it was all done and the calves were herded back to their paddock, except for one naughty little one who needed some very strong coaxing to leave and join their friends.
This was truly a moving and amazing experience!
In Summary …
o If you are in the area of Udawalawe National Park then definitely visit the ETH
o Get to the Transit Home at least 15 to 20 minutes before the feeding time
o Get to the right-hand side of the viewing area to get the best view of the milk station
o Don’t forget your camera or phone there will be some great photo ops