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  11. Sri Lanka: Udawalawe National...

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.

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 our guide’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!

The orphaned elephants gather for feeding time
A straggler

In Summary …

  • If you are in the area of Udawalawe National Park then definitely visit the ETH
  • Get to the Transit Home at least 15 to 20 minutes before the feeding time
  • Get to the right-hand side of the viewing area to get the best view of the milk station
  • Don’t forget your camera or phone there will be some great photo ops

Planning your trip to the Elephant Transit Home

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).

Located on the western border of the 33,000 hectares Udawalawe National Park, ETH is adjacent to the “Udawalawe Reservoir.” Elephant calves have no limits in the area and are free to roam wherever they want. Similarly, wild elephants also visit ETH near to ETH.

Udawalawe National Park is about a 2 hours drive from Mirissa, 1.5 hours from Ella, or 4 hours from Colombo.

Best time to visit Udawalawe

The Udawalawe National Park can be visited throughout the year. However, the migrant birds can only be seen from November to March. The dry season is the best for elephants as they come out in large herds to drink at the waterholes.

Where to stay near Udawalawe National Park

1. CENTAURIA WILD

The Centauria Wild hotel offers comfortable accommodations and an experience of untouched nature from the moment guests step in through its doors. The hotel is settled in a beautiful location overlooking the Udawalawe Reservoir and Udawalawe National Park. Settle into one of the hotel’s fully equipped rooms and enjoy your stay in this serene part of Sri Lanka. Showcasing a spa centre, sauna, a year-round outdoor pool, and a lounge bar, the hotel offers guests plenty of options to unwind after a day of exploring the nearby attractions. The Centauria Wild’s restaurant offers a wide selection of fresh seafood, char-grills, a la carte options, a buffet, and special menus.

2. THE COUNTRYSIDE UDAWALAWE

The Countryside Udawalawe is located in Udawalawe in the region of Ratnapura District, just 45.1 km from Tangalle. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Free private parking is available on site. The rooms come with a flat-screen TV. Certain units feature a sitting area to relax in after a busy day. You will find a kettle in the room. Every room is fitted with a private bathroom equipped with a bathtub or shower. For your comfort, you will find slippers and free toiletries. There is a 24-hour front desk at the property.

3. HANTARA UDAWALAWA

For those on a budget, the Hantara Udawalawa is a good option. Set in Udawalawe, 5 km from Udawalawe National Park, Hantara Udawalawa offers accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, a garden and a terrace. This 1-star resort offers room service, a tour desk and free WiFi. The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk, a shared kitchen and currency exchange for guests. All guest rooms in the resort are fitted with air conditioning, a seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a kitchen, a dining area and a private bathroom with a hairdryer, a bidet and a shower. All units will provide guests with a desk and a kettle. Hantara Udawalawa offers an American or Asian breakfast.

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