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My Lucky Day with the Elephants

I say lucky because even though I visited Udawalawe National Park at mid-day, I still saw over a hundred elephants. Despite the crushing heat, the elephants were out in large numbers, maybe because there was a little atmospheric haze that brought the sun down one notch. Even though their skin looks tough, apparently it isn’t and they regularly cover themselves in muddy water and dirt throughout the day to protect themselves. And in the extreme afternoon heat, you see them taking shelter under the few trees that exist in the park. But, they also like to eat the bark so trees don’t last long in the reserve. Seems counterproductive but there you go.

For a massive animal (it is the biggest of the Asian elephants) that once roamed the entire island, they have been reduced to relatively small chunks of land and subsequently they are at high risk of extinction due to habitat loss. Depending on who you talk to, the park has somewhere between 250 and 450 elephants. The herds are run by a senior matriarch; the males, after several years under the care of their mothers, leave the herd to move on to solitary lives.

And then there is poaching which is apparently still a problem on the reserves today.  Just how big of a problem is hard to say; the local rangers didn’t talk much about the threats to the elephants.

Elephants have played, and continue to play, a huge role in the culture and ethos of Sri Lankan culture. At one event I went to known as perahera, I was amazed to see over a hundred elephants in one ceremony. This was a huge ceremony with thousands of dancers but the presence of the elephants made the event spectacular.

There was a great sign, though, on some of the park vehicles that I loved. It said, “The Last Elephant: Ignore it and it will go away forever.” I hope we’re smarter than that.

Bye for now.

G

(iPhone photo)

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