Where to see elephants in Sri Lanka

Elephants are a sort of national symbol in Sri Lanka, and with good reason – it’s estimated that Sri Lanka has the largest concentration of elephants in all of Asia. The islanders are incredibly serious about preservation, and have been setting aside protected land for thousands and thousands of years, which means there’s ample opportunity to see elephants in their natural habitats, especially the native Sri Lankan elephant, one of the three subspecies of Asian elephants.

If seeing a live elephant in action is on your bucket list , you’ve come to the right place. Here are some top spots to catch a glimpse of an elephant in Sri Lanka.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park is easily the top spot to see elephants in Sri Lanka, as hundreds call the park home. The park was initially constructed to provide sanctuary to animals displaced by the installment of the nearby reservoir of the same name, and inside, contains grasslands as well as jungles and forests.

Safaris through the park are easy to come by, where you’ll be whisked away in a 4×4 vehicle and able to see herds of elephants up close. They’re completely free to roam around, and have limited interaction with humans, so you know you’re getting the real deal. And there are so many here, elephant sightings are pretty much guaranteed.

Wasgomuwa National Park

Wasgomuwa is another national park that was created in response to the construction of a nearby development project, and is home to around 150 Sri Lankan elephants, along with Marsh elephants that stick close to the Mahaweli River area.

There are safari trails cutting through the dry lowlands that make up this park, so touring here is a simple feat. Plus, the park is also home to water buffalo, purple-faced langurs and more than 140 bird species, along with leopards and sloth bears, though the latter are significantly rarer.

Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks

To spot elephants in these twin parks, you’re going to have to time it just right. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are located within a 30-minute drive of one another, gathered around two reservoirs.

Come September and October, more than 300 elephants meet up along the grasslands making up the dried Minneriya Lake in a breathtaking event known as ‘the gathering’. It’s essentially an elephant family reunion, where whole fields of them snack and bathe in the sunshine.

Yala National Park

The second largest of Sri Lanka’s national parks, Yala is also the most visited, and is especially well-known for its abundance of wildlife. Its combination of ecosystems make it a place that’s accommodating to a wide variety of animal species, including the Sri Lankan elephant.

Located along the south-eastern coast of Sri Lanka, Yala is broken into five blocks, which include adjoining parks. In addition to its elephant population, Yala is also particularly well-known for the huge number of leopards that call the park home, giving it one of the highest leopard densities in the world. In particular areas of the park, the leopard density can be as high as two leopards per five square kilometres.

Elephant Freedom Project

With the Elephant Freedom Project, you’ll get to experience a day in the life of an elephant alongside a Sri Lankan family. Here, a small number of elephants are rescued and brought to a safe and supportive environment where you can help look after them for a day.

Experiences with the Elephant Freedom Project include accompanying an elephant on its two daily walks, and assisting with a bath in the river. The caretakers here are concerned with the elephants’ well-being first and foremost, so riding and sometimes touching the elephants is not permitted. Instead, you’ll get the chance to clean their pens and see how paper is made from elephant dung, as well as feed the elephants slices of fruit.

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