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Published: October 31st 2015
In relation to previous expeditions, we had a long lie before the safari in Udawalawe, waking up at 5am. It was necessary to arrive at the national park for opening time to give us enough time to see as much wildlife as possible before they headed for shelter as the temperatures rose towards midday. This was especially the case for the elephants who move to the thicker bush when the heat becomes unbearable.
Travelling in a jeep is compulsory during these safari's for obvious safety reasons. The Udawalawe national park boasts a wide range of wildlife which can compete with most East African parks, including elephants, leopards, buffalo, crocodiles, wild boar, deer and a range of lizards to name a few.
Due to our elephant experience the night before we were desperate to see more. With that in mind, we got off to a slow start with the highlight being a family of buffalo taking a mud bath. However this quickly changed after a move in the opposite direction took us to the holy land. A herd of elephants chilling and eating in some light bush just to the side of the jeep beaten track. Unfortunately we were not
the only ones to spot these elephants as we were accompanied by several other jeeps. After 15 minutes more elephants appeared. It really was amazing to get so close to truly wild animals and one we will never forget. In total we must have seen around 70 elephants all heading in the same direction from their morning at the lake into the deeper bush to rest in the shade. Naturally, the piece de resistance was the emergence of a number of babies from behind their mothers, of which some were around 3 months old, according to our guide.
The information given by the guide tainted our experience a little as it showed how well known the elephants movements are to the guides and made our encounters a little less special. This feeling was increased by how comfortable the elephants were with the jeeps close to them, which showed how used to it they are, completely different in relation to our experience in Kumily. However, we both left with a feeling of adoration for the elephants and the protection they have for their waens.
Although the spotting of elephants is not a rare occurrence on these safaris, the siting
of an elephant with tusks is. We were oblivious to this before our guide got really excited when one approached us and informed us that only 7% of Sri Lankan elephants have tusks.
After a truly satisfying experience with a huge number of elephants, we moved on to sample more of the wildlife the park had to offer. We could spend all day explaining the different things we saw but we will keep it brief. We moved on to a small lake in the depths of the park where around 40/50 buffalo were doing their lengths. Our guide pulled over near the edge of the lake and pointed out a couple of croc eyes sticking out the water. As he was explaining their tactics for slaying their pray (weak buffalo) the croc moved towards a group of four buffalo that were separated from the rest of the pack. All we could think about while this was going on was the crocodile from Peter Pan. Just as we thought we were going to get some live action, the buffalo scattered across the lake towards the rest of the team. Our guide explained that the buffalo generally know that a croc
is on the prowl but the big guys aren't really worried about them and it is only the smaller guys that the croc would try to attack (the crocs in this park are small compared to big ones we are used to on the TV).
After seeing an abundance of wildlife over the course of 3 hours, we were ready to go back to the hostel. However we got one more showcase from the locals favourite elephant. As we travelled across the earth embankment enclosing a man made lake on the boundary of the park, the guide pointed out an elephant trunk sticking out of the lake as he went for a swim. We had already passed this elephant hanging around the fence alongside the road. Our guide informed us that this male elephant is a bit of a nuisance to the park rangers as he has become accustomed to the locals feeding him through the boundary fence so he can often be found trotting along the edge of the park looking for a scran. (Male elephants live alone and herds are made up of females and their children).
We headed back to the guest house where we
had some much needed breakfast. Chin picked us up about midday after we caught 40 winks. Before our experience in the hills and jungle was over, we visited the elephant transit home. Orphaned wild elephants live here, and it is only possible to see them from a viewing platform during feeding time when they are given milk. Other times they live within the national park in preparation for being released when they are old enough. There were between 30 and 40 baby elephants when we visited.
It was hilarious watching them all stampede and make an awful lot of noise towards the feeding station. There were a few cheeky ones who kept trying to get more than their share, and a few fights broke out! The tiny elephants all stayed together, whilst the older ones spaced out. There was also an older elephant who had a prosthetic leg (and a poor one at that). We were unable to find out what had happened to him and what his future might hold, as the home is very small and focused on caring for the elephants rather than informing tourists about the elephants.
Then it was time to head south
to Sri Lanka's golden beaches. First stop- the small and less visited town of Tangalle.
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