Where to see elephants in Sri Lanka?

Where to see elephants in Sri Lanka? In this article we will answer the question. But in short: almost in all national parks. But you don’t necessarily need to pay for a Safari, in the right hours you might find elephant on the roads too, very close to you! We will list here the best national parks & areas to spot elephants, as well as we update you on their daily schedule so you’ll be aware, when they might be around.

Where to see elephants in Sri Lanka?

Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public, and also adjoining parks. It is situated in the southeast region of the country. The park covers 979 square kilometres. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan elephantsSri Lankan leopards and aquatic birds.

Minneriya & Kaudulla National Parks

The area was designated as a national park on 12 August 1997, having been originally declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938. This park is a dry season feeding ground for the elephant population dwelling in forests of MatalePolonnaruwa, and Trincomalee districts. The park earned revenue of Rs. 10.7 million in the six months ending in August 2009. Along with Kaudulla and Girithale, Minneriya forms one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of Sri Lanka.

Wilpattu National Park

The unique feature of this park is the existence of “Willus” (natural lakes) – natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. Located on the northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka, the park is 30 km west of Anuradhapura. Nearly one hundred and six lakes (Willu) and tanks are found spread throughout Wilpattu. Wilpattu is the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. Wilpattu is world-renowned for its leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) population. From December 1988 to 16 March 2003, they closed the park due to security concerns surrounding the Sri Lankan Civil War, before they reopened to visitors sixteen years later. Visitor access is currently approximately 25% of the park, the remainder of which is dense forest or scrub.

The difference between Asian & African elephants

There are two species of elephant: African and Asian. The ears of African elephants are much larger than their cousins and having the shape like the African continent, whereas the ears of Asian elephants are like the Indian subcontinent. There’s also a trunk difference – African elephants have two ‘fingers’ at the tip of their trunks, whereas Asian elephants have one.

The daily schedule of the elephants: When to spot them?

Apart from the two to three hours of a 24-hour day when wild elephants may stand or lie down to sleep, they are searching over areas for food, water, companions and mates.

Food hunting – during the night

Their most active – food hunting – period is the night, in the dark. This is when they are stealing fruits even from private gardens. You will see that most of the roads & houses they protect by electric fences, that they switch on during the night to avoid that the elephants are stealing the fruits from the trees and while doing it so – destroying the rest of the garden or even parts of the house. If you stay in a Safari resort, you can often hear them walking during the night. Especially, because the local dogs are always barking in the night if an elephant is coming.

Digestion & relaxation – in the morning

Usually by the morning they completely disappear, as this is the period when they digest and relax – and sleep as well.

Bathing session – around noon, early afternoon

They wake up around noon, or when it’s getting very warm for them. Then they walk to the nearest lakes for a bath. Usually they are in a group this time. But most commonly they go on their usual path in the jungle – avoiding humans.

Active session – late afternoon

After the bathing session in the afternoon, between 3-6pm is when we can spot them around the roads, in the fields, alone or even with company. This is the period when it’s better to be very careful on the roads around the national parks – as it’s very likely we can meet them.

Remember: The Elephants are wild animals – Our safety recommendations

Elephants are gentle giants, intelligent and emotional, but in the wild they can be dangerous if you get too close. Regardless how cute or friendly they look like, don’t misjudge any situation. Always remember, the elephants are wild animals, so it’s better to keep all safety recommendations.

  1. Whenever you are going for a Safari tour, or just on the territory where you might meet elephants wear comfortable clothes and shoes, so you are able to run in any moment if needed.
  2. Always have your belongings with you or on you. In case of an elephant attack you don’t have a second to hesitate, no time to pack or collect anything.
  3. Don’t bring any food with you. Nothing! The elephants are looking for food when they are around and they see in people the chance to find food with them.
  4. Never approach them to close. The locals recommend you 35 meters at minimum, but it’s better to be even further from them. According to official guides the safety distance is rather 100 meters. They can run with 40 km/hours and accelerate in a moment, so you have no chance to run away if you are too close to them.
  5. On a Safari tour or in an elephant infantry you might have the chance to touch the elephants. Wash hands and arms after handling or touching an elephant. Never smoke, drink or eat in the animal areas or before washing your hands after touching the animal.
  6. If elephants are crossing on the road in front of you, always slow down as soon as you see elephants. Never rush up to them. Always assess the elephants’ direction of movement. Do not block them, cut off their escape route, or come between a mother and calf. Allow them a clear path away from the area.
  7. Never make any noises (e.g.: yelling to them “oh how cute you are” and things like this) or fast, jerky movements to attract their attention. They will get them too excited or even mad.
  8. Don’t get confused with the calmness of the elephants that are kept on chain or in the infantry by locals. They are domesticated, and sadly, they are used for tourist attractions, to get money. These elephants are not in their natural behaviours – and you cannot compare them to those ones you find in the wild, free.
  9. If any accident happens, always listen to the locals! They have seen more attacks in their life than you, and they will know the safest way out there or how to block the road to save you. Sri Lankan people are extremely helpful and nice, trust them!
  10. Always keep in mind that we are lucky to be able to view elephants in the wild. Make the most of any opportunity by treating elephants respectfully and enjoying their gentle presence.

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