Meeting the wild elephants of Sri Lanka

Written article for Akela Expeditions

For this expedition to Sri Lanka, we have chosen to go to meet the Elephas Maximus Maximus. This subspecies of the Asian elephant, has been officially identified as endangered by IUCN.

Once, these elephants populated the entire island. They are now being pushed into smaller forest areas because of the development of human activities and the reduction of forests. So we decided to meet these giants in their natural habitat!

It’s 4:30, our guide is waiting in a jeep – heading for Minneriya National Park. We are blowing our hair on the wind as we contemplate the sunrise, eager to experience this day that promises to be incredible and full of emotions.

Meet the land of wild elephants

After about 30 minutes of trail through the forest, you arrive on the banks of a huge lake where elephants come to drink and swim.

We had no idea of the meeting that was waiting for us. Here are several dozen elephants coming out of the forest. An entire family led by a matriarch is heading towards the lake.

Young people venture with their elders before the eyes of the curious. As for the young elephants, they stay with their mother on the edge of the forest. The show is breathtaking. Everything is in harmony. Animals eat quietly, tearing away clumps of grass that they rub on the ground, to remove soil and insects that might be there. For others, it’s time to swim. Time seems to stop and nature is in majesty and a magical feeling of freedom invades us.

A species threatened by human development and tourism

Our guide stays at a distance not to disturb them and we take the opportunity to make some pictures. During this moment of peace, we also measure the fragility of this balance and of these animals in the face of the frenzy of human development. The elephant population of Sri Lanka has fallen by almost 65% since the beginning of the 19th century. He is now protected by Sri Lankan law and the murder of one of them carries the death penalty.

Protected, with safe spaces like Minneriya National Park, this pachyderm remains seriously threatened outside these areas. In addition to conflicts with humans, the elephant is exploited for agricultural tasks and to amuse tourists. To be trained, elephants undergo a ritual called “phajaan”. Locked in cages where they cannot move, the young elephants are beaten, starved and sleep deprived until they stop struggling. A lot of them don’t survive.

On ne peut oublier cette réalité que vivent de trop nombreux éléphants en Asie. Nous savourons donc la beauté de cette aventure où les éléphants s’épanouissent dans cette nature préservée – libres et à leur juste place !

Ne les montez pas, allez plutôt les admirer 😉