Elephants of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, Part I

Last Christmas break, I visited my wife Radika’s home country of Sri Lanka. I took a ton of photos and there’s a lot I’d like to write about this trip, so I consider this the first post of several about our adventures there.

The flight to Colombo was torturously long, partly due to long layovers in San Francisco and Singapore. We arrived in the middle of the night and then drove down to Radika’s hometown of Gonapinuwala, near the popular beach town of Hikkaduwa. Our cramped, jet-lagged bodies finally arrived at Radika’s parents’ home around 3am but we didn’t go to bed. In fact, as tired as I was, the surroundings were so new and enchanting to me that I don’t think I would have slept even if we’d been afforded the opportunity. Instead, we ate the meal that Radika’s mother had prepared for us, we unpacked, we chatted, and finally re-packed for a 6 hour drive to Yala National Park. (For more about the drive to Yala and entering the park, stay tuned)

Once in Yala, it wasn’t long before we saw the animals that I’ve been wanting to see in the wild all my life. Our first encounter was with a matriarch and calves, and they were gorgeous. They ate from branches, lumbered about, and generally payed no mind to us in the old green truck that had been converted into a makeshift “safari jeep.”

Elephant calf on our fist day in Yala

We stayed in Yala four days (we’d rented a bungalow in the park), and we continued to see more elephants. Sri Lankan elephants are the largest of the Asian elephants but they are smaller than African elephants. I noticed that they had some interesting behaviors, like throwing dirt upon their backs and also stomping the ground to loosen the grass from the soil. They would then pull the grass with their trunks and smack the roots against their feet in order to remove the dirt.

Sri Lankan elephants stomping the soil before pulling out the grass (see paragraph above for more on this)