Sri Lanka is home to its very own sub species of Asiatic Elephants, (Elephas maximus maximus). Around the decade of 1950-60, there were over 45,000 estimated elephants roaming wild and free in the country. But with rapid deforestation, degradation in habitat, illegal logging and poaching, the population reduced to a mere 2000. With sincere conservation efforts by the Udawalawe national park, now the population has increased to over 8000. The park, established in June 1972 has been a sanctum for these gentle giants since its inception.
Let’s get to know these amazing species of elephants that roam about the Udawalawe with pride and freedom even further.
Habitat & Mannerisms
The park has a credible density of foliage for them to feel at home. Spread over an area of 30,800 hectares, the elephants graze on wild long grass and leaves of the camel-foot tree. They can consume over 200 kgs of solid food in the form of leaves and bark, and whopping150 litres of fluid every day. The Walawe river that runs through the park is the primary source of water.
The elephants usually take mud baths to cleanse themselves off the parasites inhibiting their skin. The average lifespan of an elephant ranges from 60-70 years. The female elephants stay in herds while the males prefer solitary existence. The female off springs stay with their mothers their entire lives while the males leave the herd at an age of 10-12 years. The elephant dung is often used by the local villagers as dung cakes for fuel, or sent to paper recycling factories to produce “pachyderm paper”, a unique form of recycled paper made of dung.
The unique feature of the Sri Lankan Asiatic elephants is that they are almost entirely without tusks, both the female and male counterparts. Hence, they are saved of the greatest danger to the pachyderm family, i.e poaching of tusks. Long back in the history, the Sri Lankan kings brought Indian tuskers for their superior structure, and had them breed with the endemic elephants. Hence, there is a 3-4% probability of an elephant being born with tusks, if and when the recessive gene shows up. In the past, elephants were domesticated to an extent with “mahoots”or elephant riders responsible for the same. They were used to carry loads and cargo, long before the invention of vehicular transport.
Present & Future Prospect
The trail for the safari with MAHOORA through the forest allows close encounters with the mammal. Once a while, one can even witness the males fighting with each other, near the mating or breeding season. The females, who travel in herds, can usually be spotted with their young ones. The females are the ones in the process of natural selection, to select the males for mating. Electric fences across the park border ensure that human-elephant interactions are minimized. With sparsely dense as well as thick trees in the park, the land remains relatively dry for a tropical country for Sri Lanka, which proves to be ideal for their existence.
Mahoora is undertaking a great effort in not only providing a luxurious experience with the fantastic cuisine and accommodation in the tents, but also in completing the bigger picture. Through the safaris, the spirit of conservation is instilled in us. It increases the value of life itself. In more ways than one, the entire experience justifies itself to be larger than life.