Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Gathering

The gathering has started.

In the Sri Lankan wildlife circles, it refers to an annual gathering of wild, Asian Elephants in the Minneiriya , and Kaudulla National Parks in the dry zone. The number of elephants in this aggregation varies from about a hundred or so at the start in May, to around four hundred at its peak—typically in August and September.

The main reason why elephants gather like this is because of the availability of vast areas of nutrient rich grasses in the exposed beds of the massive Minneiriya and Kaudulla tanks ('tanks' is how man-made reservoirs, built during the hey days of island's hydraulic civilization, referred in Sri Lankan English). Both these tanks were constructed by the King Mahasen— the ruler of ancient Lanka from 275-301 A.D. This king was posthumously deified by the Sinhalese in honour of his stupendous works.

Known only to a handful of wildlife enthusiasts earlier, the credit for naming this wildlife spectacle as 'the gathering', popularising it to take it to wider audiences, and making it a viable nature-tourism product worth millions of Rupees to the Sri Lankan economy, goes to Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne—the Bill Oddie of Sri Lanka—though Gehan's no match to Bill in billingsgate.

I photographed all pictured shared here on 2 July, 2010, while guiding four Aussies from Brisbane on a culture and wildlife tour. After obtaining the permits, we started our safari to Minneiriya National Park in open-topped jeeps at 4.00 p.m., when it was not too hot. We returned to our cosy retreat Chaaya Village, Habarana at 6.30 p.m., rich in some amazing wildlife memories, and I am going to share some of them in several posts.

First, my favourite: two youngsters dashing to the water accompanied by a probable allomother.

And the scene soon turned to this—like elephants in salt and pepper. Sweet.

We observed a one-tusked tusker, which I named Uno. More about him later.

A big Thank You to Dr. Chandanie Wanigatunge for referring her Aussie friends to me!

This post was edited following a helpful correction made by the Elephant Researcher, Manori Gunawardena—a Cynthia Moss in the making in Sri Lanka.


Stuart Price said...

Must have been a great experience.

I like the last shot the best..........

Kirigalpoththa said...

Beautiful pictures and some interesting facts about elephants :)

Minneriya is usually a sure spot to see lot of elephants. Is'nt it?

Offthebeatentrack said...

Love the last two shots. Never seen the gathering myself but must get down there sometime!

Lady divine said...

another interesting post....

me love elephants!!:)

great shots too..:)

magerata said...

What a treat! Love the last two as OBT said. Do the elephants mind people so close to them?
I am really surprised at the knowledge of hydro engineers of these Kings. Placement and catchments seem to be perfect every where.
Thank you for sharing.

spookydragonfly said...

How fortunate for you to have experienced this...can't choose a favorite...beautiful captures of the wild! See, it would be an injustice to limit your blog to entirely birding!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Nice post and pics Amila, I particularly like the last one too. I was lucky enough to witness the gathering too, about 10 or more years ago, prob before it had been given its now name. It was quite weird the way in which the number of elephants there increased so gradually that we weren't really aware of the build up until suddenly we realised there were hundreds.

You may be interested to know that C is going to be making a documentary about it and will be filming there most of next month.

RD x

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Stu,
It was, and thanks! The next post is more revealing....

H K,
Thank you!
A game drive done in Jan a few years ago produced NO elephants inside the Minneiriya Park (we eventually saw them elsewhere). The tank was full of water after rains. So you cannot say that it is a sure spot. A sure spot for year round elephants would be Udawalawe National Park, I think.

Hi Naren,
You should do a trip or three.

Hi LD,
Thank you! Nice to know that.
If you are going there, don't go during weekends in Aug!

Hi Magerata,
Thank you!
Yes, and no.

Normally they are happy to ignore us and get on with their thing not taking much notice of our prescence. But you shouldn't take too many liberties when there're babies, and love-crazy bulls involved. Even in such situations 'the technique' has got a lot to get best sightings, without scaring and provoking the subjects.

Yes, our ancient wisdom of hydraulic technologies is astounding to say the least.

Hi Kim,
I know you've raised a rhetorical question, but we are very fortunate! Glad you liked the captures, thank you! You're right, I should not limit my blog to just birds. :)

Hi RD,
Thank you.
I think you have explained how the gathering seems when you arrive at the park early, say around 3.00p.m., when it is still rather warm. Yes, it is amazing how the elephants trickle from forested edges to form the build up gradually. My visitors were not so hardcore, and such types usually do not like to wait. That's why I arrived late, bypassing the wait and see phase. It was late cut, like that of a Mahela Jayawardena that scored the runs anyway.

Nice to know that C will be working there. I shall say hello if I bump into her.

Natural Selection said...


Small correction the elephants in Minneriya Kaudulla are there actually for the grass and not the water....Also all the collared females (herds) 5 from the area use Hurulu Reserve in the wet season. So really for elephants the limiting factor is food.

Ele research

PS Single Tusk is now Uno

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Manori,
Thank you very much for that correction; I really appreciate it.

I have corrected it, and acknowledged it at the bottom of the post.

Again, I am very happy you named the single-tusked elephant, Uno!

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