It was a goal of mine to see Asian Elephants while in Sri Lanka. I had never seen elephants in their natural habitat, only at zoos as a small child. We have to be so careful where we go to see elephants, or any wildlife for that matter, to be sure the facility we choose is ethical and safe. There have been horror stories from zoos, elephant sanctuaries and orphanages, and roadside stands set up to attract tourists. I wanted to make sure that I was being as ethical and harmless as possible when fulfilling this dream.
Uda Walawe National Park is a government-run wildlife conservation area about 160 km east of Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo. Despite the relatively short distance, it takes about 4-5 hours to get there by car because of the windy backroads (take a couple Gravol—thank me later!) and heavy traffic. The park is known to be one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants.
I can honestly say that my experience at Uda Walawe National Park was phenomenal. We saw over 40 elephants (including the cutest little baby), lots of monkeys, bison, deer, a crocodile, and hundreds of reptiles and birds. It was beautiful. They were beautiful. I could not believe how the tough skin of an elephant could look so fragile. I was baffled by their intelligence, which was clearly communicated in the way they were watching us and interacting with each other.
Our tour guide was so informed, friendly, and funny. He stopped to show us every creature down to the tiniest salamander—which made me question whether he had superhero vision because he spotted them in thick brush while driving 30 km/h. He picked us up from our hotel at 5:30 am, kept us out for an hour longer than we paid for, four hours in total, and safely dropped us back off at our hotel. We stayed at Eagle Safari Bungalow, a small, inexpensive hotel within a 10-minute drive from the park. For one night, we paid about 2500 LKR (approximately $25 CAD) between four people (two double beds) and it included a delicious homemade authentic Sri Lankan breakfast. It was a clean room with a lovely common area on the balcony and there were mosquito nets over the bed. The lady running the hotel and her son were kind and helpful people. We couldn’t ask for much more.
I learned a lot. I achieved my dream of seeing elephants in their natural habitat. I will NEVER forget that morning.
In an ideal world, we would not be viewing wild animals at all. We’d be living our lives, and they’d be living theirs. But we have a lot to learn from elephants and every other animal, and humans love the thrill of getting up close and personal with the most majestic creatures on the planet—me included. I had a twinge of major guilt as we were driving through the park in our safari jeep because I was watching an elephant mom and her baby and I just felt like such an intruder. After talking it out with my friends, we came to the conclusion that national parks such as Uda Walawe, who are doing such wonderful work keeping large areas of land protected from development and poaching so animals can thrive in their natural habitat, would not be able to do this work without the money collected from tourists. As long as we weren’t hurting, feeding, or interfering with the animals in any way, we were not doing harm. I don’t want to boast and say that I was doing good by being there, but I can truly hope that the money I spent on the tour went back into conservation efforts in the park. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please comment or email us.
Please, do not support places that keep animals captive, chained, and/or used for rides or personal entertainment.