Part II on Sri Lanka’s Crocodiles: Behavioral traits of an apex predator

The temperament between the two species has been known to vary; while Mugger crocodiles have been observed to show a lighter temperament (due to being more social), the Saltwater crocodile has been observed to display a more aggressive temperament, owing to its territorial nature. Both crocodylians however, are known to be man-eaters.

Picking up from our last piece on Sri Lankan crocodylians, the following blog shares insights to the traits of our apex reptilian predator in hunting its prey and attacks on humans. Having existed virtually unchanged for the past 100 million years, the Saltwater (‘salties’) and Marsh (‘Mugger’) crocodiles that are found in Sri Lanka have been identified over recent years to display traits distinct to each species.  Continue reading “Part II on Sri Lanka’s Crocodiles: Behavioral traits of an apex predator”

Sri Lanka’s Crocodiles: insights to Marsh and Saltwater Crocodiles

Often referred to as the closest living creature from the period of dinosaurs, crocodiles date back some 230 million years, and have existed virtually unchanged for the past 65 million years. Lead researcher Dinal Samarasinghe gives us insights in the first of our series covering these ancient reptiles.

Often referred to as the closest living creature from the period of dinosaurs, crocodiles date back some 230 million years, and have existed virtually unchanged for the past 65 million years. Leading crocodile researcher Dinal Samarasinghe gives us insights in the first of our series covering these ancient reptiles.

Continue reading “Sri Lanka’s Crocodiles: insights to Marsh and Saltwater Crocodiles”

Yala with the Kids: A guide to the most fun your child can have in our jungles

This October, Sri Lanka observed World Children’s Day, and to celebrate, we’ve got a kid’s stay free offer on for the entirety of our value season in 2018, to give you more reason to book in a holiday safari with your child.

We often get asked if safaris are suitable for children under 12, and quite simply, it is! This October, Sri Lanka observed World Children’s Day, and to celebrate, we’ve got a kid’s stay free offer on for the entirety of our value season in 2018, to give you more reason to book in a holiday safari with your child. Here are some of our best tips and activities when staying at our camp with children.

Continue reading “Yala with the Kids: A guide to the most fun your child can have in our jungles”

ROAMING LONERS: INSIGHTS TO MALE ELEPHANT BEHAVIOR IN SRI LANKA

Two male elephants in Yala, named Humpy and Nelum, shadow each other over a period of months, but are careful to not make any contact or acknowledgement of the other. They turn up in the same grasslands and water holes, yet it’s as if a purposeful avoidance of the other is in place.

The first in a 12-part series touching on the unique characteristics of the island’s nomadic land giants.

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A tusker approaches two bull elephants, what happens next is intriguing

With tourists in their thousands flocking to Minneriya to catch sight of the great elephant gathering, we wrapped up September by taking the alternative route, like we usually do, seeking out the land’s largest mammals at lesser known Kaudella and Kala Wewa National Parks, the latter of which is home to the island’s highest density of tuskers.

We had the privilege of having Environmental Scientist and Elephant Ethologist Sumith Pilapitiya with us, and the following piece sheds some interesting insights to characteristics of high ranking Asian male elephants.

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Built in 307 B.C., Kala Wewa is a wonder of primeval hydraulic engineering set against the magical and stunning backdrop of the Ritigala Mountain Range.

Breaking away 

Male Elephants are non-confrontational beings if unprovoked, adhering to a strict code of a natural hierarchical order to maintain the peace, and, they are wanderers from adolescence. Branching out between the ages of 12 to 15 years, a young male elephant begins a lifelong journey, largely alone or in temporary male groups, except when a female is in estrus when he mingles with a herd, which take him from one mate to the next, with the main objective of fathering as many offspring as it possibly can in its 60 or 70-year life span.

Friend or Foe?

Two male elephants in Yala, named Humpy and Nelum, shadow each other over a period of months, but are careful to not make any contact or acknowledgement of the other. They turn up in the same grasslands and water holes, yet it’s as if a purposeful avoidance of the other is in place. Pilapitiya is certain of a history between the two, perhaps a past relationship or a family link, but as far as evidence goes, they remain complete strangers who share the same landscape.

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The bull swims away from his friend, leaving him to spar with the tusker in musth in the waters of Kala Wewa in the Kala Wewa National Park. Bull elephants, especially when confronted with another in musth, opt to back away than risk a confrontation.

FACT: 

  • The probability of a male elephant in musth raiding agricultural crops is greatly reduced (despite the bull’s testosterone hike of 5-6 times the norm) as its focus shifts from food, to finding a mate.

Ancient rules apply today 

Pilapitiya’s research confirms that abiding by the ancient structures of hierarchy, allows only the strongest and most experienced males to dominate lower ranking bulls which gives them a distinct advantage during mating.  The dominance hierarchy among males can be overturned, occasionally, if a lower ranking bull in musth challenges a higher ranking non-musth bull.  These confrontations can sometimes end in death of a bull. This was evident in Yala National Park recently, when a high ranking, but non-musth tusker named Thilak was gored to death by a lower ranking single tusker in musth.

The state of musth confers an advantage during mating as estrus females prefer to be mated by large musth bulls. The musth male guards the estrus female and mates with her several times during her estrus period of four to six days. Towards the end of her estrus, the bull loses interest in her and moves on in search of the next receptive female, leaving the female to raise the calf by herself with help from her herd. “Males leaving their natal herd and their ‘loner’ behavior,” Pilapitiya speculates, “is nature’s way of limiting inbreeding.”

But that isn’t to say male elephants spend their non-musth time in complete solitude; It’s a good a time as any to catch up with male peers; sparring only with other males, especially those known to them, akin to old mates meeting at the bar, as seen in bull herds, as the males we caught on camera in Kala Wewa.

Life as an elephant – simple as breathing, hard as death, the joy and the sadness of being alive. Nothing was ever easy for them. But nothing was ever as strong, either. 

ABOUT SUMITH PILAPITIYA

Sumith Pilapitiya was formally Lead Environmental Specialist for the South Asia Region of the World Bank and former Director General of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka. He has personal research interests in elephant conservation and addressing the human elephant conflict and has been working on elephant social behavior in Yala National Park and the surrounding landscape. 

 

 

My First “Recce”

Jeana, our of Kulu’s team of young guides, recaps her first ‘recce’ into the jungle with the seniors on her team.

Manjula (one of our senior guides) informs me that we have a young couple checking into our Yala camp the next day, and that they have requested a hike. With the help of Preme (Preme is an operational wizard, and one of the pillars of Kulu Safaris) they will carry out a recce into the jungle behind camp to plan and check a new route on which to take the guests. It was part notice, part tentative invitation to gauge my courage I felt, so my obvious response was “What time should  I be ready?”

We set off at about 10am, Manjula with a backpack and water, myself with a backpack and water, and Preme only carrying just a “keththa”, (Sri Lankan equivalent of a machete) to clear our path. The walk is approximately 6km one way.

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Preme and his machete. He is so at-home in the jungle, I felt safer than going for a walk in a park in a city.

After we veer off the main road that leads to camp,  we find a game trail that leads through small shrubs and bushes. The further we walk, the shrub turns into thicker jungle and the Keththa comes in handy. Soon, we are on an incline, like intermediate rock climbing, and the recce begins to feel like jungle boot-camp. Twenty minutes in, we pause to rehydrate and catch our breath, and have a seat on a flat bit of rock. The view sinks in — a typical, rural Sri Lankan vista comprised of random paddy fields carved into the fringe of the jungle, man-made lakes, and the ever-present, brilliant white village temple. To the other side, Yala National Park stretches into a rolling green carpet and disappears into the horizon.  Manjula and I drink water but Preme says “no thank you”. (I feel that that is his ex-army stamina).

Deeper into the walk, you become more aware of the nuances of the jungle, like the different bird calls, details on the trees, vibrantly coloured butterflies and small insects scuttling around. As we rest again, the view from higher up is even more magnificent. A perfect spot to look around below with binoculars, (of course Manjula has brought binoculars – if anyone catch a Kulu guide unprepared, I’ll  treat them to a pint!).  We spot a pair of Brown-headed Barbets; this time even the stoic Preme gives in to his thirst.

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Walking again for the last time before reaching the turnaround point, we notice a fair bit of elephant dung scattered on the ground. Preme examines how old the dung is, and luckily it’s been at least a day since the elephant has traversed over our path. That’s one fit elephant to be ambling up this slope!

At the top of the hill, there is a beautiful outcrop of rock shaded by trees and we lie down and spend about an hour there. The view and tranquil feeling is a wonderful reward for the climb. It’s almost addictive. It was my “A-ha!” moment, where it all fell into place — what I want to do with my life, and how I want to live etc… maybe I’ll write about this epiphany in a different post in the near future!

Tomorrow we plan to bring a packed snack and a thermal bottle of tea for the guests. (I wish we had done that today!). There are a few trees up here good for climbing too, something fun to do if kids ever come on this walk. (I later shared my idea with Javana and his response was a terse “certainly not!”).

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This is pretty safe….. right???

On the way down, as we take note of small landmarks so we remember the exact path tomorrow, we see two eagles soaring almost parallel to us; a Crested Hawk Eagle and a Black Eagle (a rare sighting in the Katagamuwa area!!). Being about 150 meters up really does make a difference to bird watching. At eye level, we could clearly see how raptors subtlely adjust the tips of their wings to control their flight! Further down, we stop to set up a camera trap. (Stay tuned for a future blog post on our first camera trap findings!). Manju was eager to show off a few tips and tricks of that he learnt while working with Steve Winter on the Camera Trap project in Yala last year. Clearing a small area and disguising the camera with foliage, we switch it on and leave with exciting anticipation of what we might see on film in a few days.

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Manju sets up a camera trap.

The trek down has its own challenges, but manageable by a moderately experienced trekker, and much easier than going up. Walking back to camp after about 3 hours, it struck me that we had built up a ravenous appetite — lunch was going to be good! The guests are definitely going to love this!

***The couple that did the walk have hiked and trekked in many places around the world and rated it a Level 5 hike and totally loved it. Makes me feel like a pro!***

This blog post was written by Jeana – our junior,  knowledgeable, and enthusiastic naturalist who joined us recently. Jeana’s posts are her own perspective of life in the jungle and experiences with Kulu.