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”

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.

Kalawewa
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. 

 

 

2 Leopard Cubs, a Log, and An Afternoon in the Presence of the Heirs of the Jungle

A pictorial essay of just one of the amazing leopard sightings we have been treated to in February and March this year.

The opening of “Block 5” of the Yala National Park a couple of years ago was a much welcome addition to Sri Lanka’s wildlife offering, and much needed diversification from the often crowded Block 1.  The wildlife has been rich, with great sightings of rare migrant birds, small herds of elephants, plenty of deer, and other interesting mammals. However, this block has been one of the best places to see leopards in Sri Lanka (arguably in the world?!?!), and recently we were treated to a special afternoon with two comfortable and relaxed cats.

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Mom and 2 of her cubs wander out into the open for all to see

The sighting
On a quiet afternoon drive while on safari with our guests last month, we came across an amazing leopard sighting — two cubs from the celebrated litter who have becomes the stars of this sector of Yala were out to play.  These 2 cubs were being observed by another safari jeep when we pulled up, but we kept our distance and they didn’t pay us much attention.

The two sub-adult cubs were briefly joined by a third leopard, who resembled their mother at that distance. With the same stealth that she had appeared to check the location of the cubs and give them notice on where she expects to find them later, she slunk away quietly in a sheer act of genius — as the two clubs were playing in the open, the jungle’s attention was on them. This would give her a great opportunity to spring an ambush from the flank. (Similar to the clip below!):

Watching sub-adult cubs always raises several contrasting emotions. At this age (about one and a half years old), they are still playful, a tad clumsy and extremely animated — especially if they have siblings to play-fight with. But it is also an awkward age for them because they soon will be independent (in about six months’ time) and will have to start charting their own path of life and solidify their own territory. Staying true to their age, they stalked and ambushed each other, and also displayed a lot of affection to each other that drew many heartfelt “awwww”s from the guests in our jeep 🙂

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Tail up means playtime and hunting is left to mom

These cubs have become one of the key attractions of Block 5 and are often spotted in this quadrant of the park (which we conclude is their mother’s territory), mainly in the afternoon. This particular sighting lasted for approx. 30 minutes and we were lucky to have good light to document this experience.

Block 5 has a perfect environment for Leopards to give birth to 2 or 3 cubs (while less rare in Africa, Yala’s female leopards have littered multiple cubs quite frequently in the recent past), as the pray density is large with one of the largest herds of spotted Deer we have seen in a very long time in ANY of the National Parks. This is mainly due to the fact that during the war, the road from Sella Kataragama to Buttala was cleared on either side for approx. 100 meters (as well as the road thru Block 5 to the weheragala Dam) for security reasons — due to the risk of ambush. This opened up large tracts of grass land for the herbivores and currently the 100 meter gap is being maintained by DWC from the Galge Entrance until the Weheragala Dam.

Sunset over a waterhole in Yala National Park – Block 5:

This also habituated the deer population in this sector because it was close to the road, as there was a reasonable amount of traffic to and from the dam. From the cleared jungle area emerged a lush tract of grass on which deer now graze in abundance. The lower threat of poaching due to both the presence of military until recently, as well as visibility also helped both prey and predator thrive.

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One of the world’s most lethal hunters looking quite comical and playful 

Sightings of very shy Leopards in this part the park were seen in open areas, especially while they were hunting (which is quite rare for Sri Lankan national parks).  We noticed in the past 3 years that the Leopards in Yala Block 5 have become distinctly more habituated to vehicular traffic much faster than in Block 1. Two key reasons we suspect are: 1) While Block 1 claims to host some of the highest leopard density in the world, it is also arguably some of the highest vehicle density for any National Park in the world! Hence, the disturbance rate to animals is higher. 2). Block 1 consists of heavier and thicker vegetation, which means most sightings are at a close proximity to the leopards; Block 5 features more open areas and fewer roads, so visitors can observe undisturbed leopard behaviour for longer (quality sightings) from outside the cats’ comfort zone.

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A leopard stalking prey at the base of the dam (perfect golden light too!)
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One of our guests tracking its movements through binoculars

The  area of the recent sighting was at the base of the Weheragala Dam. The lower road that runs parallel to the dam is constantly wet and slightly water logged due to the ground water seepage from the water collected in the dam. There are many tall trees that we see dead — most were felled during the construction of the dam, and some have died due to excess water.

This grass is again found only in this section of the park and possibly its thriving due to the constant moisture and wetness from the reservoir. The buffalos seem to like the grass; however we seldom see smaller herbivores nor elephants feeding on this grass. This phenomenon is worth a bit of research.

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The highlight of any holiday would be an afternoon spent with such beautiful animals

The cubs commandeered a log as their prop of choice for the evening, and continued their shenanigans as the light faded. We eventually had to leave the cubs as darkness was falling and we had to exit the park. We hoped that the mom had a successful hunt that evening and the cubs were able to feed.

Leopard sightings in the first quarter of this year (2017) have been off to a flying start – please follow us on Instagram  @kulu_safaris to keep up with the latest sightings and snippets on interesting animal behaviour that we have observed.

Mating Leopard – a Tale of Ferocious Courtship!

A detailed account of an amazing encounter with a pair of mating leopards – by Kulu Safaris guest Daphne Goodyear!

A warm welcome to Kulu Safaris’ first guest blogger – Daphne Goodyear! Daphne is from the United States and visited us recently.  It was her first visit to Yala, and the spirits of the jungle connected with her. They offered Daphne an iconic wildlife experience — an exclusive and close sighting of a pair of mating leopards. Below is her detailed account of how the sighting unfolded. Thank you Daphne for sharing!

All photographs are property of Daphne Goodyear. 

 

Kulu Safaris Game Drive
Yala National Park
February 2016
Traveling through Yala National Park on a Kulu Safari was a first rate, extraordinary and
fabulous experience. Searching for animal sightings is very exciting because one never knows what will be seen around the next corner!
On one of our safaris into Yala National Park, our experienced driver from Kulu Safari
Camp, made a detour down a side road where there were no other vehicles. As we approached a thicket, my friend, Norma, spotted the very back end of a Leopard disappearing into the underbrush. She immediately said, “Stop!”
Our driver must have known where the Leopard would emerge, as he immediately made
a U turn, drove a short distance, positioned the vehicle towards an open field and switched off the engine. We began our wait. At that moment we had no idea what a treat was in store for us.
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The male was a fine specimen. The female picked her mate wisely!

It was not long before a male Leopard walked out into the open not far from the front of our vehicle. We were all mesmerized! Because the Leopard was in close proximity, we could watch his every graceful step. The beauty of his golden spotted body defied his well-known ferocious hunting techniques.

Instead of disappearing, the Leopard lay down in the middle of the open field right in front of us. Not long afterwards, what appeared? A female Leopard! We simply could not believe we were seeing these two magnificent wild animals right in front of our eyes.

 

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The female begins her ritual of getting him interested.
Out came my camera with the long lens! For the next forty-five minutes we watched these two Leopards conduct a mating dance, as I snapped one picture after another. How interesting it was observing the male Leopard showing absolutely no interest in the female. He lay there in the field as if nothing was going on around him. This tactic amused us all. The female Leopard would nudge him, lay down beside him, walk on top of him, circle him, and nip at him…no reaction.
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And boy, did he play hard to get! The female snarls, probably in annoyance!
Then she’d walk away, as if to say, “I am no longer interested.” Yet moments later she’d was back frolicking with the object of her affections. This happened over and over again. The male Leopard continued to lay there stoically, un-moved by her advances, acting as if she were invisible. This Mating Dance was fascinating to watch.
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Come on boy !

The male Leopard finally came to life. With little fanfare he mounted the female consummating their relationship three time right in front of our astonished eyes.

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Finally, mating begins. A pair of leopard can stay and hunt together for several days during courtship, before going their separate ways.

During copulation, the male Leopard bit down on the female Leopard’s neck causing her to make a loud roar. Once he dismounted, the female Leopard growled loudly again and swatted him one good! The entire process took less than 30 seconds. After it was over, the female would lay on her back with her feet in the air for a few minutes…a very relaxing pose. Then the mating dance would begin all over again.

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Leopard mating rituals usually don’t end with the politest of pleasantries! Here, the male gets swatted as he dismounts.

 

It is an understatement to say we were mesmerized. Watching these two magnificent wild animals putting on this show was magical. Our incredible good fortune to witness this mating dance was an extraordinary moment in time for my three friends and me. And, in approximately three and a half months, Leopard cubs should be prancing around their mother in Yala National Park. A big treat yet to come for future safari-goers.

 

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Rolling over on her back is a common post-mating ritual amongst females leopard, and is suspected to be essential to improve the chances of fertility.

Our Kulu Safari Camp experience was awesome as we saw many different animals, beautiful birds and gorgeous flora and fauna everywhere. But the biggest thrill of all was the Leopard’s mating dance. An experience my friends and I will never forget.

Curious about the Kulu Experience? 

Visit us at www.kulusafaris.com or write to us at safari@kulusafaris.com