World Elephant Day – a Sri Lankan Perspective

Most of our wild elephants roam outside our national parks. We know exactly where to find them, but it also means we need to be more cognisant in how we protect them.

World Elephant Day — emotionally stirring social media posts aside, we feel that it also ought to be identified as World “WILD” Elephant day.

The elephant is perhaps the most controversial of all wildlife on the island of Sri Lanka. They are venerated by local culture and are a prominent fixture of our much-loved “peraharas”; they have played an important part in Sri Lanka’s history in both wild and domesticated forms. Yet in the villages, they are treated as rogues and are chased away with firecrackers, even shot with rifles when they wander into farm land (land that has in fact, encroached into their wild habitat). Owning an elephant is also a status symbol for an old-school, aspirational bourgeois.  Meanwhile, conservationists are puling their hair out trying to figure out more effective ways to protect and conserve this fascinating creature within a system of static, fenced, national parks that pay little heed to their innate nature to roam nomadically; some researchers estimate that an entire two-thirds of our wild elephant population roam outside our National Parks!

On the bright side, this means that we are not limited to National Parks to observe these beautiful, regal, intelligent, entertaining creatures. When we are fortunate enough to be amongst them, we typically see only a tiny part of their spectrum of behaviour — usually its feeding (elephants can consume the better part of a ton of food a day!) or asserting their comfort zone with warning gestures and mock charges towards a human audience, especially in the presence of young. But as social animals, there is amazing depth to the nuances of their behaviour — intricacies that can take a lifetime of studying to fully appreciate the riches of their existence.

 

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A pair of bull elephants square off in a battle of wits (and strength!) to test their dominance, in Kudakalliya, Arugambay

Kudakalliya Bungalow is part of our Haritha Collection portfolio, and sits on a relatively lonely stretch of beach in one of the most fascinating little pockets of ecological wonder (arguably in the entire country!). In front of the bungalow is a tiny island of a few acres with lush vegetation, surrounded by a brackish water moat, flanked by the ocean and rice paddy on either side. Hundreds of acres of such rice paddy are scattered in a messy grid across an expanse of jungle and scrub that informally extends from Lahugala National Park in the north of us, into Kudumbigala Sanctuary and the Kumana National Park to the south of us.

The tall foliage on this particular island makes the stealthy pachyderms almost invisible from ground level — but the balcony from our bungalow is an ideal vantage point to observe them unobtrusively. The video below was from a special morning when a group of bulls (male elephants who are typically solitary) who were feeding on the island decided to have a bit of fun in the moat right in front of our bungalow. Such amazing sightings of unusual elephant behaviour are rare throughout in the world!

 

 

Development in this part of the country was acutely suppressed by Sri Lanka’s battle with terrorism — the war (arguably) preserved these “unprotected” wild habitats that elephants enjoyed for much longer than their cousins who have been in conflict with humans in more developed regions. But with a recent surge of tourism taking over Arugambay (what was once a sleepy town that only the most hardcore surfers visited), these wild areas are under severe pressure to handle a new wave of economic growth without hindrance to a magnificent wild ecosystem right on Arugambay’s doorstep.

While the fate of our wild elephants hangs in the balance, a few pockets of informal wilderness still exist. Kulu Safaris and the Haritha Collection are fortunate to have the Kudakalliya Bungalow in our portfolio, that sits alongside such a fascinating wild oasis. The ability to have such exclusive, non-intrusive access to some of Sri Lanka’s most sought after wildlife — wild elephants, crocodiles, several species of eagles and migrant birds are all visible from the bungalow — is a special privilege. How would you like to sip your evening tea or a sundowner while watching an undisturbed group of wild elephants entirely to yourselves?

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A lone (wild) bull elephant grazes peaceful in front of Kudakalliya Bungalow, just a couple of miles south of Arugambay – Sri Lanka’s (and now, one of the world’s) hottest surfing town

The picture below is iconic of the life of a Sri Lankan wild elephant. Here, two males have wandered away from the refuge of the island at sunset, having swum across the moat. As night falls, they will (quietly and stealthily!) graze on what remains of an already harvested rice paddy. In the background, you can see power lines alongside the main road that connects Arugambay with Panama, Kudumbigala Sanctuary, and Kumana National Park.  The flip side of “Human Elephant-conflict” coin is “Human-Elephant cohabitation” — hopefully we can evolve to cohabit with these amazing creatures so that sights like these will be enjoyed by future generations.

Let’s not let the sun set on our wild elephants – they need us urgently.

“Happy” #WorldElephantDay to you all.

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Two male elephants banter at dusk, before feeding on the remains of an already harvested rice paddy – 10 minutes south of Sri Lanka’s surf hotspot Arugambay

Best time to visit Yala: May-July ?

#Summer2016 has been phenomenal for leopard sightings thus far!

Yet again, 2016 proved that the months of May-July could well be the best time to visit the Yala National Park, to spend a few exciting days on safari in Sri Lanka with Kulu Safaris.

 

This year, we were blessed with some unexpected rain in May that helped keep Yala greener for a little longer that usual. However, with the onset of the annual dry season and lower visitation numbers from May-July, we have experienced some great leopard sightings, with very few vehicles around to crowd the animals. Our guests had exclusive, front-row seats to some fascinating animal behaviour!

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An adult leopard on an evening patrol of its territory

Yala Block 5 in particular has been very rewarding for our guests. Strong populations of spotted deer have definitely underpinned the health of the leopard population in this block.

True to our pioneering ethos, Kulu Safaris was a key proponent in encouraging the Department of Wildlife and Conservation to prepare and open Yala Block 5 for visitation. As the first regular visitor to this sector, we were careful in how we approached animals while on safari, always keeping a respectful distance from wild animals (in effect, we stayed well outside the comfort zone so that they never felt threatened by vehicles).

Our guests especially enjoyed the diversity in vegetation and ecology that Block 5 offered, as well as the undisturbed leopard sightings; thus Kulu spent a lot of time exploring this sector. As a result, we are seeing an encouraging degree of comfort amongst the adult leopards that are resident in this sector — they already seem relatively habituated and tolerant of vehicles. We are also looking forward to watching the first (since Yala Block 5 was opened commercially) set of leopard cubs grow up over the next year as well!

All in all, Yala Block 5 has afforded us excellent wildlife viewing this summer, and we expect this trend to continue.

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This cat’s hungry — as you can see from the hollow in its lower stomach

Two amazing sightings stand out as highlights of this summer thus far. The sighting with the best optics was undoubtedly the wild-boar kill that a huge female leopard hoisted up a tree. The strength and ferocity of a wild-boar makes it a relatively high-risk meal for a leopard. Although leopards are known to commonly steal piglets from a sounder of boars, it requires patience and immense skill for a leopard to successfully take down an adult boar.

The video of the wild-boar kill below is a quick edit of what was a relatively long and uninterrupted sighting. The leopard was not comfortable with the positioning of the boar so decided to drag it elsewhere, probably further away from the road to a quieter location. From our angle, the drag looked quite comical but the leopard was determined to move the kill and did so successfully – this was one strong cat!

 

The other amazing sighting was an actual kill that happened right in front of us. On a game drive, we stopped to watch a herd of deer because of alarm calls. We also knew there was a leopard prowling nearby but we had lost visual.

More often than not, a deer can outrun a leopard if it has even the slightest advantage, such as warning or line of sight. Thus, leopards use their stealth and camouflage to get as close as possible before springing an attack. And this particular hunt is a perfect example of just how close a leopard can get to a herd of deer, undetected. (For us watching, it was NatGeo material! – minus the lenses).

In the video below, the deer are grazing with the leopard hidden in the tall grass, just a few feet away from the target, unaware of its presence until the very last moment. The time that lapsed from launching itself at the deer to the actual takedown was less than a second!

 

Kulu Safaris offers several special deals during low-season to take advantage of the exclusive access to wildlife during this time. So we advise our fans and partners to keep an eye on our promotions page !

We also welcome large groups who enjoying booking camp exclusively for themselves for a special and exclusive wildlife experience, so please write to us at safari@kulusafaris.com with your inquiries.

Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Activities at Camp – Kulu Safaris

Safari isn’t all being driven in a jeep … connect with nature with our fun, adrenalin-pumping activities!

Going on Safari is arguably one of the most fun, interesting, and experiential travel activities on your “things to do in Sri Lanka” bucket list. We have the largest campsite of all the operators — on one side we are flanked by jungle alongside the Katagamuwa section of the Yala National Park complex, and in front of us, we have a beautiful lake that all our tents look out towards.

While a game drive (going on safari) is the most common activity that our guests partake in, we’re seeing an increasing number of them staying back to do some of the other cool things we offer at camp. 

Kayaking has been a recent hit, with clients of all ages. The serenity of being out on the water at dawn or sunset is unmatchable. Being eye-level with water birds also adds a unique and different perspective to birding, which can be a welcome change from repeated rounds in a safari jeep on dusty roads.

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Birdwatching from a kayak – a unique perspective

Our kayaks are top of the range. They are injection moulded, rugged plastic, ocean-going kayaks that are built for stability, strength and maximum safety — they are also insanely difficult to topple. All our kayaks are for two people, and even include water-proof hatches inside, so feel free to take your camera and snap a few pictures while out on the water! We are pedantic about safety precautions and life jackets copulsory.

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Getting out on the water will definitely get your blood flowing

If you read the “about us” section on our website, you would see that our founders have explored every nook and cranny of this island. We have used kayaks just like these to explore 22 rivers around Sri Lanka, and we have trusted them with our lives.

The other activity that is popular with guests is the nature walk. We advise clients that only those who have some experience with trekking and are relatively fit try this. Even though we call it a “walk”, it is as much a climb which includes navigating rocks, slopes, and manoeuvring through stubborn branches. And once you have come to terms with the terrain, be mindful that there ARE wild animals around, as seen by elephant droppings and leopard tracks on some our routes.

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Climbing down is just as challenging as climbing up!

The walk ends on the summit of a rock that has an amazing view across the lake in front of camp and the jungle that extends beyond. It’s a great location to spend the evening watching the sun go down, or to even walk up early morning and do some birding. Our walk is through jungle that is clearly outside the boundary of the national park.

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What a spot for a sundowner!

Safari is not just about driving around a national park in a jeep. It is a very spiritual experience — connecting with nature and being one with your natural surroundings. It’s a great opportunity to turn your phone off and let the aesthetic beauty of the jungle and nature come to you; take the time to embrace it and to see and feel what it REALLY means to be alive.

So next time you’re with us and feel like doing something different on your trip, try some of our activities ! Follow us on Facebook to keep abreast of anything new. See you soon!