A true spectacle to behold, the Minneriya elephant gathering in Sri Lanka lets you witness hundreds of elephants congregate in one area annually! Not only do they gather, but they eat, drink, swim and socialise – think of it as an elephant rave lasting months! The reason for this is that during the dry season – July to September – water and food supply reduce drastically in the region. To cope with this, the elephants congregate around the Minneriya reservoir, inside Minneriya National Park, where grasses are rich and fertile, and water and shade is abundant.
Minneriya National Park is in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, about a ten-minute drive from Habarana. Minneriya has one of the largest man-made tanks, built by King Mahasen in the 3rd Century, and retains water throughout the year, while the drying lake bed becomes lush grassland. The Tank and National Park cover 8890 hectares within Sri Lanka’s famed cultural triangle, where the surrounding scrub forest provides shade for the elephants during the afternoons, and the tank at the centre of the reserve never empties; so when other food, water and shelter sources become scarce, elephants find their way here to drink, bathe and feast on the young shoots of grass that flourish on the edges of the tank as the water recedes. Thus, every mid-year the area is magically transformed into an elephant party of around 300 – 400 gentle giants!
A Minneriya National Park safari, during July to September, lets you experience what has been regarded as one of the world’s most significant elephant phenomena’s. Even their social interaction is a sight to see; mature Sri Lankan elephant bulls find mates during the gathering and bond, and herds merge and interact with each other amicably. Social interactions of this nature and scale are imperative for elephants’ well-being, as they are highly social creatures. The gathering breaks up with the arrival of the North-East monsoon in October, which, so to speak, dampens the party. I have personally counted over 350 elephants within a 1 kilometer radius at the last gathering during a Minneriya Safari, and welcome the next group to challenge my score!
By Puwathara Jayawardena, Mahoora Senior Naturalist