As the sun begins to set over the horizon and the gentle evening breeze wafts in, Minneriya is a sight to behold with its verdant grasslands, rippling water and shadows emerging from the jungle surrounding the vicinity. Elephants begin to make their way onto the plains from the shrubbery, towards the water; revelling in the evening sun. They appear to converge from every direction, congregating with a shared objective: water.
Photo Credits : @rajivwelikala
There’s something free and uninhibiting about watching these majestic creatures hydrate, graze and play on the lush green plains revealed by receding water. Minneriya, where this annual gathering of elephants takes place, is thriving with life during its dry season which is when it plays host to more than 300 elephants who journey here from various parts of Sri Lanka’s North Central Province. Some elephant herds travel from as far as Kantale to quench their thirst at the Minneriya tank.
Photo Credits : @itsmepodda
Where is Minneriya National Park?
Minneriya National Park is located in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province and is a ten minute drive from the east of Habarana. It’s renowned for its Minneriya tank and small park that is home to a diverse array of exotic flora and fauna from spotted deer, sambar, and purple-faced langur monkeys to macaques and the Asian elephant. The dry season is from July to October. It is during this time that its tank serves as a hydration stop for elephants on their migration route from various surrounding areas in search of vegetation and water, most of which have dried up elsewhere. Around 300 elephants or more congregate at a time, making this the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world.
Photo Credit : @yohan.avinash
Photo Credit : @towersc
Why does the Annual Gathering take place here?
Sri Lanka’s dry season means most other areas are devoid of fresh grass and water. The Minneriya tank is a reliable source of water that doesn’t dry up in spite of the heat, which is what keeps these magnificent beasts coming back for more. Not only is there ample drinking water for them here but as the tank’s receding water also unravels fresh grass on which they can graze to their hearts’ delight- a treat that is far superior to the dry scrubland found aplenty. The tank’s tall shrubs and forest also provide shade and shelter for the Asian elephants during the hottest days of the season. As the sun begins to set, the elephants emerge from their hide-outs, one by one and eventually in scores of hundreds. Here, they will hydrate, eat and play come nightfall.
Photo Credits : @rajivwelikala
When can you witness the Annual Gathering?
If you’ve never witnessed an elephant gathering Sri Lanka around July to October is the place to be. The island is a renowned hub for sustainable tourism with various hotels such as Cinnamon Lodge Habarana and Habarana Village by Cinnamon affording nature enthusiasts the option of witnessing the annual gathering of elephants in Minneriya as part of their luxe, eco-friendly holiday packages. As these animals are most active around sunset, you can structure your day’s itinerary such that you can explore Minneriya in search of other Sri Lanka wildlife during the day and then settle down in a cozy nook to watch the elephants emerge from the shadows of the surrounding jungle towards the late afternoon.
Photo Credits : @twosometravellers
Why is elephant conservation of utmost importance to sustaining the Annual Gathering?
The annual elephant gathering is more than just a tourist attraction that sees locals and visitors to the island alike flocking to Minneriya during its dry season to witness it. It is instead one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world and should be protected to ensure the well-being and longevity of the Asian Elephant.
What does the birth of the live elephant twins signify?
The birth of twin elephant calves signals the need to protect Sri Lanka’s wildlife as their birth was a milestone in the history of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. They are the first recorded live twins, according to experts and their births also coincide with the annual elephant gathering in Minneriya which remains the largest elephant congregation in the world. It’s of the essence that the Minneriya tank isn’t tampered with as increasing water levels can lead to elephants leaving Minneriya in response to increased water levels. This can thus threaten the annual event. The birth of the live twins may be a first for Sri Lanka but it certainly shouldn’t be the last and the only way we can make sure it won’t be is by leaving Minneriya as it is- for the sake of our elephants and the surrounding ecosystem.
Author : Fathima Anissa