August 2016


The Gathering at Minneriya
August 2016




Show me your tusks!

Every year during the dry season herds of elephant journey to the banks of the Minneriya tank, a green oasis, to begin the cycle of life in a phenomena known as ‘the Gathering'.


Words and Photography
Raveendra Siriwardene


Located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, the Minneriya National Park is centred around the Minneriya reservoir built by the great King Mahasen. A tank built to provide water to the fertile agricultural lands of the country, it has become lifeblood to wildlife and provides a safe habitat for their survival.


The extent of this national park is 88.9 square kilometers. Minneriya is relatively small compared to other national parks in the country, but is home to a number of animals including the elusive leopard, spotted deer, sambur, birds, purple-faced langur and macaques. Yet its most famous inhabitants are elephants.


During the period of drought in the North Central Province (August to October), Minneriya is the only place, which has sufficient water and food in the region. Therefore, elephants living in the surroundings begin their journey in search of water and food, and gather around the banks of the Minneriya tank, which is on their way, and stay there till the monsoon starts. Within that period the tank, which is an abundant source of water, provides an ideal home for elephants along with nourishing grasslands and readymade jungle cover - to retreat to when the mid-day sun gets too hot.


It is an adventure itself to drive into the jungle on untamed forest roads. The afternoon is the best time to visit the park as the air begins to cool and as the sun begins its descent, the elephants emerge. The sight is glorious. Herds and herds of elephants and one or two tuskers slowly travel together with the aim of drinking water. The bank of the reservoir is peaceful, composed of flat drying grasslands. Even though the water level drops in the dry season, the tank bed allows lush green grass to grow. Around the tank there are tall shrubs and forest growth that provides ample shelter for the elephants during the hot days. It is wonderful how nature has become a friend to these wild creatures.


During the monsoon, the reservoir fills up, but when the rains cease and the dry season begins, the water in the reservoir starts to dry up. The water level of the reservoir sometimes goes down rapidly but it never runs dry. This entire reservoir is surrounded by undergrowth that opens out into the vast plains of the Minneriya Tank. 


The tank is a playground where elephants and tuskers play with the water. The baby elephants who are bathed by their parents were being sprayed with the slight, muddy waters. Once you witness these sights, your heart will leap with kindness and mercy for these giant creatures. The Gathering peaks in August and September, at the height of the drought. It is the one place in the world, and the only time of the year, when you meet up with more than three hundred wild elephants in one place. This is not exactly a migration but a journey that the elephants make annually to sip the sweet waters of the Minneriya tank, a heavenly nectar in these parched times. Some herds of elephants come from Kantale, which is an area in the Eastern Province. Later in the year, around the month of September, the elephants move en masse to the Kaudulla tank, which is another large expanse of water close to Minnneriya, in search of more water and food. Different herds of elephants in the North central province coming from different locations converge together, brethren trvelling with a single goal.


Interestingly, there are large numbers of babies in these herds, while a smaller number of mature male elephants can also be sighted. A young tusker, three mature tuskers and two with a single tusk are frequently seen among the congregating herds. Some years "Enigma", the giant cross tusker which is also known as the "Somawathie Tusker", can be seen in Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks.


Watching these massive elephants bathing as the sun sets over the mountains at the far end is an experience you will never forget, and there is no other place where you can get so close to so many Asian wild elephants together.


For any wildlife lover, the elephant gathering is an incredible experience. The animals socialize, bathe and even fall in love. It is a unique phenomenon of nature and can only be witnessed in this amazing wilderness.

 

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    The Great Elephant Gathering has just begun for 2016 (Palupitiya, Minneriya National Park)

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    We too are going to join the Gathering at Palupitiya, Minneriya National Park

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    Enigma, the great tusker at Minneriya

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    A playful nudge from mom

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    All backs turned and not bothered

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    A word of advice while protecting the little one

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    A peaceful moment at Rambawila, Minneriya National Park

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    All moving in one direction

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    After a dip in the tank

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