November 2016


Tuskers of kala wewa
November 2016




The tusker force of Kala Wewa

Along the banks of the ancient Kala Wewa, elephant royalty gather...


Words and Photography: Priyantha Talwatte


North of the central hills, with the green mountains tumbling down to the plains of the northwestern dry zone, a denuded region covered in thorny scrub jungle with occasionally rising isolated mountainous outcrops, lies a land by the name of Raja Rata (Lands of Kings). Here, in the paradise named the Kala Wewa Sanctuary a yearly congregation of tuskers takes place.


Not so long ago, Kala Wewa was a closely guarded secret held by wildlife enthusiasts and residents of the area, that feared for the safety of the elephant population in the area. However, with the park being declared as a protected wildlife sanctuary in 2015, Kala Wewa is a safe haven for elephant herds and majestic tuskers to congregate, socialise, and to ensure the lineage continues. Nowhere else in the Sri Lankan wilds will you witness such a greater tusker density than amidst the elephant herds at the Kala Wewa sanctuary during the dry season.


Kala Wewa was built by King Dhatusena (455 - 473 CE) who ruled the in the fifth century. History records that after the completion of the Kala Wewa he built another tank called Balalu Wewa and connected the two tanks. This massive combined reservoir served as one of the largest irrigation tanks in ancient times. While supplying water to some of the smaller tanks, the 86 kilometre long canal Jaya Ganga (victory river) carried water from Kala Wewa to Tissa Wewa for the population of the then capital city of Anuradhapura (situated 50 kilometre north of the Sanctuary). Today Kala Wewa is the main water body of the sanctuary.

Kala Wewa is a safe haven for elephant herds and majestic tuskers to congregate, socialize, and to ensure the lineage continues.


When the water level recedes during the dry season a picturesque garden of Eden emerges, which in turn attracts native elephants herds from the sanctuary and also herds from nearby jungle areas to the banks of the reservoir. This spectacle of coming together could only be witnessed during the dry season. When the northeast monsoon rains commence during October-November the reservoir fills up and the grasslands submerge. While the resident herds remain in the area the migratory herds return to their homelands. Due to the thick jungle setting of the remaining land area, sightings of the resident herds during the rest of the year is very limited.

located 178km from Colombo


A typical elephant herd comprises of both related or non- related adult females, juveniles and babies (calves) led by an experienced matriarch who will guide the herd to previously known areas to find fodder and water. They have regular seasonal foraging patterns, which are repeated year after year. A typical group of four to eight elephants are led by a matriarch who is an experienced older female of the group.

The shortest route: from the Colombo Kandy road; turn off at Ambepussa, and proceed to Dambulla on the Trincomalle highway via Kurunegala then turn on to the Anuradhapura road and proceed to Madatugama, turn off and head to Kala Wewa.


During the dry season herd aggregation happens and elephants can form a mega herd of close to 50 or more. Elephants are very social animals and this behaviour is considered part of the social bonding process. When the male elephants reach puberty at about age 12- 15 they are chased away from the herd to ensure inbreeding does not occur. The juvenile males tend to live a solitary life or hang out with other older bull males.

Around noon you might see elephants in the water


Matured adult bulls generally live a solitary life, and will join the herds during a period of Musth, which is a sexually overcharged period, looking for suitable females who are in estrus to mate and pass on their gene pool to the next generation. Generally the older stronger alpha bulls get the mating rights over other low ranking males. A very clear pecking order is established and if challenged they battle it out. All male elephants do not have tusks; only about seven per cent of Sri Lankan male elephants are tuskers.

Best time to visit is During the Dry Season


During the dry season in Kala Wewa you can witness elephant herds of more than 50 in numbers. These herds can grow up to 100 or more. There are 18 different tuskers of various ages, sizes, shape of tusks and temperaments that have been identified.


As the sun sets you could witness the sagas of the elephant world played out in front of you, making you a witness of the wonders of nature. If you are an elephant enthusiast then you should head to Kala Wewa during the dry season and witness the unfolding spectacle of the majestic tusker.

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    The alfa male tusker, the reigning king of Kala Wewa

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    Kala Wewa, a wild paradise

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    A majestic tusker approaches the foraging herds

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    A crown prince, the future king

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    A shy cross tusker

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    A leisurely stroll with trunk rolled up

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    Kala Wewa during the dry season is a tusker's playground

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