Sri Lanka is one of the best countries in which to see elephants. It is the national animal of Sri Lanka and the country has the highest density of elephants in Asia, though the local specie is endangered.
There are wild elephants in nature and then there are elephants that have been abused, used for work or entertainment and rescued in animal sanctuaries.
Those in nature, you can see from afar and will enjoy observing the dynamics between them and amongst the herd. Some parks allow too many jeeps to visit at once, especially around holiday times and week-ends or the jeeps come too close to the animals. We have limited our recommendations to those who do not.
You can usually touch elephants in sanctuaries, wash and feed during close encounters. In Sri Lanka, the one ethical sanctuary recommended (see below) does not allow touching the animals.
The kind of experience you chose depends on your sensitivity. If you are OK with handling creatures whom you are able to get close to and touch because they have been once brutally submitted into domesticity, then go to a sanctuary. But make sure it is the right type of ethical sanctuary and that they are not perpetuating abuse, even in involuntary ways.
*See our article What Do Vegans Do if They Want to See Elephants for some guidelines.
The Sri Lanka elephants are one of three types of Asian elephants. Asian elephants are always smaller than African elephants but the Sri Lankan Elephas maximus-maximus is the biggest of the subspecies, standing tall at an average of 10 feet (3 meters). Very few have tusks (less than 2%).
During the dry season from February to June. Many reserves are closed in September.
In the south of Sri Lanka, 5 hours south of Colombo, the 30,000 hectares’ park provides jeep safaris where you will be able to see elephants, buffaloes and birds. It is not rare to see 20 or more elephants during the trip. Length of trip varies from a couple of hours to a whole day, depending on the package you chose.
In the North West of Sri Lanka, four and a half hours north of Colombo, this is the place to see elephants, sloth bears, birds and even leopards. They offer jeep safaris up to 2 days. Half-day safaris are the most popular choice.
The Elephant Transit Home
5km west of the Uda Walawe National Park’s (above) entrance, this refuge hosts around 50 elephants. This is not a park where you can touch the animals, but observe them from afar being fed (6 times a day). They release the elephants once old enough or once treated back in the wild.
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