Elephants

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
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11
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Trip End Jul 11, 2012


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Where I stayed
Regina Guest House
What I did
Yala National Park

Flag of Sri Lanka  , Southern,
Sunday, February 5, 2012

Before 5:00 a.m., Nissa was waiting for us in the dark with the jeep. We were excited—I wanted in particular that day to spot a leopard, and Dan's number one priority was elephants. We dreamed about these sightings on the almost hour-long drive to the Yala National Park gate. On arrival, I had an uneasy feeling. The drivers were lined up in a queue at the office at least thirty people deep while jeeps were parked all around. It was the Sunday of a long holiday weekend, bookended by Friday February 4 (Independence Day) and Tuesday, February 7 (Poya, Full Moon Day). Foreign tourists were in the minority today as Sri Lankans had come out to enjoy their national park and bag their own leopard and elephant sightings.

Nissa must have jumped the queue, because he was back within ten minutes, ready to get a head start on the crowds. And he proved to be a good spotter, stopping the jeep periodically to point at some shadow on a rock or flicker in the branches which, on closer inspection with binoculars, turned out to be a crocodile or green bee eater.

We saw lots of peacocks, including one doing its rattling feather dance with an apparently uninterested and unbeautiful female pecking the ground nearby. We also saw green parakeets, grey herons, egrets, snake birds, open billed storks, eagles, yellow and red water lapwings, blue-tailed bee eaters, and my favourites, the green bee eaters, with their turquoise neck bands and fluorescent green backs. One memorable sighting was of two brown fish owls sitting deep in a tree in the shade, one with its eyes closed and the other with eyes open and unblinking.

Mammals were a little more elusive. We saw several mongoose running across the road, spotted deer, sambar deer, a wild boar, lots of wild water buffalo, and a hare. Nissa stopped the jeep and cut the engine one more time.

"There!"

“Where?” As usual, I couldn’t make it out.

“Elephant!” And sure enough, with binoculars, we could see the grey behind of an elephant and just barely, its trunk pulling on a tree branch. We watched this evidence-of-elephant for a while, but Dan had in mind a herd of elephants, not a suggestion of one, so we pulled away in hope of a better sighting.

At 10:00 we stopped on the beach, where by tradition safari tourists stop for their breakfast snack. Nissa kept calling it “The Bungalow,” but now all that was left of the bungalow was its concrete foundation. On December 26, 2004, as tourists like us were opening their lunch packets and celebrating their wildlife spottings or discussing their chances of seeing a leopard, the tsunami rolled in at 9:15 a.m. Forty-seven people, more than half of them Japanese tourists, were killed. This thought put any disappointment into perspective.

About an hour after our breakfast snack, Nissa rolled to a stop and whispered in urgent tones for me to pass him his binoculars. He had spotted the elusive leopard. Luckily it seemed to have no plans to go anywhere, because it took me a frustrating long while to locate the shady hole in the far-off tree where it was sprawled on a branch. Once we had found it, we couldn’t get enough of looking at it; with Nissa’s more powerful binos I could even see its eyes. Soon a half-dozen jeeps and cars were piled up behind us. It seemed no one else in the other vehicles had binos, and so we shared Nissa’s and mine, enjoying the delight on each person’s face when they, too, found the leopard.

Well, that took care of my leopard sighting, but Dan still hadn’t properly seen an elephant. Nissa drove to every water hole he knew, but they just weren’t out. Yesterday, he said desperately, they had seen lots of elephants. Today, “too many vehicles, too many vehicles.”

We had one more interesting sighting worthy of Wild Kingdom coverage: we saw an immature stork catch and eventually swallow a baby land monitor. Earlier we had seen an adult land monitor lumbering on its ungainly way, and it was hard to imagine its progeny getting nabbed like this. The unsuspecting creature had probably just come to the water to drink, and next thing it knew, its head was firmly in the large beak of the stork. Given the youth of the stork, I wondered if it knew how to manage the flailing legs of the monitor, but it took its time, a good strategy for any ambitious endeavor, and when the monitor had finally gone down its throat making barely a lump, unbelievable to me, it continued searching the water hole for more grub. Nissa said it was the first time he had seen a young stork take on a land monitor.

Soon after that, our time was up and we were driving back to town. We tried not to name the disappointment about the lack of elephant sightings, but the skies did it for us: they opened up and rain pelted down.

Two days later, we had our seventh sighting of the three Dutch sisters, arriving on their bikes at our beach-side guest house in Tangalla. The last time we had seen them was at the entrance gate to Yala Park—Nissa had parked his jeep right next to theirs before he ran off to get our tickets. After the usual excited greetings and exclamations at our meeting each other yet again, Dan dared to ask the question I did not: did they see elephants that day in Yala Park? Yes, they did, three or four. 

Ouch.
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Comments

leighan
leighan on

When are you going to publish your book? Who is the photographer - beautiful photos. I am loving every post and scheming my escape!

cathonaventure
cathonaventure on

Happy to hear you're enjoying the posts! The photographs are about equally mine and Dan's. I think Dan has a particularly good eye and I should have been crediting him properly--will remedy that in future posts.

We're using low-end point-and-shoot cameras--Dan's is a Canon PowerShot and mine is a Sony Cyber-shot.

Anne on

Hi Catherine,
Have really been enjoying your postings. Wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday on the 14th. It is now the 13th. Hope you are somewhere where you can treat yourself to something extra special.

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