Minneriya National Wildlife Park, Sri Lanka
Minneriya National Park



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Let us not make this majestic gathering a thing of the past (Sri Lanka)



Writer Lizzie Matthews discovers Minneriya Elephant Gathering.


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Minneriya National Wildlife Park , Sri Lanka

Located between Habarana and POLONNARUWA, the 8890 hectares of MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK is an ideal eco tourism location in Sri Lanka . The park consists of mixed evergreen forest and scrub areas and is home to Sri Lanka 's favourites such as sambar deer, leopards and elephants.

However the central feature of the park is the ancient Minneriya Tank (built in 3rdcentury AD by King Mahasena). During the dry season (June to September), this tank is an incredible place to observe the elephants who come to bathe and graze on the grasses as well as the huge flocks of birds (cormorants and painted storks to name but a few) that come to fish in the shallow waters.

Read more about Minneriya National Park


History and the Description of the Minnariya National Park: Map - Minnariya National Wildlife Park, Sri Lanka

A flapping sea of black invades the emerald Minneriya Tank, as a flock of two thousand cormorants nosedive for fish. The elephants too, trudge by drinking from the same reservoir.

Not close to being the largest tank in Sri Lanka , Minneriya Tank - with the woods that surround it forming the Minneriya-Giritale National Park - is nevertheless home to an extraordinary diversity of wildlife. If numbers interest you, there are nine species of amphibians, 24 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish (three of which are endangered), 75 species of butterflies and 160 species of birds.

Making your way through the park, you will see elephants, Spotted Deer and also the Sambar, which is a deer with no spots and an apt scientific name, carves unicolor . If you're lucky, a leopard looking for food might cross your path.

Less menacing but equally intriguing are the frogs and lizards with their tongues ready. Among the reptiles, the Red-lipped Lizard and Skink are both endemic to Sri Lanka as well as endangered. The frogs, on the other hand, are more abundantly present and have a tendency to jump over your feet or across your eyes between leaves. A notable example with a formidable but misleading title is the Sri Lanka Greater Hourglass Tree Frog.

It all sounds like there's such a lot to see at the park. But overhead is where the action really is. Sri Lanka , home to over 400 species of birds, has long been a birdwatcher's paradise. In Minneriya National Park alone, 160 species crowd the trees or strut the banks.

You can afford to miss the Painted Storks, Great White Pelican, Gray Herons, and even the Ruddy Turnstones (whatever those are). But do try to spot the Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Sri Lanka Brown-capped Babbler and Sri Lanka Gray Hornbill, because, as you can guess from their names, nowhere else are you going to find them but here, in Sri Lanka.

Even if you're not a bird enthusiast, at least you can boast about your trip later by throwing around some exotic bird-names.

Press Reviews

‘Spectacular’ coverage for The Gathering
By: Malaka Rodrigo,Sunday Times
Sunday July 17,2011
International travel guide puts Minneriya wildlife phenomenon among the world’s top wildlife treats.
Malaka Rodrigo reports

Sri Lanka's image as a nature-based tourist destination has been given a boost by the internationally acclaimed travel guide Lonely Planet, which has named the "elephant gathering" of Minneriya as one of the world's "10 greatest wildlife spectaculars."

'The Gathering' is the name given to the elephants that assemble on the banks of the Minneriya Reservoir during the dry season. Every evening, between 150 and 200 elephants arrive at the reservoir, mainly to graze the grasses growing on the tank bed. During the drought, the water level drops, revealing a tank bed that allows the grass to grow. The elephants turn to these much needed fodder at a time when foliage in other areas dry up. The Minneriya reservoir also becomes a playground where the elephants can satisfy their water needs.

The Gathering peaks in August and September, at the height of the drought. According to wildlife authorities, the Minneriya gathering is the largest grouping of wild Asian elephants at any given time.
This congregation of elephants probably goes back centuries, but it was only recently that the phenomenon was considered a potential tourist attraction, thanks to Srilal Miththapala and Gehan de Silva Wijerathne, who promote wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka. Five years ago they branded the wildlife event as The Gathering, and it has been drawing a growing number of visitors since.

The sad news, however, is that The Gathering may be threatened. If a plan to retain the Minneriya waters in the dry season is carried out, the temporary grasslands on the bed of the Minneriya tank would disappear, and the number of elephant visitors would decline. This would affect the area's elephant population, which depends on the temporary grassland as fodder in the dry season. The baby elephants would be especially seriously affected.

That The Gathering has gained international recognition as a nature "spectacular" may help in lobbying for keep the Minneriya tank for the elephants.

The popularity of the wildlife event has also created problems for itself. During the months of The Gathering, the Minneriya park is crowded with safari jeeps, which often block the elephants' way to the tank. Wildlife activists say there is a need to monitor the safari jeep traffic and manage visitor behaviour to minimize inconvenience to the elephants.

The Gathering ranks sixth on the Lonely Planet wildlife spectaculars list. The list includes famous nature events such as the great wildebeest migration in Serengeti; brown bears feasting in Alaska; the penguin rookery in the Atlantic, the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico; orca feeding in Argentina, starling roosting in England, and the salmon run in South Africa.

Lanka herded with world’s best nature treats

Lonely Planet’s 10 Greatest Wildlife Spectacles

1. Látrabjarg bird cliffs, Iceland
2. Monarch butterfly roosts, Mexico
3. King Penguin rookery, South Atlantic
4. Great migration, Serengeti, Tanzania
5. Brown bears feasting, Alaska, USA
6. Elephant gathering, Sri Lanka
7. Bats of Dear Cave, Sarawak, Malaysia
8. Orca feeding, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina
9. Starlings roosting, Somerset, England
10. Sardine run, South Africa

Let us not make this majestic gathering a thing of the past (Sri Lanka)
By Srilal Miththapala, Sunday Times
August 24, 2008

It is late afternoon. The open plains of the giant Minneriya reservoir gradually cool as the sun slowly glides down to the horizon. The waters of the reservoir shimmer in the receding sunlight. Slowly from the surrounding scrub jungle a large dark shadow appears. The first matriarch slowly ambles on to the open plains, followed by her family group. They slowly disperse around and start grazing on the lush grass shoots growing on the damp earth, exposed by the receding water of the reservoir.

As if on cue, more dark shadows emerge, as matriarchs lead their herds out. In a short while there are over a hundred elephants, large and small, ‘strewn’ all over the plains, eating, playing, jostling , drinking , bathing…... The Gathering has begun.

A unique world phenomenon : A high concentration of elephants in a small area

The Gathering takes place every year usually from about mid July until October, coinciding with the dry season in the North Central/Eastern Province. With the drought, the available water resources in the area dry up, limiting the available water for the large number of wild elephants in the area. A fully grown elephant usually would require about 100 litres of water per day and therefore, accessibility to a good source of water is vital to the elephant’s survival.

The Minneriya Tank or reservoir in the North Central Province covering approximately 8,900 hectares was constructed by King Mahasen in the 3rd century AD, fills up during the North –East monsoon. As the rains cease and the dry season begins, the drought takes it toll, and the water in the reservoir starts to dry up. Although the reservoir shrinks dramatically, it never really runs dry. As the water has recedes, it leaves behind fertile, moist soil, where lush grass quickly sprouts.

The entire reservoir is surrounded by scrub jungle, which opens out into the vast plains of the Minneriya tank. This provides an ideal and unique refuge for elephants during the dry season, where there is an abundant source of water, with nutritious grasslands, and also a readymade jungle cover, to retreat to, when the noonday sun becomes too hot.

This is what really causes the now famous ‘Gathering’ of elephants at Minneriya. It is not a migration, but really a ‘coming together’ of a number of different herds of wild elephants from the surrounding areas of the North Central Province. It is surmised that elephants from the Wasgomuwa park, and from far-off areas such as Kantale, make this annual visit. This is indeed a unique phenomena, not seen anywhere else in the world -such a high concentration of wild elephantsin such a small area.

There are large numbers of juveniles in these herds and a smaller number of mature male elephants can also be sighted, the most famous of which is the adolescent young tusker, and two mature tuskers, one with a single tusk, frequently seen among the congregating herds.

The gathering of elephants at Minneriya is therefore a wonderful opportunity for the wild life enthusiast and casual traveller to watch and observe the social dynamics of elephants at leisure.

Realising the potential of this unique event, Sri Lanka Tourism has now embarked on a campaign to popularize and publicize this event. Already thousands of visitors are rushing to view this magnificent sight, and if properly managed and publicized, this could eventually become as popular and well-known the world over as the Masai Mara Wildebeest migration.

The Gathering’s popularity is seen from the visitor statistics of the Minneriya park. Foreign visitor arrivals to the park up to June this year showed a 43% increase from last year, with park entrance revenue going up to Rs.3.1M from Rs.2.1M for the same period last year ( Department of Wild Life Conservation figures). The temporary closure of Yala and Uda Walawe for a short period may have had an effect, but there is no doubt that ‘The Gathering’ is now fast gathering momentum!

However, the downside is that the Minneriya Park administration is not geared to manage this large influx of visitors. On weekends, it is a common sight to see 25-30 jeeps entering the park, many without trackers due to the shortage of staff. The open plains of the Minneriya Wev Pitiya have no clear demarcated routes, and jeep drivers, greedy for tips from the foreign visitors, often drive all over the grasslands to get a better and closer view of the elephants. This disrupts the elephants’ feeding, as well as their movements towards the water, also damaging the rich grasslands.

The Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) along with many of the leading hotels in the area is planning a training session for trackers, as well as the jeep drivers to educate them of the importance of protecting the wildlife and not disturbig it. It is important that they understand that we humans are the trespassers, who are invading the elephants’ territory.

Concerted and urgent effort is therefore necessary - otherwise the disruption and stress caused to the elephants would soon result in them seeking greener pastures and we would have killed the ‘goose that lays the golden egg’ - and The Gathering will be no more.

GATHER, ONE & ALL - WANDERLUST - Writer Lizzie Matthews discovers Minneriya Elephant Gathering.

To be guaranteed a viewing of Sri Lanka 's wild elephant population I needed to head north, to Minneriya National Park , venue for the second event in my social diary. This was to be a bit special - a natural assembly of up to 300 elephants that congregate around the shores of Minneriya Tank in the dry season to bathe, drink and feast on the emerald grass around its edge. Known simply as The Gathering, this is the largest congregation of wild Asian elephants in the world -yet hardly anyone knows about it.

The sun's heat was waning as we headed out into the park, the dry, crunchy undergrowth and deep-red earth a sharp contrast to the lush greens of the Knuckles. Nadeera, a softly spoken naturalist, sat next to me in the jeep as we bumped along. "There's no point getting here earlier,"he explained. "It's only in the cool of the evening that the elephants come out from the shade of the jungle."

As we chugged out of the forest, Minneriya Tank appeared before us, a shining mirror that glinted out into horizon so I couldn't tell where lake finished and golden plains began. A fish eagle rode the thermals above the water, scanning for food, while a small mongoose darted across the grass between the myriad mounds of... yes, there it was... elephant dung.

It peppered the plains like the world's worst molehill problem and there, in its midst, plodded its makers a solemn but beautiful band of grey walking slowly towards the lake like giant iron filings being drawn to a magnet. Splashes of white danced between their legs - opportunistic egrets trying to catch the cloud of insects being kicked up by the herd.

"Can you make out the different families?" asked Nadeera. We drove a bit closer and cut the engine. What had seemed like one giant group from a distance was actually made up of smaller family units, each with its own youngsters, mothers and dominating matriarch.

The more I watched, the more I noticed - playful teenagers bumping into the legs of their elders; stroppy eles lying down on the ground and refusing to budge; the tiny newborn, not more than a month-old, surrounded by its mother and aunts like a diminutive pop star and her huge bodyguards. Even through binoculars I could only catch glimpses of her, but in ' a rare moment of clarity, I watched as the other adults gave the mother and child some space and it started to suckle.

As the herd edged into the water, a lone bull emerged from the forest and wandered towards them. He looked edgy and skittish, hormones dribbling down its face.

"He's in must," said Nadeera as we reversed out of his way. One of the other jeeps wasn't so sensible and provoked a spirited charge that could have turned nasty. Instead, the bull veered off at the last second and flounced into the lake where he swam out to an island, trunk held aloft like a snorkel, to take the elephant equivalent of a cold shower.

Oblivious to the drama, the main herd sauntered on along the carpet of fresh grass shoots as the remaining shafts of sunlight cast their glow between the blue hills on the horizon. For all the glitz and drama of the Esala Perahera, this was how elephants were meant to be. It couldn't have been more beautiful - and not a fairy light or a golden tusk between them.


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