Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'The Gathering’, which is the largest annual seasonal congregation of elephants in the world

Images by Jetwing Vil Uyana naturalist Chaminda Jayasekera

Each year, throughout the long and harsh dry season, which extends from May through to October, Asian elephants congregate in large numbers around the grassy plains exposed by the receding water of the tanks of Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks. As the dry season intensifies from around August, anywhere up to 250 Asian elephants may be observed — in a single safari — on the open plains, as different herds join up with each other forming large, loose-knit associations. This phenomenon has been dubbed as ‘the Gathering’, which is the largest annual seasonal congregation of elephants in the world and was ranked by Lonely Planet sixth amongst the world’s top wildlife spectacles.

Elephants are the largest living land mammals and are charismatic giants. They live in close knit family groups, led by a matriarch. These family groups form larger herds in which there are young males. Adults males are generally solitary and associate with herds only for mating.

The Gathering offers excellent opportunities for the wildlife enthusiast to observe the social dynamics and natural behaviour of wild Asian elephants at close-range: large bulls competing amongst themselves and seeking out receptive females in the herd; elephant calves at play: or the bliss of an elephant when immersed in water.

During the wet season, the elephants disperse and head back to the surrounding forests, where water and fodder is readily available. From November through to April, Elephant Watching Safaris are run at the nearby Hurullu Eco Park where anywhere up to 50–75 elephants may be observed.