During the dry season between the months of July and September, the retreating banks of a man made tank in the north of Sri Lanka gives rise to one of the most extraordinary sights in this already unique country.
The reduction of water brings hundreds of elephants each year to the shores of an ancient reservoir built by a king more than 1,700 years ago. Up to four hundred elephants congregate to feed, socialize and bathe on the banks in a journey that dates back centuries.
The largest gathering of elephants at one moment in the entire continent, this movement is commonly mistaken for a migration but this is not the case. A better way to define the elephant gathering in Minneriya is as an annual coming together of elephants.
When and where?
The Minneriya National Park is located in the North Central Province of the country. Roughly ten kilometres from the city of Habarana, the Minneriya National Park is quite small when compared with the majority of Sri Lanka’s parks. However, it still has plenty to offer as it is home to animals like spotted deer, sambar, purple-faced langur monkeys and macaques but of course, the main highlight is the herds of elephants. Commonly known as “the Gathering”, it takes place at the man made Minneriya Tank which takes up most of the park.
The receding water leaves behind a water bed where lush grass grows, which serves as food for these hungry pachyderms. With the surrounding areas devoid of water, the elephants move to the only place where they know they can get water in the area. The forest is enclosed on all sides by tall trees and a thick forest that give the elephants respite from the hot sun during the day. As the sun sets in the tropical country, they begin to emerge towards the tank, starting off with one or two, building up to 400 at peak times. Once they are done with the meals, these majestic beasts frolic in the tank where they spray themselves and each other with water.
How do you see this?
Since the elephant gathering is one of the major attractions in the park, many hotels and guesthouses in the town of Habarana can help organise a safari to take you there. The elephants turn active after the sun goes down, preferring to sleep away the hot afternoons. A safari costs between LKR 7,000 to 8,000 and the best thing to do is traverse the rest of the park looking for the other wildlife before dropping by during sunset to the lake so you can finish the day off with the unreal sight of the Elephant gathering.