Uda Walawe is one of the country’s most popular national parks for visitors experience a personal encounter with the Asian Elephant, who can be seen year-round in good numbers. The park borders the Walawe River which is lined with tracts of riverine forest and the vast Uda Walawe reservoir along with numerous waterholes scatted throughout the park, ensuring year-round water sources for the wildlife. The tall Mana grass spread throughout the park is tall enough to almost conceal a full grown elephant along with scrub jungle vegetation which is common across the dry-zone. The park lies in on the border between the intermediate and the dry-zone and offers a beautiful view of the Kaltota mountain range.
It is believed that around 250 or more elephants reside permanently within the park, where there are several small herds of 10 to 20 animals comprising of the females and their young. The large bull elephants (including some magnificent tuskers) tend to move around the national park and the surrounding forested areas in search of receptive females. One of the icons of Uda Walawe is ‘Rambo’ the elephant who lines up along the electric fence feeding on hand outs provided by visitors (although this is not permitted) who pass this area. Despite the best efforts from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), who erected a second electric fence to prevent the elephants from approaching the roadside, the ever adaptable Rambo defied l
Local authorities by swimming across the reservoir to his new post, where he is now seen on most days. Adjacent to the national park lies the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home which is a project run jointly by the DWC along with the Born Free Foundation and other NGOs, where orphaned elephant calves are brought in, rehabilitated over a period of a few years and released back into the wild in small batches. This initiative entails minimum human activity, hence no contact with the elephants is allowed. Visitors can view the elephants from a distance. To date, close to 100 elephants have been rehabilitated and subsequently released and currently the home has 40 young elephants ranging from tiny calves to boisterous teenagers. This is a worthy cause which helps the wild animals return to their natural state without spending a lifetime in captivity.
Along with elephants, a variety of other animals found in the dry lowlands can be encountered during a game drive in Uda Walawe. This range includes Spotted Deer, Jackal, Toque Macaques, Grey Langur and Mugger Crocodiles by the water’s edge. Leopards are also seen here although sightings are extremely rare as the tall grass cover makes spotting the cats virtually impossible. Uda Walawe however is one of the few known locations for seeing the rare and even more elusive Jungle Cat, a medium sized species of wild cat which can be seen crossing jungle paths or walking along them. With a diverse variety of habitats, Uda Walawe is also a popular birding spot with over 200 recorded species which include rare migrants such as the European Bee Eater, European Roller, White Wag Tail. It is also one of the best spots for watching birds of prey where numerous species including the Brown Fish Owl, Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Grey-headed Fishing Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard can be seen. Occasionally one may glimpse the majestic Black Eagle, which is one of the country’s large winged predators, known to feed on small mammals including monkeys.
Uda Walawe was declared a refuge for elephants and other wild animals during the irrigation project which created the Uda Walawe reservoir. Before it was given the designation of a national park, the entire area was used for shifting chena cultivation and the land was in a neglected state. The farmers were gradually removed once the area was declared a national park in 1972, when the late Lynn de Alwis was the Director General at the DWC. The creation of Uda Walawe National Park can be looked at as one of the few conservation success stories. At present, the over grazing of domestic cattle and feral buffalos pose a threat to the natural eco-systems while the laying of traps and poaching for bush meat is among the main threats to the wildlife within the reserve. Despite being renowned as an elephant park, the wealth of biodiversity and the abundance of wildlife makes Uda Walawe one of the best all-round national parks to visit year-round. There are some guest houses and 3-4 star hotels and tented camps in Uda Walawe town where visitors can stay.
Riaz Cader is a travel writer and a photographer who is
passionate about wildlife and its conservation.
He is currently the Manager – Inbound at Classic Sri Lanka and whether
through work or leisure, Riaz is constantly traveling and
exploring the country and its wilderness areas.