The waters of the Minneriya Tank built by King Mahasen in the 3rd Century recede. Fed by the waters the bank is covered in lush green and attracts many a herd of elephants. From higher ground in the park, jeeps are parked with tourists watching the spectacle that is called ‘The Gathering” which is the yearly gathering of Elephants in search of water.
Led by the matriarch, who first senses danger, the herd emerges. Older elephants form a protective flank around their young calves. Here the elephants feed, bath in the water and birth. The congregation, at times, has 100 – 150 elephants from different herds. As the gentle giants lazily graze the young calves frolic teasing the adults. They get up to all forms of mischief. However the watchful matriarch would warningly trumpet if any try to move too far away from the heard.
When an elephant is giving birth the older females form a protective ring around her too, probably to offer support too. Once they part, lucky onlookers can see the struggling calf try to stand and walk.
At times a bull (male) elephant or two in musth may barge in through the bushes. Musth is a surge of testosterone levels in male elephants that make them aggressive. They usually come here in search of a mate. When there are more than two bull elephants they will lock trunks in wrestling and shoving matches to decide who is the supreme male. The herd moves away as soon as the fight breaks loose and the adults move to safeguard their young. It’s best for jeeps to be at a safe distance from the match.
Watching these giant mammals go about their daily routine is a lovely experience. The special moments between mother and calf will keep you feeling happy, capturing memories to take home. The Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are protected areas so listen to your tracker at all times. Be sure not to get too close to the elephants.
After having their fill at the Minneriya Tank during the first two months, the herds move to the Kaudulla National Park where the waters recede in September. Once the year-end monsoons set in October/November, the elephants disperse from the large group and head back into the jungle cover. In a tradition passed down the generation they will be back next year for four months of idle relaxation on the banks of the Minneriya and Kaudulla tanks.