Two hundred elephants gathered to bath and socialize in the waters of the ancient man-made lake in Minneriya National Park is truly a wondrous sight to behold.
They will have arrived from all corners of this best know of Sri Lanka’s many wildlife sanctuaries: old bulls, mother with babies, and the aging matriarchs that keep order among the bolshie upstart younger bulls.
Mounting anticipation during an initial 40-minute drive through dense forest is rewarded as the landscape dramatically opens to reveal superb views across this tranquil inland sea.
Built by King Mahasen in the third century AD, the Minnerya Tank, with its capacity of 55,600 acres (22,500ha) when full and catchment area of 59,300 acres (24,000ha), is fed by the Elahera channel, which carries water from the Amban ganga (stream).
With plenty of grassland, scrub, forest and wetlands, the 89sq km sanctuary is home to most of Sri Lanka’s wildlife, including the elusive leopard, toque macaques, sambar deer, buffalo and crocodiles.
Records show that the national park’s fauna includes 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, nine species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies.
It is particularly rich in bird life, being an important habitat for large water birds and a breeding ground for species including the little cormorant, great white pelican, ruddy turnstone and grey heron.
Among the endemic birds found here are junglefowl, hanging parrot, brown-capped babbler, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, black-crested bulbul and crimson-fronted barbet.
The park also earns its keep, with revenues topping Rs20 million a year, all of which goes towards ensuring that it remains a vital wildlife sanctuary and top destination for animal and bird lovers the world over.