Notes from the past

Morning mist

Morning mist

Jan. 25-Feb. 09 2007 – – –

First day back at the park. Whenever we roll through the gates, I can’t help thinking “Welcome, to Jurassic Park…” On one side, civilization. On the other, elephants living their unhurried lives. Most other parks are unfenced, have several roads in, and an unassuming little office somewhere that issues tickets. Uda Walawe has a neatly swept sandy entry lot, where jeeps of tourists pull in. There’s only one way in or out, electric fencing all around. The ticket office sits at the entry, connected by an aerial walkway to bathrooms and trackers’ offices/quarters on the other side. Whole tree trunks form the pillars. A big lift-up gate and chain sits in the middle, barring the way. When you’ve bought your tickets, a tracker hops in, and off you go. Occasionally a big male lumbers past just behind the gates.Early morning one day the mist over the dam and in the valley was so thick you couldn’t see more than 10 meters. Flocks of swallows were in a dawn feeding-frenzy.

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We enter. A crowd of rosy starlings noisily takes to the air. It’s just past dawn. These days it’s cool, the mist is just lifting and the sky is just turning light. We startle a little jackal, who leaps into the tall grass and disappears. Sleepy wild pigs are caught off guard, crossing the road. The peacocks are still in their roosts, calling in chorus from tree to tree. Nearby is a silhouetted male, his train a feathery waterfall cascading out of the branches of the tree. The sun is rising behind him, and as we pass by, he throws back his head and utters his mournful wail…



02/28/2007 – – –

Followed Deepa in the morning. This is fairly open space, with acres of tall grass. We can see quite easily. She’s with her calf and a regular companion, [065], who may be her adult daughter. Also present is [866], [065]’s female calf. She has grown in the two years since I’ve seen her, almost sub-adult size. She’s most easily identifiable by the two little spots of de-pigmentation (pink areas without skin pigment) on her earlobes, like earrings. But [065] isn’t always with Deepa, so I haven’t named her yet – usual practice would be to give all related individuals (or individuals from the same social group) names beginning with the same letter.

It turns out to be a drizzly day later in the afternoon. Perfect weather for elephants – they come out to mud bathe, and drink the clean water collecting in the rocks. [469] and two calves are doing just that as we come accross them on Nuga (Fig tree) Road. Her calf squirts water out of his trunk. It’s a season of plenty, he’s not worried about thirst. Behind them about thirty meters away, another small group emerges against the scrub. The habitat here is short grass interspersed with trees and bushes. The elephants troop by in a straight line, and among them is a tiny baby just bigger than a coconut.

[469] and calves

(469) and calves

We hear that there are some elephants up the road from a circuit bungalow and head that way. We find one subadult. She stares at us, shakes her head, and runs away, disappearing off the side of the road and into the thick green. We move up slowly, out she pops again. She tosses her trunk and takes off, moving up the road several meters then out of view again around a bend. We decide to follow, hoping she’ll lead us to the group. Once again we come up on her…she leads, disappears, we follow. It’s turning into a bit of a game. Eventually we pull up next to her, and as we hang around trying to get a portrait, she growls. This is a soft-sounding contact call that sounds like a dog growl. And then, from all around, come growls in reply. So, the group is here!

Long Ear

Long ear with (214)

We pass her by, hoping to catch up with the group. Just a few meters up, at the intersection, there they are. Around the corner is a big rock, named Thali Gala (gala=rock). We’re surrounded by the continuous growls of elephants as they eat. Some are grazing, one is working on stripping branches. Two adult females and their calves cross the road. They are [217] – LongEar, and [214].

As they disappear into the forest, it starts to pour again. We’re watching from the gap beneath the roll-down tent of the jeep. We turn towards Thali gala at the junction, and we see our subadult female on silhouetted on top of the rock, against the rain. Down below is a large male, emerging from the gloom. He lifts his trunk calmly and sniffs us as we move off.

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