Elephants in Habarana’s Eco-Park
The two well-known national parks near Habarana are Kaudulla and Minneriya. So we were more than a little skeptical while listening to this guy pitch the Hurulu Eco-Park: a little-known reserve that didn’t even appear in our guidebook. “Don’t worry!” he cried, “All the elephants are in Eco-Park!” Sure they are, buddy. But what were we going to do, claim that we knew better?
“I just know that this is a rip-off, Jürgen. We’re not going to see any elephants.”
Wrong! That guy knew what he was talking about. We saw so many elephants, I wasn’t even able to count them all. At around fifty, I gave up… and then another herd sauntered into view. It was amazing. These were gorgeous, wild and occasionally angry elephants; nothing like the friendly, damaged characters we’d met at Pinnawela.
For the first 45 minutes of our tour through the Eco-Park, I had felt my worst fears coming true. We had only seen an eagle, and a green beater bird (rare, according to our driver, who I wasn’t yet inclined to trust). But just as I was getting depressed, Jürgen spotted something big and gray in the woods. Our driver backed up, and there: a young male elephant eating a lonely meal of leaves.
Soon after that, tipped off by another jeep, we drove into the brush and interrupted the dinner of an entire family. Four large elephants, a couple adolescents and two very young babies. Although visibly annoyed by our presence, they continued their meal. Our driver felt we were too close, and turned the jeep around “in case they attack”. This happens a lot, as we would later witness.
The best part of the day came towards the end, when we arrived at a field where an incredible number of elephants were grazing. A few other jeeps were there, too, but the park wasn’t anywhere near as over-crowded as we’ve heard Yala can get. We parked and watched the elephants eat and play for almost an hour, keeping a respectful distance. Another jeep got too close, provoking an ill-tempered youngster to charge. Exciting, and to be honest, I was kind of rooting for the elephant. It wasn’t our jeep (or lives). But they sped away unscathed.
We had a great time at the Eco-Park and paid a lot less than what we would have coughed up at Yala or other National Reserves. Make sure to consider it as an option if you’re looking for something to do around Habarana.