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Of BBQs, Campfires and Stars

Of BBQs, Campfires and Stars

There’s something soothing, yet exciting, about being in the jungle at night; the deep bellows from bullfrogs in the dark, the chirping of a hundred crickets surrounding you, the wind rustling through the scraggly trees… all voices of the night spread throughout absolute silence and isolation. I pondered over these peculiarities as my dining experience at Big Game Camps Yala came to life.

candle and cake at big game camps sri lankaIlluminated by candles, stars, and a dancing campfire, a plate of grilled-to-order BBQ and garlic rice was set in front of me – the second course of my three course dinner experience in the wilderness. I must say that when I think of camping in Sri Lanka, table-side service with courses and polished silverware isn’t the typecast experience, but Big Game’s camping experience is designed with all creature comforts in mind while still being immersed in Nature.

My own Big Game Camp accommodation in Yala featured a comfortable tent with proper bedding and en-suite bathroom with running hot water, plus, the real deciding factor for Yala camping, a flushable toilet! Additionally, I’ll be missing the dread of 4am cold showers pre-safari tomorrow morning. As far as safari camps in Sri Lanka goes, this ticks all my ‘creature comfort’ boxes.

By the time dessert arrived – and it was perhaps the most luscious chocolate biscuit pudding I’ve had – the long, drawn out hoot of an owl which echoed across the jungle, stopped with a sudden flutter and rustle. Inarguably dinnertime was all around. And as the night grew older, with the stars softly twinkling over my fast disappearing dessert, the sounds of the rest of the jungle picked up the slack of now still forks and knives, with whispers of wildlife. If this is just dinner, you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be skipping breakfast.

 

- By Talia F.

Guest overnight stay at Big Game Camp Yala on 5th June 2019.

 

Ivory VS Metal

Ivory VS Metal

It was a promising day for jeep safaris in general; the weather was pleasant, the endemic birds were out and about, and there was a quiet determination in the air to spot the big cat in Yala – the world’s prime leopard territory. Overall we wished for luck, though in hindsight we should have specified what type of luck! For our luck, we were accosted by an enormous Sri Lankan Tusker in ‘musth’ deep in the Katagamuwa Sanctuary!

For the uninitiated, getting attacked by tuskers on a jeep safari can literally take a wrong turn, but coupled with the fact that the elephant is in heat a.k.a musth, means a lot more trouble. And a lot more trouble it was! Out of nowhere this tusker charged straight for the jeep, but with the angle of the attack it was much more dangerous to abandon ship. So with swift instructions to brace for the attack, we felt the impact. Not going to mince words, it was quite a violent blow to the side of the jeep. His elongated tusks pierced right through the metal of the jeep and into the fuel tank!

Luckily – finally the right kind of luck – with our yelling the tusker might have recalled being a gentle giant pre-musth, and possibly decided he might have been rude in front of guests, thus left as quickly and surprisingly as he arrived! After all, out of most Asian Elephants, the elephants in Sri Lanka have built up a reputation for being gentle giants. Unfortunately it’s really luck you need when catching them at a good time!

All in all, experiences like these are what makes a good story. We just called in a tow, got in another jeep, and pushed on. And as luck would have it we spotted a leopard at Yala National Park later that day, with, might I add, notably no interest in attacking us!

By Dharmasiri Weerawardhna, Big Game Safari Jeep Driver

Leftover Steak Dinner

Leftover Steak Dinner

“The leopards rule the jungles of Sri Lanka, found especially to be concentrated in the Yala dry zone. We were reminded of this at the height of May this year, when heat and humidity reigned alongside the Yala leopards. I noted a sudden stench of death and decay in the air… terrifyingly close to camp. Enlisting the help of a few other Big Game team members, our search party began tracking the smell to its source.

The flies buzzing around the camp border, which is directly on the buffer zone of Yala National Park, was our second clue. There, in the half-shade surrounded by flies and jungle crows, a wild cow carcass lay ripped apart and open! Not quite a fresh kill, as with the look and smell of the carcass we put it down as at least a few days old. The horrid smell was owed the accelerated decomposition rate due to the heat and humidity!

Nervous that the leopard might come back for his leftover steak dinner, and also weary of the overwhelming stench percolating on the safari camping borders, we reported the carcass and disposed of it safely. Though the leopard has yet to return, the team keeps a close eye on the borders, and incorporates the experience as a walk-through story during night walks. Really just goes to show that a Yala safari isn’t always where the action is!”

By Dharmasiri, Big Game Safari Camps’ driver cum guide.

Aliyas and Narias at Udawalawe National Park

Aliyas and Narias at Udawalawe National Park

For the uninitiated, ‘aliya’ means elephant and ‘naria’ means jackal in Sinhala. For the Udawalawe National Park safari-goer, they both mean the same thing – a memorable wildlife sighting! Even on particularly rainy days, an Udawalawe Safari is never disappointing as animals tend to come out for water. This safari in particular brought us up close and personal with packs of jackals and herds of elephants!

What started out as grey skies worsened to a tropical storm, which we took as a bad omen for a safari with no fruitful sightings. Perhaps the jackals and elephants in Sri Lanka didn’t get the memo, as every 100 meters we had to stop and watch in awe as giant and furry wildlife played before our eyes and lenses!
Like all Asian elephants, the Sri Lankan subspecies chats using visual, acoustic, and chemical signals. At least fourteen different vocal and acoustic signals have been recorded! Asian elephants are smaller in size when compared to African elephants and have the highest body point on the head. Females are generally smaller in size than males, and have short or no tusks. Sri Lankan elephants are the largest subspecies reaching a shoulder height of between 2 and 3.5 m, weigh between 2000 and 5500 kg, and have 19 pairs of ribs. In July 2013, a dwarf Sri Lankan elephant was sighted in Udawalawe National Park – it was over 1.5 m tall but had legs shorter than average, and was the stronger opponent in a skirmish with a young bull!

The Sri Lankan jackal (Canis aureus naria), a.k.a the Southern Indian jackal, is a subspecies of golden jackal native to southern India and Sri Lanka. The jackal is slightly smaller than a wolf, with overall smaller legs, body, and tail. This canine is noted to be incredibly mysterious, curious, and agile. However, they aren’t quite as tame as your pet back home. Jackals are skilled hunters and scavengers. With pack mentality, they can organise and take down large prey. The pack also waits for other predators to make a kill, fill up, and then enjoy their leftovers.