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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.

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

The Secret Safari

The Secret Safari

Ever been on a secret safari before? We at Big Game Camps Sri Lanka invite you to step out of your tent, and step into your safari! This is just one of the many benefits of camping where elephants roam, peacocks dance, and jungle cats prowl, and is a very unique advantage of being in close proximity to the Yala, Udawalawe and Wilpattu National Parks!

Enjoy bird watching by simply looking up at the trees or near the watering holes and try to spot everything from the Yellow-fronted barbet to the Pompadour green pigeon. Or, wander around the campsite and encounter anything from 30 species of butterflies to sunbathing Elephants! This isn’t your textbook Sri Lankan Safari, this is living with wildlife and having the experience of a never-ending safari.

For an additional fee, and subject to availability, ask for the camp’s naturalist and enjoy a guided nature walk and / or night walk to make the most of your secret safari in Sri Lanka.

Popular and rare campsite sightings at Big Game Yala: Grey hornbill, jungle fowl, brown-capped babbler, pompadour green pigeon, yellow-fronted barbet, ceylon barbet, mugger crocodile, land monitor, green guardian lizard, painted-lipped lizard, tree snake, rat snake, flying snake, green vine snake, python, cobra, ruddy mongoose, hare, spotted deer, giant squirrel, ring-tailed civet, palmed civet, loris, rusty spotted cat.

Popular and rare campsite sightings at Big Game Udawalawe: Wild boar, black-naped hare, star tortoise, ruddy mongoose, land monitor, peacock, hornbills, 20 other species of birds, 10 species of butterflies, ring tailed civet, jungle cats, grey langur, toque macaque, giant squirrel, palm squirrel.

Popular and rare campsite sightings at Big Game Wilpattu: Spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer, elephant, jungle cat, fishing cat, porcupine, giant squirrel, palm squirrel, peacock, brahminy kite, pangolin, loris, black-naped hare, mongoose, land monitor, 27 species of snakes, 125 species of birds, 47 species of butterflies.


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