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Wild Elephants in Sri Lanka – Exploring in Your Own TukTuk

Driving a tuk tuk is great, driving through a Protected Area (PA) is amazing and spotting Biodiversity from the comfort of your Three Wheeler is a priceless experience. Please be aware, however, that messing around with Wildlife can get you badly injured, lose your TukTuk or even result if you make irresponsible and reckless decisions!

Sri Lanka is an island of legally protected wilderness areas, of which there are over 1000 such Protected Areas (PAs) spanning the length and breadth of the island (across all ecological-climatic zones). Unfortunately, very few people are aware of this fact, and even when it comes to the Protected Area (PA) Types and Tiers that people do recognise (which in Sri Lanka’s case is its National Parks(, the majority of people only know of National Parks such as Yala, Udawalawe, Horton Plains, Minneriya, Kaudulla and Wilpattu.

As such, there is an extreme likelihood that you will cut across one of these Protected Areas (PAs) during your travels across the island. Do not be fooled, as many of these PAs have tarred/concreted roads (i.e. Public Roads) cutting across them, but that does not mean that they are safe places, especially if you decide to exit your tuktuk within the boundaries of such PAs, a mistake made by many people! In the majority of these PAs, you will find a large number of Wild Sri Lankan Elephants which have unfortunately become habituated to the presence of vehicular traffic, as both locals and foreigners tend to stop and feed them from the safety of a vehicle (usually a Bus, Van or Sedan). However, this is highly detrimental to both Humans and Wild Elephants, as it creates a false sense of security that these Elephants are “tame” and can be approached on foot, fed and even touched. This could not be further from the truth; if attempted, you could be seriously injured or even lose your life. Additionally, there are health implications for such Wild Elephants, as the unnatural behaviour of staying in a single location all day, combined with the often polythene-wrapped, high-sugar food items, can very easily lead to the death of the Wild Elephant in question. Sri Lanka has enough issues relating to the Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC), and every Wild Elephant lost is another severe blow to the stability of the overall population!

As such, keep the following points in mind when travelling across the island:

  1. Feeding, harassing and directly interacting with Wild Elephants, as well as any other examples of Biodiversity, are all activities that are completely illegal and in direct violation of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO). Such activities can incur hefty fines and potential penalties!

  2. When cutting across any Protected Area (PA) with a tarred/concrete road, do not exit or stop your tuk tuk at any point! Only exit your tuktuk once you have left the Protected Area (PA). You’ll usually know once you’ve exited due to the presence of scattered settlements, electric fences, electric gates, small-scale solar power stations and checkpoints, which normally demarcate the extent of a Protected Area (PA), though keep in mind that this isn’t always the case.

  3. If you need to stop to take a picture of a Wild Elephant (or any example of wildlife, for that matter), then do so only at a very safe and far distance. Do not approach and/or park within 100 – 150 metres of a Wild Elephant for extended periods, as it might decide to walk/run towards you, reach into your tuk tuk looking for any food items present or get annoyed and damage/flip/smash/crush your tuktuk (see the image below).

  4. If you see others engaging in the above mentioned examples of illegal, unwise behaviour, do not join in with them. Just keep driving through. If they signal to you to engage in such behaviour with them, politely decline and carry on your journey.

  5. Finally, do not attempt to take selfies with Wild Elephants, and do not fly drones within the boundaries of any Protected Area (PA), as the latter is both illegal and extremely distressing to Wild Elephants and other examples of Biodiversity!

Remember, Habituation DOES NOT EQUAL “Tame”, so be extremely careful when approaching, observing, photographing and passing a Wild Elephant. A classic example of this is the mixed group of Wild Elephants that can be found along the length of the B035 Byway (alternatively the Badalkumbura – Buttala – Sella – Kataragama Road), specifically the section that cuts across Yala National Park – Blocks III, IV and V. These Wild Elephants that have unfortunately become habituated to vehicular traffic and expect/demand (the latter only in certain cases) food from vehicles cutting across the park. Another set of examples are the Male Elephants who sometimes stand on the bund of the Udawalawe Reservoir (which demarcates the southern boundary of Udawalawe National Park). Ultimately, while we want you to have fun and gain once-in-a-lifetime experiences, there must be a level of respect maintained for Sri Lanka’s fantastic Biodiversity, which will also ensure your safety!

Protected Areas (PAs) such as Wilpattu National Park, the Hurulu Ecological (Eco) Park, Kaudulla National Park, Minneriya National Park, the Sigiriya – Pidurangala Wildlife Sanctuary, Wasgamuwa National Park, Maduru Oya National Park, Gal Oya Valley National Park, Kumana National Park, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park are ALL WILDERNESS AREAS WHERE YOU CAN ENCOUNTER WILD ELEPHANTS AND OTHER BIODIVERSITY ON THE ROADS (THAT CUT ACROSS THESE PROTECTED AREAS). THUS WHEN ATTEMPTING SUCH ROADS YOU NEED TO BE EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS! 

Please note, as mentioned above, that it is highly illegal to stop on roads that go through Protected Areas (PAs) and it’s even more illegal (not to mention extremely hazardous) to feed or interact with any example of Biodiversity!


This photo is of a member of “The Rogues”, which toppled
a tuktuk.

This page was co-authored by Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservationist and Protected Area (PA) Specialist John Wilson. If you have any further questions and/or clarifications, feel free to contact him directly via his Instagram, 

1 Comment

  • Posted March 12, 2024 8:23 pm
    by Terri Matthiesson

    thank you for this information

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