Minneriya National Park is the only park where you can witness the largest number of wild Asian elephants gathering together. To see all sizes and shapes, hundreds and hundreds of elephants thriving in their natural habitat is a sight one must not miss. In 1938, the 88.9 sq km area was declared as a wildlife sanctuary. Then it was declared as a national park on 12 August 1997. It is 187km away from Colombo in North Central province of Sri Lanka. If you use A1(Colombo-Kandy) and A6(Ambepuss-Trincomalee) routes to reach Minneriya National Park from Colombo, journey will take about four and half hours.
Sigiriya airport is the nearest airport to Minneriya National Park. If you travel from Colombo, you can take a domestic flight from Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. Within 35 minutes you can Reach to Sigiriya airport. Then take a private cab to reach Minneriya, it will take about half an hour. Then you have to arrange a jeep to travel through the park. The entrance of the Minneriya national park is on the Habarana-Polonnaruwa road. Travellers can purchase tickets from the visitor centre to enter the park. In the visitor centre, there are few exhibits about the history of the park.
The best time to visit
July-October is the best time to visit Minneriya National Park. During that time period, fresh grass grows on the grasslands of Minneriya reservoir bed. Elephants like to eat those fresh grass. So elephants begin to come to Minneriya National Park from March-April. They leave from the park at the end of the October and return back April. This happens as a natural cycle every year. In that time period, visitors can see 150-300 elephants. There are many baby elephants. They are under the care of elephant moms and elder sister elephants. If you are lucky, you can see ‘thunpathrana’(the mother, baby and mother’s sister or another female elephant).
Twin baby elephants
baby twin elephants were recorded in Minneriya National Park in June 2020. This is said to be the first sighting of its kind recorded in Sri Lanka. As only one percent of elephants births result in twins, elephants twins are considered to be an extremely rare and special occasion. This was identified by an elephant researcher and a former director general of the department of wildlife conservation Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya. One of the baby elephants is a male and other one is female. They are play together and sucking milk from the mother elephant at the same time.
24 species of mammals have recorded in Minneriya National Park including endangered Sri Lankan leopards and sloth deer, But it is quite rare to see them. Also, sambar deer, spotted deer, wild buffalo, purple-faced leaf monkey, wild pig can see in Minneriya. In addition, over 170 species of birds have recorded in Minneriya National Park. Sri Lankan jungle fowl, Sri Lankan grey hornbill, Sri Lankan hanging parrot are the endemic bird species that can see in the park. Sri Lankan green pigeon, brown capped babbler, rufus woodpecker, woodsand piper, Kentish plovers, common sandpiper are the other bird species can see in there.
25 species of reptiles have been recorded in Minneriya National Park and 8 of them are endemic. All of these endemic reptiles considered threatened. Red-lipped lizards, land monitors, water monitors, pythons are the reptile species that can see in the park. Also, mugger crocodile can see near the Minneriya tank. Furthermore, 9 species of amphibians have recorded in Minneriya National Park. The endangered and endemic slender wood frog and the common tree frog are among them. 4 species of endemic freshwater fishes have found in Minneriya tank.
Climate & Altitude
Minneriya National Park is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Annual rainfall is about 1,500-2,000 millimeters and the mean annual temperature is about 27 centigrade. Minneriya tank, Amban river and Elahera canal are the main water sources. Dry season is from May to September. With northeastern monsoon, wet season begins. It is from October to January. The altitude of the Minneriya National Park ranges from 100 meters to 885 meters. Nilgala peak is the highest altitude. There are several types of habitats. Low canopy montage forests, intermediate high canopy secondary forests, abandoned chena lands, scrublands, rocky outcrops, grasslands, wetlands are among them.
Kukuruman(Randia dumetorum), wara(Calatropis Gigantea), keppettia(Croton species), wal indi(Phonenix zeylanica), katu una(Bambusa bambos), pohon(Panicum Maximum), illuk(Imerata Cylindirca) are commonly found in the abandoned chenas. Also, large trees including satin(Chloroxylon Swietenia), palu(Manilkara Hexandra), kalumediriya(Diospyros Quaesita), milla(Vitex Altissima), weera(Drypets Sepiaria), halmilla(Berrya Cordifolia) can see in the Minneriya National Park. Furthermore, teak and eucalyptus plantation are in the park.
Minneriya tank is one of the oldest man-made tanks in Sri Lanka. It is the main source of water for drinking and cultivation to the people of dry zone in the central province. It was built by King Mahasen during the 3rd century AD. He built 13-meter-tall strong damp running along with a distance of 2 km to held over 20 billion liters of water. The water arrives from the Amban river to Minneriya tank. The tank covered 4600 acres. According to Mahavamsa(Chronicle of Sri Lanka), King Mahasen had constructed 16 large tanks and 2 irrigation canals. Minneriya tank is the largest among them.
Minneriya safari is the most enjoyable activity among traveller. 3 safari options available for travellers. Morning safari(6.00 A.M.), afternoon safari(2.00 P.M.) and full-day safari. Morning safari is good to see birds, wild rabbits, wild boar, deers, but fewer elephants. Evening safari gives travellers a to see more elephants then Minneriya morning safari. Tour can be customized for traveller for their preferences (photography safari, Family safari, honeymoon safari… etc). Safari takes place in specially modified jeeps with an experienced guide. Minneriya Jeep safari takes about 3 hours.