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Home to Sri Lanka’s ‘big three’, elephant, leopard and sloth bear, Yala is the island’s second largest national park, where big skies and big crowds come as part of the package, and patience is a virtue.

elephant family bathing

One teenager sneaks up on another, rears up and ducks his companion clean under the water. His victim spins round and pushes his tormentor, who loses his footing and disappears momentarily under the surface. A female lazily flicks her trunk, administering an admonishing cuff round the ear. Chastened, the boisterous youths take their rough-housing to the other side of the wewa, or tank – a manmade water-hole that serves as an oasis in the arid, thorny scrub of the park. On the water’s edge a baby – no more than six months old – trembles visibly, bracing herself. Her mother gives her a gentle nudge and she nervously takes to the shallow water. Watching elephants at play, it is hard not to anthropomorphize. Their joy is palpable as they lounge and frolic in the cooling waters, trumpeting and spraying water over each others’ backs. It is a joy that often manifests in what looks suspiciously like a broad grin. All the usual family dynamics are present; characters are strong and easy to identify. Of course, witnessing elephants bathe is itself a rare treat and one to cherish.

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