We loved visiting the Yala National Park and was one of the highlights of the trip. It was great to see the respect and compassion the keepers have for all the animals at the sanctuary. Our safari tour was filled with surprises. From when we had to stop for the baby grizzly bear to cross the road, to being greeted outside the jeep by an eclectic range of species. Stepping into the Jeeps and driving around on the dusty tracks made us feel as if we were Indiana Jones. It was also a privilege to share this experience not only with ourselves but with everyone who joined us on the trip.

Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka, which combines a strict nature reserve with a national park. Bordering the Indian Ocean, Yala is based in southeast Sri Lanka. The park consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public and is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Among its more famous residents Yala is home to the world biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears and crocodiles. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu, was one of the first national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938.

We saw that the national park was also affected by the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami, with 250 people in and around the park consumed by the rampaging waves the coastal belt of Yala was changed forever. The most fascinating discovery in the tsunami’s aftermath was no animals were in harm’s way, prompting a theory that ‘sixth sense’ of animals took them out of the path of on-coming waves. Findings based on two elephants with electronic collars suggest that reactions based on quick comprehension of clues may have prompted all the animals to escape the waves; a faculty that didn’t help people. A tsunami memorial is constructed at Patanangala, reminding visitors of the devastation it caused and the lives it took. Visitors are allowed to get off at this point by the beach.

Minneriya National Park is a national park in the north Central Province of Sri Lanka. The area was designated as a national park on 12th August 1997, having been originally declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938. The reason for declaring the area as protected is to protect the catchment of the watering hold Minneriya tank and the wildlife of the surrounding area. The national park’s species include 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibious, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The park is situated 182 kilometres from Colombo.

Just picture it like this: You go out in your jeep, the sun sinks towards the horizon whilst you’re looking out over the vast reservoir. Shadows begin to emerge from the surrounding jungle, one by one elephants slowly make their way out the shady trees and out, venturing towards the waters. As you can imagine, this is one of the most spectacular natural scenes that you will ever see! The elephant gathering at Minneriya is a sight to behold. During the dry season (July to September) eating supplies reduce dramatically in this region. To cope with this, the elephants congregate around the Minneriya reservoir where grasses are rich and fertile. The elephants from areas beyond the reservoir and at times herds with numbers as large as 300-400 can be seen foraging through the grass for food. The dry season in Sri Lanka means decreased water-supplies for these massive mammals. They come from far and wide to drink from the Minneriya tank, a man-made water-source which brings the elephants back every year. Not only can they find water here, but as the water levels in the tank decrease, it exposes fresh, green shoots of grass on which they can graze.

For an observer this is an incredible moment, since this isn’t a simple elephant migration. The animals come here to socialise, bathe and even find friends. It is a unique phenomenon of nature and can only be witnessed in this park. According to authorities the elephant gathering at Minneriya tank is the largest grouping of elephants at one time in Asia. Every year, as they have done for centuries, hundreds of elephants descend on the ancient reservoir and will hopefully do so for the foreseeable future.

“Our task must be to… embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty”

- Yala National Park

The main threat to the park’s forest is clearance for firewood and the practice might result in decreasing the levels of water in the reservoir. Water pollution in bathing areas, encroachment, illegal agricultural practices, over fishing, poaching are just some of the threats caused by man. Poachers have decimated elephant populations across Africa and parts of Asia, killing thousands of animals for their ivory. Yet in Sri Lanka, home to some 7,000 wild asian elephants, a different, more hopeful story is playing out. Its a story that’s attracting truckloads of tourists from around the world to witness a stunning wildlife spectacle, simultaneously raising concerns among conservationists about how increasing numbers of sightings may be impacting the large mammals.

One of the main causes of concern - one that we saw first hand - is litter pollution and garbage waste that’s left on the land. It was shocking to see plastic and other waste products left behind from tourism who not only come to see the beautiful safari landscapes but to visit wild animals in their natural environment. It was also distressing to see how close the majestic elephants were to the litter that we saw and the implications it would have on the species as a whole. Here at Gandys we aim to use recyclable and eco-friendly material’s within our products and we strive to make the brand as ethically concious as we can. Within our stores we only use paper bags instead of plastic to hand over to our customers. Moving forward we are looking to explore different avenues in making Gandys environmentally friendly. For example, we are looking into creating bamboo labelling to incorporate into our products.

“The fate of animals is of a greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of mean”

- Yala National Park -