Postcards from the Road: Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka


“Gok Gok! Bup Bup! Gok Gok!”

Male elephants are known to be testy and often highly irritable, and the massive one staring us down just 25 feet from our jeep was definitely having a bad morning. From out of the brush deep inside Yala National Park, he lumbered towards the red-dirt road on which we were parked, our engine silenced, not another safari jeep on this hot southeastern Sri Lanka morning in sight.

He stopped mid-stride and turned towards us. We sat there, sweating, waiting for this ornery elephant to make his next move. He swayed slightly forward, stamped his front right foot, and for a minute the three of us—me, my girlfriend, and our driver/animal tracker, Nimal—thought he was about to charge.

Note: as rugged and ready to tackle Yala’s rough-and-tumble roads as our jeep was, every time Nimal turned off the engine and tried to restart it, it stuttered, gasped, and needed a second or third turn of the key to rev back up. This fact was not lost on us.

Nimal has been doing these morning tours of Yala for “at least maybe 25 years”; in other words, he knows what he’s doing. So when he saw this mighty elephant sway, he began to quietly make those odd-sounding noises: “Gok Gok! Bup Bup! Gok Gok!”. I turned and looked at him, wondering if these sounds were the only protection we had from this elephant. Whether it was because of Nimal’s calls, or just because our big-eared friend decided it wasn’t worth the effort, the elephant soon turned and walked back into the brush.

Lesson learned: trust in Nimal, Yala National Park’s wily veteran animal tracker.

Photo Copyright Brian Spencer

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