‘Spectacular’ coverage for The Gathering

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International travel guide puts Minneriya wildlife phenomenon among the world’s top wildlife treats.Malaka Rodrigo reports. 

Sri Lanka’s image as a nature-based tourist destination has been given a boost by the internationally acclaimed travel guide Lonely Planet, which has named the “elephant gathering” of Minneriya as one of the world’s “10 greatest wildlife spectaculars.”

‘The Gathering’ is the name given to the elephants that assemble on the banks of the Minneriya Reservoir during the dry season. Every evening, between 150 and 200 elephants arrive at the reservoir, mainly to graze the grasses growing on the tank bed. During the drought, the water level drops, revealing a tank bed that allows the grass to grow. The elephants turn to these much needed fodder at a time when foliage in other areas dry up. The Minneriya reservoir also becomes a playground where the elephants can satisfy their water needs.

The Gathering peaks in August and September, at the height of the drought. According to wildlife authorities, the Minneriya gathering is the largest grouping of wild Asian elephants at any given time.
This congregation of elephants probably goes back centuries, but it was only recently that the phenomenon was considered a potential tourist attraction, thanks to Srilal Miththapala and Gehan de Silva Wijerathne, who promote wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka. Five years ago they branded the wildlife event as The Gathering, and it has been drawing a growing number of visitors since.

The sad news, however, is that The Gathering may be threatened. If a plan to retain the Minneriya waters in the dry season is carried out, the temporary grasslands on the bed of the Minneriya tank would disappear, and the number of elephant visitors would decline. This would affect the area’s elephant population, which depends on the temporary grassland as fodder in the dry season. The baby elephants would be especially seriously affected.

That The Gathering has gained international recognition as a nature “spectacular” may help in lobbying for keep the Minneriya tank for the elephants.

The popularity of the wildlife event has also created problems for itself. During the months of The Gathering, the Minneriya park is crowded with safari jeeps, which often block the elephants’ way to the tank. Wildlife activists say there is a need to monitor the safari jeep traffic and manage visitor behaviour to minimize inconvenience to the elephants.

The Gathering ranks sixth on the Lonely Planet wildlife spectaculars list. The list includes famous nature events such as the great wildebeest migration in Serengeti; brown bears feasting in Alaska; the penguin rookery in the Atlantic, the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico; orca feeding in Argentina, starling roosting in England, and the salmon run in South Africa.

Lanka herded with world’s best nature treats

Lonely Planet’s 10 Greatest Wildlife Spectacles
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/sri-lanka/travel-tips-and-articles/76694  

1. Látrabjarg bird cliffs, Iceland
2. Monarch butterfly roosts, Mexico
3. King Penguin rookery, South Atlantic
4. Great migration, Serengeti, Tanzania
5. Brown bears feasting, Alaska, USA
6. Elephant gathering, Sri Lanka
7. Bats of Dear Cave, Sarawak, Malaysia
8. Orca feeding, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina
9. Starlings roosting, Somerset, England
10. Sardine run, South Africa

Published on SundayTimes on 17.07.2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110717/News/nws_13.html

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