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Wild Animal Encounters- Do’s and Don’ts

First things first! I’m writing this blog based on my personal experience and readers are kindly requested to practice adequate safety measures when in the wild. This blog should not be used as a handbook for kayaking in Sri Lanka and wildlife encounters but maybe aware of the risks and what I have done to minimize them as a kayaker. 


I have been kayaking in Sri Lanka for more than 12 years and that has a fair share of encounters with the smallest wasps, bees to the largest being obviously the elephants. Thus, you can consider this blog as an experience sharing a blog from a kayaker to a fellow kayaker. 

The topic today is 90% based on my favorite expedition through Wasgomuwa National Park in the Mahaweli river. If you are kayaking in Sri Lanka that’s one experience you don’t want to miss. 

kayaking on mahaweli river
Kayaking through the wildness of Mahaweli River


Any encounter while you kayak could be considered a totally different experience. Usually, if and when these encounters occur you could be paddling down a river and will be having limited options to react or get out of a hazardous situation. It is important that we know what to do and what not to do! 


Before you start kayaking in Sri Lanka, it is important you do proper research before the expedition. The weather patterns play a key role in animal behavior. For example, if you are planning an expedition in the dry season you will likely be exposed to more wildlife as water will be less accessible inside the jungle. With the rain there could be snakes washed with the floods and kayak will be a safe haven for these creatures. 

Research about animal behaviors. When they are highly active is it during the night or day dusk or dawn etc. so you can plan to camp before they settle and maybe able to enjoy a good show by the campsite. 


eagles flying
Nature at it’s best. Captured during Mahaweli Expedition

Rule # 1 Give them adequate space!

Please remember the real superhero is not the one who test the limits of animal’s patients (Remember the safari park drivers who irritate innocent elephants, and some irresponsible holidaymakers who encourage drivers and record them to put it on social media) 

Animals and especially elephants get irritated when their comfort zone is invaded. But you will be amazed that we have kayaked through herds of elephants without any issue and, in some instances, walked with our kayaks dragging behind our backs because of low water levels and elephants didn’t even care to look back. Usually, the minimum distance should be at least 60 meters (width of a football field) THE BETTER THE DISTANCE BETTER FOR YOU AND THE ELEPHANT. 

Rule # 2 Do not panic

Panicking can take away your vital time to react and most of all can aggravate the situation. And panic attack will diminish your decision-making capacity and reaction time to respond. Keep calm and assess the situation before you take any action. 

Rule # 3 Be super quiet! You are in the wild.

The wild belongs to animals and not you. It’s both unethical and hazardous to chit chat, laugh out loud, crack a joke, or do regular things that we do at our local pub. Being noisy prevents you from getting any ques that animals give as warnings. They also irritate animals and put them under unnecessary stress that can lead to provocation. Stop your paddle from hitting the kayak or water loudly, this can also create tension. 

Rule #4 Develop listening!

Wait, what? Listening? Yes, you should develop a good listening skill so you could differentiate sounds that are generated from winds to the whisper of an elephant. A jackal’s howling or a crocks hiss. This will give you an added advantage and prepare earlier to evade any close encounters. 

Rule #5 Always be on your senses

It is important that you do not consume any beverages (alcoholic) or do not take any medication that will affect your psychomotor functions. This is an important step and vital one as a split second can change the out come to a totally bad experience. 


Be friendly with locals! 

Fisherman and other locals will provide vital information about wildlife behavior. They’ll also educate you about the timing and presence of animals and the areas you have to be watchful. Be cautious here some might try to mislead you by over-exaggerating the real situation. 

Talking to locals to find information could help you a lot!

Hire a guide!

If you have just started kayaking in Sri Lanka do not go out alone! At last for a few years till you are comfortable and confident to handle encounters alone. It takes time to develop the skills and exposure to many expeditions will make you a better tracker.

Learn Tracking!

I love it. You can guess the last time an elephant passed that way by looking at the color of the elephant dung. Same time you could guess the time the elephant has passed by looking at the leaves he has snatched on his way. You could also guess the animal by looking at the paw and by the depth of the paw engraved in the sand you could guess if he is a large animal or small one as heavy one will have deep foot prints. 

Tracking also helps you to find a safe spot away from elephant crossings by estimating the time that the elephants been there. Less foot prints and old dung means they have been there sometime and less likely to take the same path. But there is no guarantee to assure they will not be there the same night that you would camp. 


wild elephant herd
We encountered this herd of elephants while kayaking through the Mahaweli river.

Ok now you have given space you have done everything you could and still there is a chance to exposure? Few things you could do, MASTER CAUTION! I do not recommend getting into a situation like this. And I cannot guarantee what’s worked for us would work for you. So, this would be at your own risk and we should not be responsible for any injury or life-threatening situation.

  1. Make loud noises and let them see you as a bigger opponent than he is by waving your paddle above your head. keep eye contact and slowly back away.
  2. Does running help? I don’t know and if you’re in the water I don’t think it’s also possible. since only once in my lifetime I was chased by an elephant while I’m in a kayak and all I could remember was shouting and screaming while I paddle away.
  3. Fire Crackers? Just imagine you’re in a kayak and you have to keep it waterproof so inside a dry bag, now imagine the time it takes to take it out of the dry bag, grab the lighter, and light it in a middle of a river with winds blowing?????  I leave it up to you. I never carry crackers and until today I haven’t found any use for it. As I always respect rule #1

I guess you have some idea about what to do and what not to do now while kayaking in Sri Lanka. In my next blog I will discuss about the two most feared animals and the myths about them versus reality. If you think the same way I think comment below the two most feared animals you think who they are!

Until next time stay safe at home! Wash your hands, use masks so we can go back kayaking soon!

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