Category Archives: 7. Conservation

Big victory for elephants at CITES in Doha

We are happy to report that elephants did well at CITES in Doha! We firmly believe that, if they had been accepted, the proposals from Tanzania and Zambia would have further stimulated the ivory trade and the killing of elephants. We feel extremely pleased that months of work and collaboration with scientists and other stakeholders around the world led to this good result for elephants.

Please read a final CITES update and some thoughts on ElephantVoices.

Happy Easter!

Trumpets, Petter and Joyce

Elephants seen in Minneriya and Kaudulla

During the Monsoon the two reservoirs, or tanks, that are the focal points for the elephants of Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks, fill up so completely that there is little grassland for the elephants to venture out of the forest on to. And that makes viewing them difficult. Since this is the first year that these elephants have been studied, we are still learning their ranging patterns. Manori found that after the rains began most of the elephants disappeared from the tank shore, but a few families lingered on and were seen on a regular basis.

Right now Manori is in the southern part of the country. She has been called to give evidence in an enchroament case involving the Uda Walawe National Park, which will be heard by the Supreme Court. This story has been making the press and we hope to be able to bring you more news soon.

Meanwhile, we are fortunate that there are so many elephant enthusiasts in Sri Lanka and one of them, Srilal Miththapala (who, incidently, has written a book on elephants and owns a beautiful eco-friendly lodge – Hotel Sigiriya – in the area) has kindly sent us some observations. So it seems as though some families (the same ones seen by Manori?) are still hanging out around the tanks.

Once the rains stop the authorities will begin to use the water in the tanks for irrigation in an almost two thousand year old practice. As the water recedes so the elephants return once more to the fertile grassland, reaching a peak in numbers by August.
OBSERVATION OF ELEPHANTS by Srilal Miththapala:

13th January approx: 25 in Minneriya and 35 in Kaudulla
14th January approx: 20 in Minneriya and 25 in Kaudulla
15th January approx: 15 in Minneriya and 10 in Kaudulla

And a couple of photographs – note how green the grass is!

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Sri Lanka elephants

Starting new elephant conservation project in Sri Lanka

Back in 2003 Joyce and I visited Sri Lanka for a conference and to look into work carried out by Lalith Seneviratne and his team on human-elephant conflicts which was being sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While we were there we had the good fortune to be taken on a two week safari by Lalith to visit five different national parks with elephants. Our favourite place was Minneriya NP where, during the dry season, several hundred elephants gather to feed upon the new grass exposed by the receding waters of a reservoir.

During the short time we were there we saw incredible behavior – a musth male, greetings, contact calling, a newly born infant brought to the car, a defensive wall of curious elephants and a female with all the personality you could ask for – like a good Amboseli experience. The female mentioned tried to chase tourists away, and for some reason didn’t seem to realize that we were difference from normal visitors…! Check out a short video clip showing how she kicks our car in quite a clever manner (and breaks the light).
Joyce recording in Minneriya with Lalith Seneviratne
Joyce on left recording in Minneriya with Lalith in the driver’s seat.

While we were in Sri Lanka we also met an unusual woman named Manori Gunawardena, who told us that she would like to study Asian elephant social behavior with us. She has many years of experience working in Yala with the elephant research group there as well as doing conservation work in both India and Sri Lanka – moving elephants and looking into landscape and corridor issues – but her true love is social behavior and she has wanted to start a project along the lines of Amboseli for many years.
Elephant enjoying the tank in Minneriya NP
Elephant enjoying the tank in Minneriya NP
Group of elephants enjoying the tank in Minneriya NP built by elephants centuries ago.

Ever since then we have had the urge to do a study of Asian elephants, holding back both because of commitments in Kenya and the unrest on Sri Lanka. But now we’re starting – in Minneriya-Kaudulla in North Central Sri Lanka – we believe it is urgent and are willing to go for it. Together with Manori we will develop and maintain a long-term study of social behavior and demography of the Minneriya-Kaudulla elephant population along the lines of the Amboseli study – naturally with a special focus on communication. We think that such a study – that uses the individual recognition approach – will benefit conservation and welfare of Asian elephants and is long overdue. And our involvement in this project will allow us to speak with more authority for both species. We will spend about a month a year in Minneriya and we are very excited about it! We’ll continue our Amboseli work as well.

We are currently rebuilding ElephantVoices to include our new outlook and so that we can finally host more of our vocalization-related work (audio) – which will now include both species. Baby in Minneriya National Park
Although human elephant conflict is significantly worse in Asia than it is in Africa, elephants in Asia benefit from the historic and cultural identity its people have with them. Visitors to Sri Lankan national parks are predominantly country nationals. Our Minneriya-Kaudulla Elephant Project will capitalise on this cultural identity with elephants by encouraging the public to participate in the study and by contributing educational material toward a special elephant program being developed for area schools. Making the project’s elephant ID database accessible online and stimulating local people and national park visitors to become familiar with individual elephants, to photograph them and to send in behavioral and geographical information, we aim to give people a sense of ownership and a connection with individual wild elephants. This exchange of information will provide the project with vital information about associations, behavior, habitat use and areas of conflict, while simultaneously inspiring wonder in the behavior and voices of elephants thus increasing understanding and decreasing conflict.
Group of elephants and tourist in Minneriya NP
Lots of tourists visit the elephant “gathering” in beautiful Minneriya every year, a majority are Sri Lankans.

Manori has secured local funding for the start up of the project – more fund raising efforts will have to be on our agenda in the months to come. All contributions are very welcome! We hope you will follow our new project closely. Joyce is joining Manori for a kick-off field-trip during second half of September.