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.
Trumpets, Petter and Joyce
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
We would like to inform all visitors to our blog that we will be in California on a fundraising trip later this year. We plan to be in the San Francisco from 7 to 14 November and in Los Angeles 14 – 20 November. We are already busy planning various events. If you are from California we would certainly be grateful for ideas or input regarding our visit – and you can also send an email to us if you want to be invited to any of the events being arranged.
Our research on elephant cognition and communication, our scientific and popular publications, our advocacy work for elephants, our website updates are all dependent on individuals like you. Our blog is just a tiny window into the work we do and we encourage you to visit our website, www.ElephantVoices.org to get a better picture. To continue to protect elephants we need your support.
Best wishes, Petter and Joyce