As we continue to plan for the next phase of our Minneriya-Kaudulla Elephant Project, we have been following the dramatic situation in Sri Lanka along with the rest of the world. We look forward to a peaceful future for all Sri Lankans!
It is more critical than ever to ensure the reduction of conflict between elephants and people – a goal at the core of our project. Marketing of beautiful Sri Lanka including Minneriya’s and Kaudulla’s elephants could in itself contribute toward a new era – from all perspectives sustainable tourism will be important for people AND for the conservation of wildlife.
Our Sri Lankan colleague, Manori Gunawardena, will be visiting us from 15th to 25 June. With new developments we have lots of planning issues to deal with as well as adding some 300 individual elephants into the project’s elephant ID database on our high-speed internet connection. Prior to Manori’s working visit with us, she will attend a GIS course at Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC to learn mapping techniques that are an integral part of the project. The cost for the course is covered by Smithsonian Institute.
The remainder of the budget for Manori’s travel from 30th May to 25 June is:
Flights: Colombo – UK – Washington – UK – Norway – Colombo, $1626
Lodging Washington: $1120
Visa UK and Norway, and airport transfer DC: $240
ElephantVoices is committed to cover the total cost of $2986, and in the current financial climate any contribution is highly welcome!
Cheers, Petter and Joyce
One of the few bright spots in this uncommonly dry February that we find ourselves in, has been being able to observe a certain young elephant by the name of Cathy. Although only ten years old, Cathy has consistently displayed the characteristics of a future matriarch. Every time we come across the CB family, which she belongs to, she immediately catches our attention with her antics. She is exceptionally loquacious and has especially taken an interest in being an allomother to all of the calves in the family.
Any time there is a skirmish amongst the calves, Cathy is sure to be found pacifying both parties until all is calm again. Aside from her innate motherly qualities that she regularly displays, it is her assertiveness that truly defines her. She is the first to greet arriving family members, she already gives “Let’s Go” rumbles to move the family along, and she can often be seen giving “Contact Calls” to get in touch with distant family members. This may not seem too significant, but let me remind you that she’s 10! This family has many older, dominant females and yet this young, precocious female has shown matriarchal attributes that far exceed her years.
Until next time!
Cheers, Blake (Murray)
Cathy with three calves from the CB family. She is the largest one, second from the right. (Photo: Blake Murray)
Amboseli elephants dusting (Photo: P. Granli)
Thank you Anna M., Matt G., Janet G. Bill F. and Michelle P. – your donations and interest in elephants and our work is very much appreciated! We hope to “see you around” also in 2009, which we think will be an exciting year for ElephantVoices. Be assured that your donations will be used in a good way for elephants. You will find a greeting and a few lines about our plans for 2009 here on WD shortly – we’re packing for Amboseli!
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.
Mr. Nick, or M86 (Male 86), was so-named for the enormous number of nicks and tears in his ears. He has what we call ”ragged” ears. In fact, his ears are just about as ragged as they get. I named Mr Nick back in 1976, when he and I were both 20 years old – young, for both of us. I was fully grown, still in college, and just starting to study musth in male elephants. He had left his family a few years earlier and though bigger than all of the adult females, he was a pipsqueak compared to the oldest males. We have grown older together, though Mr. Nick, at age 52, could still be said to be in his reproductive prime, while I cannot.
Amboseli is one of the few places where you can still see old males and Mr. Nick has been fortunate to live as long as he has. Male elephants reach their reproductive prime between 45 and 50 years old, but few males live long enough to reproduce, let along to reach their prime. Life expectancy for male elephants in Amboseli is only 24 years. If you discount death inflicted by people, life expectancy increases to 39 years. You may be surprised to learn that in safe Amboseli people have such an influence on the survival of elephants.
Elsewhere the impact on elephant mortality is even greater, especially in areas where human-elephant conflict is intense, where there is poaching for ivory, or where trophy hunting is permitted. The tusks of a 50-year old male are seven times as heavy as those of a female of the same age, so sport hunters and poachers, alike, target older males. Trophy hunters used to argue that older males were”reproductively senile,” and, therefore, expendable, but my early work on musth and male mating success debunked that argument. And in a recent genetic paternity study we showed that fully 80% of calves are fathered by older musth males.
Long-term scientific work, like that carried out in Amboseli, is important because it provides essential arguments for conserving and properly managing elephants. Older males are vital to the survival and healthy functioning of elephant populations and trophy hunting and ivory poaching can inflict harm lasting decades.
Joyce, photos Petter
Back in the tent last night we heard rain – and we fell asleep hoping for plenty. When Petter drove to the ATE office in Ol Tukai this morning to check on e-mail and upload news pieces to WildlifeDirect he learned we received – 4 mm. “Better than nothing”, was Josephat’s dry comment. With rain the elephant movement patterns often change, fewer may go into the Park to access the water in the swamps. But, 4 mm does not make much of a difference after almost a year of drought, so we continue to cross our fingers for a few days of real downpour.
Early in the morning Joyce had a meeting in camp while Petter sat online. Then we spent a couple of hours out with Ulla’s and Philomena’s families. After a typical Elephant Camp lunch of cabbage and carrot salad and bread it was time to download and organize photos and deal with other “office” tasks. If we don’t have elephants, buffaloes, lions or monkeys around camp the sounds of numerous birds and insects always fill the air. Some of the individual birds have been with us for years, and are tame enough that they land on the table while we are eating and fly into our tent to beg for bread crumbs and other goodies. Elephants are an important symbol for all wildlife, but there are millions of other wonderful creatures all around us.
This is written just before we start packing our bags for a few days at the Kenyan coast, where we are going to celebrate Christmas with close friends. We will drive through the huge Tsavo ecosystem, to experience two of Kenya’s many amazing National Parks. We’re back in Amboseli on the 27th of December.
We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Petter and Joyce