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
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.