Tag Archives: minneriya

Appeal for support related to our Sri Lanka project

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.

Manori GunawardenaOur 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

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

We wish all ElephantVoices friends and WildlifeDirect bloggers and staff a Joyful Holiday and a Peaceful 2009!

We’re getting very close to Christmas and the end of the year, and want to use this opportunity to send warm wishes and a heart felt thank you to all of you around the world who support elephants and our work financially or in other ways. Our best wishes and thanks also go to WD staff, and to all the other WD bloggers who work so hard to protect the many species in need – keep up the good work!

We had a good time during our hectic lecture and fundraising trip in California in November – and we are extremely grateful for all the warm hospitality, good friendship and generosity we experienced during our two week visit. The global financial crisis does not create the best atmosphere in which to raise funds, but the new American President (elect) and a newborn Obama in Amboseli keep us optimistic!
Cooking party Sausalito
Vegetarian cooking party at our friend Coco’s house in Sausalito 8 November, a lively event to promote the interests of elephants and the work of ElephantVoices. (Photo: PartiesThatCook)

From ElephantVoices event in Pacific Palisades
For a second year in a row we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Patty and Doug (and their 6 dogs) during a vegan reception at their home in Pacific Palisades, 16 November. (Photo: Tim Stahl)

It’s been a very busy year, as usual, which you can read more about in our End Year letter. In 2009 we intend to spend about half of our time on our new Sri Lankan project, a quarter on our Amboseli work and the remainder on advocacy. Petter and/or I will be in the field in Kenya in January, and part of February and March, and in Sri Lanka in June and again in September. Manori Gunawardena will be in Minneriya-Kaudulla throughout the year and Blake Murray will be helping us to collect and analyze data in Amboseli. Public awareness and education are elements that runs through all of our work, so you will continue to hear from us whether we are in the field or not.
Captive elephant
As advancements in science contribute to our growing understanding of elephants we continue to put substantial time and effort into influencing welfare policy so that elephant interests are met. The elephant Watoto (Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle) in the photo is blurred due to stereotypical swaying – a behavior that expresses the massive frustration caused by confinement.  (Photo: Alyne Fortgang)
Amboseli elephants
Elephant Sri Lanka

During 2009 we look forward to being with our long-term elephant friends in Amboseli, Kenya, and with our new acquaintences in Minneriya-Kaudulla, Sri Lanka. And, of course, to working with our colleagues in Amboseli and with Manori and our many new colleagues in Sri Lanka.  The survival of wild elephants depends on finding a balance between the needs of people and elephants – a task that requires the collaborative work of people all over the world.

In order to find ways for people and elephants to co-exist in Minneriya-Kaudulla we must start by defining the basic needs of an elephant population that seems to number over 1,000 individuals rather than the previous estimate of 450 – we have our work for 2009 cut out for us!

We wish you all a festive holiday season and a peaceful 2009 for all creatures!
Link to Christmas decoration

Warm Greetings, Joyce and Petter

ElephantVoices fundraiser in California 7 to 20 November

Despite the current turmoil in the world’s financial markets we continue to prepare for our fund raising tour to the Bay Area and Los Angeles, California between 7-20th November. Elephants have amazing senses, but I doubt that they have picked up on the quaking stock markets 🙂 Arriving in San Francisco two days after the election of a new American President contributes towards the anticipation associated with this trip – we are keeping fingers crossed that the result brings about some new found optimism!

Thanks to the incredibly hard work of good friends and supporters in California, there are going to be several events in the San Francisco area and Los Angeles. There are smaller, more intimate events and some for a larger crowd – the gathering at the Bollyhood Cafe in San Francisco on 13 November and the luncheon at The Elephant Habitat at ARK 2000 (PAWS, San Andreas) on 15 November should be very lively! An informal talk, images and elephant vocals will be among the ingredients of the events.

Raising funds for our Minneriya-Kaudulla Elephant Project will be a main focus of our California 7 to 20 November tour. Come and learn more about it!

We would love to see anyone interested in our work at one or more of these quite different events – you can take a look at what’s on offer by reading or downloading a .pdf file with an overview of San Francisco events and contact names here. We have two events in Los Angeles, on 16 and 19 November, contact us on info(at)elephantvoices.org for more info.

We look forward to seeing you!

Last days with the elephants in Minneriya & Kaudulla

Manori and I had two fantastic last days – one in Kaudulla N.P. and one in Minneriya N.P. In Kaudulla we were fortunate to observe some very interesting defensive behavior during which we were confronted by a wall of elephants. One young female expressed her alarm at our presence by wide-eyed staring and by excited squeaking.

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In Minneriya we were treated to an aggregation of 53 elephants. The group split and reformed as elephants went about their business: cooling down in the reservoir, splashing in the water, young males sparring, a musth male testing females, calves suckling and getting lost.

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As the crow flies these two national parks are about 8 km apart, but it takes almost forty minutes to drive from one to the other. Along the way Manori and I stopped to pay our respects at the many shrines to Ganesh.

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Kaudulla and Minneriya are separated by forest reserve, which includes a couple of small villages, and are surrounded by a mosaic of different habitat types – some protected, some unprotected.

One of the goals of our project will be to understand how the elephant population is using this landscape so that the authorities can better provide for their conservation and at the same time reduce conflict with people. In order to do that we need to know exactly how many elephants there are, and who is moving where, when. We also need to know whether the population is increasing or decreasing. Because the habitat is primarily forest it isn’t possible to get an accurate count. The only way to get solid answers is, therefore, to get to know the elephants individually – which is why we have been so very busy taking ID photographs. Later in the year we will be able to introduce you to some of these elephants via an online identification database.

In the meantime, just looking at the elephants gives a couple of clear indications. If the population is growing it is at a much slower rate than in Amboseli, as there are relatively fewer calves and juveniles to adults. And males over approximately 20 years old are covered in bumps caused by buckshot. They are the big raiders.

It’s been an extremely interesting and busy visit. In addition to getting to know the elephants we had a number of important meetings and discussions with the Wildlife Department and others. I gave two lectures – one to the Wildlife Department staff in Minneriya and the other in Colombo to the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society.

On our last day Manori and I had a meeting with Dilmah Tea, whose Conservation Foundation is supporting our work. I planted a tree on the grounds of their main office in Colombo to commemorate the beginning of our joint endeavor for elephant conservation.

Link to Dilmah Conservation

It’s been a great pleasure to experience the Sri Lankan warmth and enthusiasm – everyone we have met has been very welcoming and helpful. This includes the management and staff at Hotel Sigiriya, who have welcomed us back to our new “home”.

Petter and I are looking forward to what lies ahead with renewed commitment. Working with Manori is a great pleasure and we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from someone with so much experience. Manori moves in an unusual circle of wildlife and elephant enthusiasts and we have slipped into this crowd with ease!

Joyce’s travel diary Sri Lanka (4)

20/09/08

This morning Manori and I tried to solve some computer problems, sorted through ID photos and worked on a budget for the overall project. Our project will have quite a number of different components – social structure and demography, social behavior and communication, habitat use and movement patterns – with each of these informing recommendations for the design of a conservation landscape for this population of elephants. The area the elephants use is a mosaic of different patches of landuse types – national park, sanctuary, forest reserve, farmland and villages and small towns.

This afternoon we drove to a second national park, Kaudulla, about an hour from where we are staying, to see if we could find elephants there. Along the way the jeep that we had borrowed broke down with clutch problems. We managed to get into the park in another vehicle and, after some searching, found a couple of elephant groups. The first was a group of 10 males – including one just coming into musth and one young tusker (since very few males in Sri Lanka have tusks this is always noteworthy).

Around the corner from this group was a large mixed group (cows, calves and associating males). They were disturbed by the presence of several jeeps and were making quite a commotion. We waited quietly for them to calm down and then approached. But one young male came charging out of the forest again and gave us a lively challenge.

From my dictaphone notes:
17:44 I took some photographs of a young male who was demonstrating, threatening us and instead of doing that, sort of running at you and then kicking dust or throwing dust at you [that African elephants do in similar circumstances], they [Asian elephants] tend to collect dust [with their trunk and feet], kick the dust, and while standing in one pace throw the dust over their head in a display.
Throwing dust display 1Throwing dust display 2Throwing dust display 3

As I sit at my desk writing this piece I can  hear explosions in the distance: villagers trying to chase male elephants out of their farms…..

Joyce’s travel diary Sri Lanka (3)

18/09/08

This morning Manori and I worked on our ID photos from the previous afternoon and then had a meeting to discuss various aspects of the project. After that we had an early lunch of fruit and soup and then gathered our things and headed toward the park. The elephants are in the forest in the morning so this allows us to do much needed office work without feeling like we are missing anything.

Today was better for me – I recognized some of the females we had seen the day before including a “pretty” female with a scoop out of her right ear, a female with elongated ear lobes and another with a small cup-shaped notch out of her left ear. They were all in a group of 12 elephants (not a perfect count, however) though yesterday two of these females had been in the group of 7 elephants, and the “pretty” female had been in the group of 9. Mmmmm – one large family, or…the plot thickens!
MK group

Then we saw a big group of 31 elephants with a couple of small calves and a large female with a very torn left ear. She will be easily recognizable again. With her was a female with very pink edges to her ears….and many more.
A group of 16 elephants included a large female with a hole in her left ear. This had some drivers nervous because there is a female with a hole in her left ear that is aggressive – so all females with holes in their left ear are “the female with the hole in her left ear” and cause for concern! She seemed very calm to me and may be confused with the female who chased vehicles and kicked our car back in 2003 – she had a hole in her left ear….
Large MK female with hole in ear

All the groups we were with today were cow-calf groups – in other words mothers and their calves without any adult males. Now I have to stop – its 23:33 and I have to be ready to use my brain again tomorrow!

19/09/08

Manori and I spent the morning working on budgets. At 10:30 were joined by colleagues for more elephant discussions, we had lunch and then set out for another afternoon with elephants. It was fabulous! The elephants were extra ordinarily close this time and there was lots of interesting behavior. A musth male visited the group, passing within a couple of meters of the car several times.
Big MK male
I thought you would enjoy reading some of the comments I made on the dictaphone as I was watching:

15:58 OK, got some fantastic behavior here as the musth male is moving through the group testing, females squeaking, some females testing one another, females putting trunks into one another’s mouths, and then as the musth male moved to another part of the group again the females began rumbling and ear flapping, so its quite similar to african elephants. Its not a modulated rumble, though, rather quite flat.

15:59 Something very different….  the musth male is testing a female and is trying to bite her tail and she’s pulling her tail away, he grabs it again, so some subtly different behaviors…our (African) males don’t do that!

16:11 Ok so suddenly heard some short squeaky kind of trumpet, a kind of trump, and ah the elephants moving toward something in the grass with their trunks raised, and then I guess Manori saw a jackal running away so this group of about 5 elephants went following after the jackal so again similar kind of behavior to African elephants.
Manori and Joyce in Minneriya NP

Joyce’s travel diary Sri Lanka (2)

Hi all,

Manori and I arrived in the Minneriya area on evening of 16th. I have been bowled over at the generosity of people here. A friend of Manori’s owns the Hotel Sigiriya which is about a 30 minute drive through the forest to Minneriya and he very kindly invited us to stay free of charge until we have set up our own base here. So we are very fortunate to have access to a swimming pool (except we have been too busy to use it), great food and incredible service – not to mention internet and electricity for charging all of our gadgets. We are so grateful. It’s also good to know that many are showing interest in the project – including funding bodies. World renown Dilmah Tea, through  Dilmah Tea Conservation, have already come on board, which gives us lots of energy in this early phase.

17/09/09

This morning we departed early to meet with the Warden of Minneriya National Park – we had very good discussions about the various threats to elephant conservation. Manori had arranged for me to give a lecture on African elephant behavior to a group of 20 or so of the park staff. The park has recently built a beautiful visitor center and auditorium designed by an award winning Sri Lankan architect. The auditorium was open on the sides and really stunning. The talk went well and Manori followed up by giving a presentation on the characteristics used to indentify Asian elephants.

We had already gone over all of this material together since the three of us (with Petter) have been working to build a searchable online database – so I was busy taking photographs of Manori speaking. I should have paid
more attention. Identifying Asian elephants has required me to reprogram my brain – and it isn’t working too well yet!

Then into the park and out with the elephants. They appeared from the forest, as if by clockwork, at 14:00. More and more groups appeared but we focused on four – a bull we named Suddha because of his white tail hairs, two cow-calf groups and one larger mixed (adult males with the cows and calves) – these included 7, 9 and 45 elephants, respectively.

I got to work right away – trying to photograph, age, sex and make sense of who was who, and who was with whom. I got befuddled pretty quickly and it wasn’t just jet lag. I am used to looking at tusks which give an
overall appearance to an elephant, as well as being a good indicator of age and sex. Well, these elephants don’t have them – among all the elephants we saw only one male had tusks. So imagine trying to make sense
of scores of tuskless elephants. I really felt I had lost my touch. Meanwhile Manori worked away quite happily – which was a little demoralizing! Hopefully I will slowly catch up…

Trumpet, Joyce

(Message from Petter: Hoped to upload some photos with this post, but the connection in Minneriya is down so Joyce is not able to mail me any)

Joyce’s travel diary Sri Lanka

15/09/08

I arrived in Sri Lanka in the afternoon and Manori was at the airport to meet me. We had an hour long drive through traffic to the other side of town to her parent’s home where I was given a very warm welcome. Afternoon tea is a tradition here, just as in Kenya, and so I immediately felt at home!

That evening we were invited to Lalith and Ayanthie Seneviratne’s home for a dinner gathering with many of the friends Petter and I had made during our visit to Sri Lanka in 2003. A special surprise guest was Mohamed who had accompanied us on the safari we took around the national parks. Mohamed, who has an extraordinary connection with elephants was then warden of Yala East National Park and we learned so much from him.

The evening was very jolly – a guitar appeared and we ate a delicious meal prepared by Ayanthie.
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ElephantVoices team visiting Sri Lanka in 2003 - Yala East National Park

ElephantVoices visits Yala East National Park on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast in 2003. We had a fantastic experience there thanks to our friend Lalith Seneviratne (right) and our extraordinary host, R. Myunideen Mohamed then Park Warden. The parks had just been reopened following two decades of civil unrest, but was hard hit by the Tsunami in December 2004. Mohamed’s family were among the many who lost everything but their lives. All the Park’s staff saved themselves, some by running side by side with water buffaloes. The elephants had left for higher ground earlier. The park’s new headquarters was submerged in five feet of water, but a miracle saved them from major damage.

16/09/08

This morning Manori and I got up early and drove to the northern side of Colombo to meet with the Director of Wildlife, Mr. Wijaysooryie. We had a very useful hour long meeting during which we discussed a variety of elephant issues including human elephant conflict, elephant habitat and what to do about elephants being hit by trains. Then we continued on our way north toward Minneriya. The drive was long and the traffic heavy, and I was really feeling jet-lagged. My system is very confused having come from Washington by way of Norway! Stops along the way for fresh passion fruit juice and samosas made me feel I was back in the tropics!

Manori is still looking for a place to set up our base and meanwhile the Hotel Sigiriya has generously given us two beautiful rooms free of charge. So I am writing this having been given a frangipani flower for my hair, a refreshing fruit drink, a cooled and scented face towel, a cup of tea and having done 10 laps in the pool. All this while being entertained by macaques stealing our sugar and langurs knocking over the furniture.

Stay tuned for the next installment…..
Elephants by Minneriya tank

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.