SRI LANKA! An Indian Ocean island of about 65,000 square kilometres (about half the size of England), nearly 22 million people and, believe it or not between 5-6,000 wild Asian elephants!
An amazingly tolerant culture has allowed the species to survive where, in many places around the world it would have been eradicated.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, there are. From conflict in agricultural areas and competition for land with development to collisions with trains or trucks and revenge attacks involving firearms, home made explosives and intentional electrocutions.
More than 200 elephants a year die as a result. And this has led Born Free to support two main areas of activity in the country: assisting the Department of Wildlife Conservation care for orphaned baby elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe (from where, aged about 4 they are returned to the wild); and working with local farmers to try and reduce conflict.
Tomorrow Born Free staff, Gabriel Fava, Dr Deepani Jayantha and I are going to the ETH to listen to the needs of this unique centre and assess how best, with limited resources, we can assist their mission. Recently we have supported improvements to the night time care infrastructure and we hope to build on that work to help make this very special place even better.
Today we went to visit the local Rathambalagama School (where we have helped with the library, the small computer training course, water, electricity and hygiene facilities, as well as establishing an Environment Club) to determine further areas for support and development.
We also visited a number of farmers involved in our Human-Elephant Conflict/Elephant Resistant Crop Programme which helps small landowners plant crops that are unpalatable to elephants as an alternative source of income, should more tasty staples such as rice, bananas and palms be eaten by marauding elephants.
The Programme is still in a pilot phase but is showing positive results with pepper, turmeric and betel beginning to produce meaningful harvests.
It isn’t the whole answer by any means but Born Free’s work, together with government measures, and the efforts of local elephant conservationists, communities and NGOs, means there is hope that Sri Lanka will have a vibrant, substantial and appreciated wild elephant population for many, many years to come!