Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

A Day out with children and elephants

Over 25 students aged 15-16 years old from southern Sri Lanka recently visited the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) on the outskirts of Udawalawe National Park as part of a programme organised by Born Free in collaboration with the government’s wildlife department.

Sri Lanka has a good network of protected areas in which its wildlife can thrive. However, many of the elephants spend a significant amount of time outside these areas and sadly conflict with poor rural communities is common. A frequent result of this conflict is that young vulnerable elephants are orphaned and the ETH rescues these youngsters, cares for and rehabilitates them in readiness for their release back to the wild.

Born Free strongly believes it is critical that this next generation of Sri Lankans is sensitized to the issues faced by elephants in this small island nation, home to both a high density of people as well as a significant Asian elephant population. Although there are many schools and hundreds of school children in the vicinity of the National Park, this recent student visit marked a rarely presented opportunity for these young adults to see and study its resident wildlife. As Mr Vidanapathirana, the education officer of the Park acknowledged: “It is our responsibility to create an opportunity for the children to appreciate the wildlife in their neighbourhood”. The recent visit by students to the ETH was therefore an opportunity for them to not only witness the orphans being fed their milk ration but to also learn more about elephants and the wider issues relating to their conservation. 

With this in mind, Dr Vijitha Perera, the vet in charge of the ETH, shared his knowledge and experience on the biology and ecology of Asian elephants. He explained the social structure and behaviour of elephants in detail, leading to a discussion on the threats faced by this endangered species together with the various possible conservation measures to address these threats. Special attention was given to the elephant rehabilitation and release programme run by the ETH.

Born Free's Sri Lankan representative, Dr. Deepani Jayantha, next held a session on the conflict between people and elephants in Sri Lanka. Its impacts on both species concerned were considered in depth - casualties on both sides take place and income and food losses from crop raiding are suffered by subsistence farmers, while elephants can be wounded, killed or driven away from farmlands, sometimes resulting in juveniles becoming separated from their mothers. This discussion gave the students the opportunity to share their own perspectives and experiences of living alongside elephants. This was followed by a debate on  solutions which promote the peaceful co-existence of people and elephants and which result in both conservation and welfare benefits for the elephants. 

After lunch, the students took a field trip into the National Park, learning the differences in vegetation between the park and their villages and observing many birds and a few wild elephant herds under Deepani's guidance. Throughout, the students posed a series of questions on elephants and their behaviour, particularly excited by the young wild elephants they were seeing.

Born Free is encouraged by the students’ extremely positive responses, witnessing  the evident benefits of these school programmes as part of Born Free’s wider awareness raising strategy in Sri Lanka. As Deepani noted, “School children love to learn about wildlife and their habitats, particularly about elephants - they are easy to sensitise to conservation issues. Greater awareness thus invariably helps reduce habitat destruction and aids wildlife conservation”         

Learn more about Sri Lanka’s elephants and what Born Free is doing to help 

Help the care and rehabilitation of orphans at the Elephant Transit Home 

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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