Born Free began working in Sri Lanka in 2002 with a visit to the government-run Elephant Transit Home (ETH). Since then we have provided extensive assistance in the form of buildings, vehicles and equipment. We have also worked with a number of local NGOs on a range of issues, primarily concerned with elephant welfare and conservation.
Sri Lanka is a relatively small country (about the size of the Republic of Ireland) with high human population densities and a very significant elephant population (estimated at around 4,000 or more). While there is a good network of national parks and protected areas, many of the elephants spend a significant amount of time outside these zones, and conflict with rural communities is common. Elephants are not hunted for sport or food, and rarely, if ever, poached for tusks or other parts (eg skins or tails).
Sri Lanka has a history of training elephants for religious, commercial and domestic purposes, some of which date back thousands of years. This practice increased dramatically in the 2000s but has since dropped off. However, elephants are still kept as status symbols by prominent individuals as well as by several Buddhist temples, and are often used in religious pageants called Peraheras, and displayed at some tourist sites - a few of which offer elephant-back rides.