It was the second week of October 2011 and we were beginning to feel that something has drastically changed in the area that we call the Tree Hut Corridor. Normally on any given day we could guarantee that there would be elephants by the tree hut from the afternoon onwards, but by the 2nd week of October it seems all the elephants had vanished and our guarantee along with them!
|Elephants can be found by the tree hut practically everyday by afternoon.|
Just the week before we were with a French film crew from Ocean Television based in Montreal, Canada and elephants were everywhere. We even organized a limited over cricket tournament between the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society staff and two of our project villages for the film crew with the elephants providing a unique backdrop. But now all of a sudden they were gone and we had no clue as to why, where or when!
|The elephants provided a unique backdrop to the local cricket tournament|
During this time we had a very good American friend of mine, Robert Durham from the U.S. Embassy in Colombo drop by with two of his friends to spend some time in the wilderness observing elephants. They spent 3 days with us and all three days we went scouting for elephants on foot and by vehicle and covered an area of over 50 square kilometers. We left everyday at 4 am in the morning and came back to the field lodge only in the late evening beat from our excursions in search for elephants to get revived by Jack Daniels and Sri Lankan curries. Twice we took Robert and his friends to the Wasgamuwa National Park but we did not see one elephant! Further adding to our frustrations was the fact that during our foot safaris we would came across fresh piles of elephant dung but no elephants! We waited by the Hettipola town’s garbage dump stoically ignoring the stench hoping for elephants to show up. Normally elephants would show up at the dump exactly the same time as the tractor with the day’s garbage collection. No Luck this time! Either the elephants have had enough of eating garbage or had moved on to better food!
|Robert at the Sunrise Rock at our Field House|
|Everyday at 4 am we left by vehicle...|
|...and by foot to look for elephants|
|Crossing the littoral plain of the dried up Namini Oya Lake|
|We frequently came across piles of fresh elephant dung but no elephants!|
|Robert the intrepid aventurer with a herd of water buffalo in the background|
|A herd of elephants at the Tree Hut Corridor|
|Elephants use the Tree Hut Corridor to access the Weheragala Lake that can be seeing in the background|
|A SLWCS field vehicle approaching the tree hut amidst a herd of elephants that are right underneath it|
|On some days the elephants are so numerous they cause local traffic jams!|
|Shafin with an elephant|
|Shafin observing an elephant from the SLWCS field vehicle|
|Getting an up close and personal experience|
|Shafin enjoying a delicious cup of Ceylon Tea by the Mahaweli Ganga River|
|Chtinthaka, Jayatileka & Craig conducting the first Tree Hut Corridor field survey|
|Craig checking out elephant dung|
|A GPS point is taken of every dung pile that is encountered|
|Three big bull elephants at the Tree Hut|
|A curious bull elephant|
|No worries there - just some curious elephant fans up in a Tree Hut - nothing unusual!|
|The bulls spent a relaxed evening while there is much excitement up in the Tree Hut!|
On January 2nd we were joined by Gene Wheeler from Seattle, Washington, USA, so now the team consists of 4 people. During the dry season we do tank monitoring to gather data on elephants along the littoral plains of all the irrigation tanks in the area. Due to the monsoon rains currently the Weheragala Tank (lake) including all of the other tanks are at spill level so there is no way to drive or walk along the shoreline. To overcome this seasonal obstacle the field team goes by boat to the forest to gather data on elephants. The first lake crossing was done on January 4th. The team had crossed the lake and immediately met an elephant in the forest. They had taken cover behind a bush until the elephant had moved away.
|Due to the Monsoons all the tanks are at spill level|
|Elephant sign is still numerous along the shorelines|
|The trails around the lakes get flooded making it impossible to walk along the shorelines|
|Taking a boat is one solution. Gene at the helm of the boat|
|Heading into forest to gather data|
|SLWCS Field Scout Jayatileka leading the way|
|Taking cover behind some bushes...|
|...at the sudden appearance of a large bull elephant!|
An interesting and fascinating additional activity has been integrated into our daily excursions into the jungles to gather data on elephants. Mr. Rathnayake is the government Archeology Officer and the person responsible for Archeological research in the Wasgamuwa area. He has met Chinthaka at the Divisional Secretary’s office in the Hettipola Town and had mentioned that he is very interested to do some Archeological surveys in the area but found it impossible and was also scared to go alone into the jungle due to the presence of wild elephants. He has asked Chinthaka whether he can join our team when we do trail transects in the forest. On January 4th Mr. Rathnayake had come to our field house to explain and demonstrate to the team how to help with archeological surveys. After spending the night at the field house the early next day morning Mr. Rathnayake had taken the team to do some preliminary archeological training surveys along the shoreline of the Karawgas Weva, which is a lake just below our field house. During this initial training demonstration they have found ancient iron artifacts, ore samples and the remains of a black smith foundry.
|Mr. Rathnayake, the government Archeology Officer demonstrating field techniques|
|Another iron artefact|
|A black and white magpie by the ancient iron foundry|
|Some of the many ancient iron artefacts that were found at Pussellayaya|
|An iron ring|
It seems like adding the archeological research to the elephant research will give a nice mix of culture and nature activities for our international volunteers. The Wasgamuwa region is steeped in legends, myths, and history. Historians claim Wasgamuwa was where an epic battle was fought during 2100 BC. This is incredible! We cannot imagine what exciting new discoveries are waiting to be found in those dry zone jungles? What will we find out about our ancient past along with our efforts to get a better understanding of the current movement of elephants at our project site? Will our efforts to unearth the buried history of Sri Lanka shed new light on our long standing contentious relationship with the elephant?
Would you like to be a part of these efforts? Why not join us and have an adventure of a life time! Contact us at: email@example.com