Continuing saga of Elephant Encounters of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly Kind!
|An elephant break in|
February 15, 2012. To get to Kalagama, a village located by the historic Kalawewa tank from Gal Wanguwa, where the elephant that was killed by a train was, it took us about 45 minutes. First, we had to meet up with Ali Ananda (Elephant Ananda) a local contact of Kanchana’s who knew the area well. Ali Ananda was going to take us to the home that had been broken four times by elephants within the last three months. Apparently, Ali Ananda seems to be a legendary character in the area. According to what Kanachana tells us, and endorsed by Ali Ananda, he is sort of an Elephant Whisperer! He can get wild elephants to come to him—they even allow him to pet them! And this is all in an area where human elephant conflict is pretty intense and the elephants are prone to kill. Unfortunately we did not get to see him do any of these amazing interactions with wild elephants that day—but we do hope to make another trip soon to see him do all of these things with wild elephants.
|Heading out to Kalagama|
|Elephant whisperer, Ali Ananda (on the right)|
|On the way to Kalagama|
|We drove through beautiful countryside|
|Filming at New Balalu Wewa|
|Meeting with Rifkhan - a repaired prior break can be seen on the wall|
|The house that Elephant broke!|
|Rifkhan explaining how the incident happened|
|The elephant had put its' head through the hole and taken a bag of rice!|
From Balalu Wewa we drove to the village of Hettiyamulla. The village fields are located along the boundary of the forest reservation of the historic Kalawewa. Here too the Department of Wildlife Conservation had erected a 15 kilometer electric fence, extending along the reservation boundary from Dennewa to Mirihampitigama. There we met a woman, Seelawathie whose rice fields were by the electric fence, and the night before an elephant had pushed a post down and damaged a section of her fields. This fence was also managed and operated exactly similar to the fence we had observed at Balalu Wewa. A common grievance of the villagers here too was about the time taken to do a major repair on the fence by the Wildlife Department. In addition—this particular fence has been designed, in such a manner that during the rainy season several sections of the fence got inundated making it ineffective and impossible to repair. The villagers of Hettiyamulla want this section of the fence moved to high ground where it won’t go underwater.
|An elephant had crossed this fence the night before at this spot|
|Damage done to a field by the elephant - trampled crops|
|The elephant had fed on this field|
|The fields and the forest are adjacent to each other|
|Journalist Kanchana going where others fear to tread|
|Wading along water courses to observe elephants at Kalawewa|
|A herd of elephants in the far periphery of the littoral plains|
|Rifkhan walking towards the elephants|
|Talking to Rifkhan about the conflict issues at Kalawewa|
|The herd kept close to the edge of forest|
|A lone bull showed up|
|The bull moved across a short open area and disappeared into the forest|
|A farmer killed by an elephant while guarding his fields|
The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society developed and pioneered the concept to put electric fences along village boundaries rather than along national parks or protected area boundaries. This innovative program was launched in 1997 under the Society’s landmark and internationally acclaimed and award winning, SAVING ELEPHANTS BY HELPING PEOPLE (SEHP) PROJECT. After 16 years the SEHP strategy is one of the most successful community-based participatory efforts to resolve HEC in Sri Lanka. Today the SEHP project and its concepts have directly benefited villagers in 3 Administrative Provinces of Sri Lanka. In acknowledgment and appreciation of these efforts, in 2008, the SLWCS received a UNDP Equator Initiative Prize, which honors community-based projects that represent outstanding efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
|Receiving the UNDP Equator Prize in Barcelona, Spain in 2008|
|National Science Foundation award in 2010|
|In 2011 selected as the Charity of the Year by the U.S. Ambassador|
|Receiving a monetary award from the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka|
In 1997 the SLWCS made the following observations when conducting research on human-elephant conflicts to gather information to develop sustainable solutions for its mitigation.
1. National Parks and all protected area boundaries are administrative boundaries and not ecological boundaries of animals in the park.
2. Elephants are highly mobile animals that range over a wide area and nearly 70% of the elephants range outside the protected areas.
3. Containing elephants into national parks with electric fences is not a successful way to manage them, and it also could be detrimental to their survival.
4. Village boundaries are the definite socio-economic and administrative boundaries of villages so they have real significance to the villagers.
5. It is more effective to erect electric fences along village boundaries to keep elephants “out” rather than fence them “in” in national parks.
6. Such an approach while protecting the villagers and their fields will also allow elephants to range freely without causing conflicts.
7. Local people need to be actively involved in any efforts to mitigate HEC as equally responsible partners, therefore measures that are designed and developed, should be done in consultation with them.
8. Local stakeholders should take complete ownership and the responsibility of maintaining the mitigation measures that are implemented if they are to be sustainable and effective over the long term.
9. Public-private partnership is crucial to address HEC mitigation successfully.
|Villagers maintaining a fence erected by the SLWCS in Wasgamuwa|
|Villagers constructing an electric fence|
|Villagers sense of ownership of the fence is critical for its long term success|
|Villagers participation is the key factor for the success of an electric fence|
One of the biggest achievements of the Society has been to create tolerance for elephants in people that suffered from intense human-elephant conflicts (HEC). Through its innovative SEHP project the Society has managed to mitigate HEC and save a vital elephant corridor allowing elephants to move between the Wasgamuwa National Park and several irrigation tanks and forest reserves which are crucial for their survival especially during the dry season. By minimizing HEC we have helped local farmers to overcome crop loses to elephants and increase their incomes which has helped them to come out of poverty and social marginalization. Today over 99% of the village homes are made of brick and cement where as earlier they were mostly mud huts. Ensuring the safety of the corridor has also benefitted other wildlife tremendously. From a tree hut observation post today visitors get to view herds of elephants and people sharing the same landscape without conflict. Large herds and massive bulls feed placidly in the vicinity of these villages while people on foot and vehicles move through the area. It would be impossible to observe this phenomenon elsewhere in Sri Lanka with HEC.
|A new brick house been built next to the mud hut its replacing|
The SEHP project has achieved the following:
- Prior to the introduction of solar powered electric fences, 70% of the agriculture land was left uncultivated due to elephants frequently raiding fields.
- After the fences were introduced, elephant raids have significantly reduced in some villages by 99.9% enabling villagers to cultivate all their fields. They are now cultivating seasonal and annual crops, which they could not do before.
- Alleviated poverty by increasing incomes in some villages by 212%
- Approximately 7 hours per day per farmer has been saved, which used to be spent on protecting crops in the night. Villagers can sleep at night now or use that time for other activities.
- Villagers used to spend on average Rs.5,500 (<$55) per annum to purchase kerosene oil, firecrackers, flashlight batteries and bulbs to protect crops in the night.
- Since the SEHP project was implemented, the average monthly cost per household to maintain the electric fence is Rs.500 (>$5) per year. Therefore the average household is saving Rs.5,000 (approx $50) per annum.
- The environmental awareness of some communities has increased by an average of 43%.
- In two villages, 100% claim their wellbeing and safety has improved since the electric fences were erected.
- Feedback from villagers shows their mobility, especially after nightfall, has increased due to the security from the fences.
- The social life of villagers has vastly improved, increasing their quality of life.
- Reduced stress due to the lower risks of elephant attacks.
- Children do not have to miss school because of elephants and potential damage or deaths in the village.
|The death of a living cultural icon!|