Sunday, November 11, 2012

Volunteer Memoires continued: Cheranga does a "Sherlock" investigation on F. Jacksoni infestations in wild elephants—it was Alimentary!

Cheranga aka Dr. Poop in the field with colleagues collecting dung samples

Cheranga Dharmasiri is a Final Year student studying International Wildlife Biology at the University of Glamorgan in the UK.  Cheranga spent 4 weeks in June/July 2012 at the SLWCS Field Projects site in Wasgamuwa to fulfill his final year field research dissertation requirement.  The SLWCS was very happy to provide Cheranga with all the field assistance and the main laboratory equipment he needed such as a powerful microscope to successfully complete his project.  The following write up is Cheranga’ personal account of his stay with the SLWCS while conducting his independent research project.                                                                         

In Hot Pursuit of F. jacksoni

My quest for the elusive Jacksoni began when I was challenged by my University to find an investigative research project. I considered many exciting projects in various exotic quarters of the world offered by reputed organizations, but after many topics been considered and then discarded, it was settled that I would go to Sri Lanka to look for a fluke named, Fasciola jacksoni, with the help of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society.

Getting ready to chase after F. jacksoni
F. jacksoni infests the Asian elephant and is known to cause morbidity and in some cases mortality. My aim was to assess the prevalence of this liver fluke in the elephants ranging outside the southern boundary of the Wasgomuwa National Park. This involved collecting fresh elephant dung, processing the dung and microscopic analysis to identify the fluke eggs.  Arrangements were finalized for me to spend 4 weeks at the SLWCS field research centre at Wasgamuwa with the kind assistance of Mr. Ravi Corea, founder President of this fantastic organization.

Breaking apart a dung pile to get a fresh sample
If F. jacksoni is there I'll find them!
 Although, my main aim was this project, I had ample time to learn more about the SLWCS activities. We watched informative documentaries on an open air screen during dinner and also participated in project activities such as mapping transects used by the elephants.  

Observing elephants from the Tree Hut...

...and from the Land Rover

A young female feedings peacefully by the Land Rover
Nothing is as cute as a baby elephant!

The matriarch of the herd feeding close to the Land Rover means the herd is used to the presence of the field crew
Spending time with Chinthaka (the Field Projects and Volunteer Program Manager) and his two assistants, Aravinda and Sampath enabled me and three other volunteers from the UK to obtain firsthand experience of the work done by the SLWCS in an effort to minimise Human-Elephant conflicts. We had a lot of fun and felt safe throughout our stay.

In the jungle...going on a transect to observe elephants and collect dung samples

No pile of fresh dung is left unchecked

Taking a break in the cool sands of a dry water course nearby to hole dug by elephants and other  wildlife searching for water
Lunch! All activities must stop for lunch - even scientific research I assume
With the cooperation of SLWCS field staff and fellow volunteers, I managed to collect a plentiful supply of fresh elephant dung to process and analyse. I was thrilled to find the first F. jacksoni   egg. The preliminary data indicated that the prevalence of F. jacksoni  in the free ranging elephant population was lower than in the elephants confined within the boundary fences of Sri Lanka’s national parks.

I enjoyed my free time fishing in the lake with Siriya, who always had the bigger catch. It was not always bad news as it meant more of Siriya‘s special dish of tasty fried fish.

The Siriya - catching fish

Posing with Siriya's catch

It was sad to say goodbye, but I left knowing I have made good friends and hopefully contributed in a small way to the valuable work carried out by the SLWCS.  

A Useless friendship!
I was blessed with an opportunity to revisit them in August 2012 , this time with my family and we spent three days at the Field House and enjoyed a great programme of activities.

Philosophical reflections with Useless about uselessness
Thank you again for all the support.
Cheranga Dharmasiri

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