At the beginning of February I fled rainy old England and jetted off to Sri Lanka to volunteer with a wild elephant conservation programme which aims to help calm the escalating issue of human-elephant conflict in the country. The Sri Lankan population is growing rapidly and in the countryside farming is the main source of income. As a result, more and more forest and wild land is being destroyed to make space for humans and their crops. This poses a problem for both humans and elephants: the Elephant Corridor, a route which has been used by elephants for thousands of years, is becoming increasingly blocked by houses and rice fields. Elephants continue to use this route, often damaging human property, as well as consuming crops. In order to protect their livelihoods, farmers use desperate measures, such as throwing home-made flares at elephants, or worse, shooting at them. This is a national issue, as human-elephant conflict results in many deaths in both parties each year, but the government has too many other concerns to do anything about it.
This is why the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS), a non-government funded organisation, plays such a major role in the aid of both elephants and humans. By working with the local population, it has constructed electric fences around many villages and their crops, in order to steer elephants around villages and avoid any confrontation. Our aim as volunteers was to help record the presence and eating habits of elephants in the area and to observe human behaviour around wild elephants.
I loved volunteering in Sri Lanka. I learned so much about elephant behaviour, as well as coming to the understanding that farmers cannot be demonised for trying to defend their land – they work so hard all year and the income from the harvest is all they have to keep themselves and their families sustained. I became great friends with the other volunteers and we went on wonderful trips all over the country every weekend. The countryside is beautiful and I woke up at 5:30 every morning to see the sunrise over the lake. The people who work for the organisation are not only incredibly kind and interesting, they are also so knowledgeable and respectful of the elephants. Finally, I feel so lucky to have seen elephants in the wild: sometimes they express such human mannerisms! I would love to go back to Sri Lanka again one day to visit everyone at the organisation and I really appreciate MPW helping me to fund this trip.