Elephant Diary: Reports from the Field
Elephant Diary: Reports from the Field
Excerpts from the monthly field reports of SLWCS research staff
Ecologist and GIS Specialist
We have named this particular elephant “Hasthi” which in the Sinhala language means majestic elephant. This adult male is one of our resident bulls in Wasgamuwa. He is currently in musth but seems very calm. He is one of the biggest elephants at our field site so when he approaches females to inspect them for estrus other smaller and/or younger bulls move away from the females very quickly. He is in perfect shape (has good body condition). Compared to other bulls of similar age, he does not have many lumps from old shotgun wounds, apart from a burn mark which could be from an old wound on his left front leg.
Research and Volunteer Coordinator
During the months of July and August SLWCS hosted twenty volunteers who engaged in conservation based research efforts of the organization. The volunteers were split into two groups and each team was assigned a conservation research or project activity on a rotational basis. While one group worked on the beehive project the other team worked to collect field data on elephants, carnivores and human-elephant conflicts.
In the beehive project many damaged fences were mended by the volunteers’ collective effort. Some helped to repair and build new roofs for the beehive boxes using straw and wood while another team helped to erect wooden posts to build wire fences to hang the beehive boxes around villagers’ home gardens. During mid-August two interns joined the beehive project to work with the current PhD student, Kylie who is leading the project.
For the field research volunteers conducted transects in the Madupitiya Forest Reserve, Godaulpotha village, Himbiliyakada-Weheragala Tank (Lake), Himbiliyakada Forest Reserve, Kumbukoya, Thoppala Pitiya and Devagiriya villages. The activities included trail mapping, elephant foraging studies, human-elephant conflict (HEC) surveys, and studying of elephant group behavior and composition.
A survey was carried out on several villages where Project Orange Elephant (POE) programs were implemented. We analysed data from three villages and covered 10 houses each assessing 10 – 20 orange plants from each village. The survey included information on current success rate of the project, suggestions for further improvements, etc.
We conducted 17 HEC surveys in Kubukoya, Palupitiya-Hathare Ela, and in the Godaulpotha villages. Depending on the outcome of the surveys we will decide which villages we can provide with orange plants in the next POE phase. We will be continuing these assessments through September.
In mid-July we were joined by Lacy Wittman, a volunteer photo/videographer from the USA who came to cover all the project activities of SLWCS.
Ecologist and GIS Specialist
Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) Surveys
18 human-elephant conflict (HEC) surveys were conducted in the two villages of Kubukoya and Thoppalapitiya that borders the Wasgamuwa National Park. . The HEC levels were higher than we expected in these two border villages.
Based on our survey these two villages seem ideal to establish Project Orange Elephant (POE) programs. Several farmers were very keen to participate in the POE program. Ayodhya plans to hold discussions with farmers from these two villages to select an initial batch of farmers to participate in POE. In the meantime I will create a map of the area using GIS.
Elephant Trail Mapping
The forest south of the Weheragala Tank was selected to survey for elephant trails to map them. We were able to conduct these walking surveys only on two days due to the increased elephant activities outside the Wasgamuwa National Park. Over one hundred elephants are distributed over this area presently making it too risky to conduct walking surveys. During these surveys it became quite apparent that we needed to increase our knowledge to identify woody plants. In this regard a good reference collection of plant field guides is an essential resource for this activity. We are also working on establishing a plant reference collection to help in this effort.
Elephant observations at Weheragala Tank (Lake)
Presently over one hundred elephants can be observed on some days in various social groups at the Weheragala Tank. For the elephant observations the following activities were conducted.
* Data was collected on group composition.
* A new behavioural study was initiated with the aim of collecting information for an elephant ethogram.
* Data was also collected to study their time budgets on different behaviours.
We also began to conduct night observations using night vision scopes and as a trial several pictures and videos were recorded using the night visions. The quality of the videos seems good and can be used for night studies of elephants.
During one night disturbance were caused by some drunks. Ironically nearly 60 percent of the people killed in Sri Lanka annually by elephants happen to be intoxicated men. Men imbibed with alcohol gets a false sense of bravado to challenge elephants. Unfortunately it is a fight they can never win.
We need more binoculars, night visions and spotting scopes for this project especially if we are to increase afternoon and night observations during the dry season when elephants often hang out on the littoral plains of the Weheragala Tank.
Sixteen sand traps are functioning in total in three different forests where remote cameras have been setup.
Elephants have used some of our sand traps as sand bathing place, as a result no leopard pug marks or spoor of other animals was recorded from those sand traps. We need better sand leveling tools to make smooth sand traps.
The International Conference on Asian Elephants in Nature & Culture
The International Conference on Asian Elephants in Nature & Culture was organized by the Research Centre, Faculty of Social Sciences of the Kelaniya University of Sri Lanka
Our paper on Project Orange Elephant was selected for a presentation at this conference. Chinthaka and I made the presentation on our paper titled: Project Orange Elephant: Promoting Sustainable Land Use Practices to Alleviate Rural Poverty and Mitigate Human Elephant Conflicts.__
Kylie Butler also made a presentation on the Beehive Project at the conference.
Both presentations were very well received and generated a lot of interest from the local as well as the foreign participants who were attending the conference. There were several requests from conference participants asking the SLWCS to offer visits for them to participate as well study these projects.
For a long time it has been the intention to establish a butterfly conservation project. Finally the flower beds to plant butterfly feeder plants have been prepared to establish the Butterfly Garden. Since it is the dry season no plants can be planted due to water shortage. With the beginning of the rainy season a comprehensive survey will be conducted to identify food plants that butterflies feed on. These plants will be propagated and planted in the Butterfly Garden.