Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Tuesday, 27th January 2015
In Sri Lanka, elephants are very often subject to a cruel existence of providing rides for tourists and hauling wood for loggers. Elephants have been trained and captured for man’s use in Sri Lanka since 3 BC. However, in the past, elephants were protected by royal decree: to keep an elephant in captivity, one had to have the king’s permission. Unfortunately, such regulations are long gone, and there are not enough measures in place to protect the country’s elephants. Captive elephants are often obese, have joint problems, and are so agitated that they can develop repetitive behavior tics.
Unfortunately, there are many “elephant sanctuaries” that claim to be volunteer projects but use the elephants every day for riding. At our Sri Lanka Elephant Volunteer Project, however, elephants are never ridden or chained. The sanctuary buys the elephants their freedom, paying a rental fee to their owners. At the moment, the sanctuary houses two young Asian elephants: Sujee, who is seven, and Wasthu, who is five. Eventually, the directors hope to use income from hosting volunteers and from donations to provide a safe space for more mistreated elephants.
Even though you definitely can’t ride the elephants as a volunteer, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have meaningful contact with these gentle giants! Volunteers lead the elephants on their daily walks, which provides them with great exercise. Under the guidance of elephant trainers, volunteers can play enrichment games with the elephants. Using mazes, big tires, and rewarding treats, Sujee and Wasthu get to exercise their brainpower…which they have a lot of! (In fact, elephants share a good part of their evolutionary history with humans; they have great memories and are among the few mammals to display empathy). Volunteers will also enjoy the chance to cool off while bathing the elephants. Last year, volunteers built a new enclosure for the elephants to protect them from the monsoon, which was even “rainier” than usual last year. Of course, the enclosures have to be cleaned, but then dung can then be used to fertilise the eco-garden!
However, life at the project isn’t just elephants. Volunteers also engage with the community in other ways; visiting residents of the local disabled home or teaching English and sports to the children of the community are some examples of current side projects. Besides eating the wonderful Sri Lankan cuisine, volunteers will also be able to cook it themselves after one of the different cooking workshops.
By Lauren Amrhein, WorkingAbroad Team
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