About the Elephant Conservation Project
The Elephant Conservation volunteer project has been addressing elephant and human conflicts for more than 20 years in Sri Lanka. Elephants cause great damage to the crops and properties of rural farmers, and in retaliation, farmers kill elephants. It is a precarious issue, which the Elephant Conservation project has been trying to discover methods to mitigate and prevent further.
The main threats to wild elephants in Sri Lanka are habitat loss, mega development projects, ivory poaching, illegal capture and retribution killing for raiding crops. Through the Elephants Conservation project, conservationists are striving to make elephants more valuable to the local communities alive rather than dead. This is done by engaging, training and paying locals to be involved in their conservation together with scientists and volunteers, and by developing a sustainable tourism programme in the area
Volunteers get to participate in a wide range of different activities relevant to the work of the conservation project. These are some of the activities that you could be part of during the day:
- Elephant foraging transect (to gather data on plants elephants eat and their impact on various habitats and plant species)
- Elephant distribution and ranging, composition and population transect (gather indirect data on elephants, i.e. collect data on elephant dung and conduct direct observations of elephants when present).
- Human-elephant conflict surveys – visit village homes that had been raided by elephants.
- Carnivore Research – check remote cameras, download data, reload cameras and help set up new cameras.
- Small animal diversity study – help set up sand traps, monitor and record animal prints to understand the diversity of small animals in the forests.
- Electric Fence monitoring, repair and maintenance – walk the length of solar powered electric fences erected to protect villages and their fields.
- Help farmers to take care of their orange groves, check for diseases and pests, dig holes to plant new orange plants, during the fruiting season help count fruits, harvest and sort them for sale.
- Assist farmers who have been provided with beehive fences to protect their home gardens. Help monitor the bee colonies, repair and maintain the beehive fences and if it’s the season help harvest honey.
- Help in the maintenance of the bird, butterfly and dragonfly sanctuary including pond maintenance.
- Monitor the Community Bus. Travel in the bus early in the morning and afternoon when school children are transported to school and home through the elephant corridor. Take data on the presence of elephants and their behaviour.
Evening Activities include elephant observations from the tree huts, conduct observations on human-elephant interactions in the Elephant Corridor, monitor the afternoon travel of the community bus, observe elephant behaviour and conduct identification, and bird diversity study.
The Small Wild Cat Study is an optional night activity, where volunteers collect data using night vision scopes and thermal cameras on Fishing, Jungle and Rusty-spotted cats, which are all small nocturnal wild cat species in Sri Lanka.
The project has more recently started to engage with carnivore species in Sri Lanka, as also these are facing increased threats by urban and agricultural development pressures. The Carnivore project thus gathers information on the status of seven carnivore species, including the sloth bear, leopard, rusty-spotted cat, fishing cat, jungle cat, golden palm civet, and the Sri Lankan jackal to develop measures for their conservation.
A Typical Week as a Volunteer
A typical volunteer week starts early around 6AM in the morning doing bird diversity studies in various habitats. Volunteers return around 8-9AM to have breakfast and a briefing on the morning activity. From around 9AM, volunteers could be engaged in one of several activities, which include Elephant foraging transects, human-elephant conflict surveys, carnivore research, small animal diversity study and much more.
From around 12-3PM volunteers get to relax and have a lunch break. Then from 3-7PM, volunteers will be engaged on evening activities, which usually include observing elephant behaviour, conduct elephant identification and alike. After finishing the evening activities, volunteers return to the house to have dinner and relax. It is after this optional for volunteers, if they want to take part in a wild cat study of small nocturnal cats found in Sri Lanka lasting for a few hours till midnight.
Long-term Internship Programme
The project also offers students the chance to do research as an intern. Interns will assist with data entering/sorting, volunteer coordination, data analysis and much more. The key subjects for research can be elephants and other mammals such as predators, insects, reptiles and amphibians, birds and botanical research.
Individual interns need to join for min. 3 months and max. 6 months. If you are a university group, then it would be possible to join an intensive 4-week programme. Please reach out to Aaron@workingabroad.com if you want a more detailed description of the long-term internship research opportunities.
“The biggest challenge for the survival of the Sri Lankan elephant is human-elephant conflicts with 250 elephants killed every year. Volunteers make it possible to continuously engage, train and pay locals to be part of the conservation efforts. By joining the project, they have also actively helped sending a strong conservation message to the local communities about valuing and protecting their environment and wildlife” – Project Director in Sri Lanka