Banana crops are a tasty snack for elephants.
We hope you have not been adversely impacted by the pandemic that has affected as all over the past few months.
As we mentioned in our last update, Trunks & Leaves embarked on a new journey, commencing our next phase of work with the communities. Crop raids are ever more frequent in the Udawalawe region, where we have been operating all this while, especially with the scarcity of food for the elephants. We partnered with HDDeS Pvt. Ltd, the largest exporters of spices, essences and floral extracts, to experimentally try out an novel approach to deterring elephants from crops. Through their research, they had developed a special type of incense stick that were claimed to emit an odor that repels elephants. If successful, this project would be the first step we take to reducing human-elephant conflict.
About 1500 families, mostly farmers, live on a household income of USD 100 – 120 per month. Crop raids create intense hardship and this in return forces both parties to pay a heavy price. Hence, Trunks & Leaves, also wanted to create an alternate source of income, something that guarantees a steady revenue stream for the farmers. Our partnership with HDDes Pvt. Ltd is expected to facilitate this as well. While we tested the incense stick with the communities we have worked and established a relationship with, HDDes Pvt Ltd, would provide feedback on potential plants that the farmers can grow as an alternate crop for extra revenue.
After some careful planning, and receiving incense sticks donated by HDDes Pvt. Ltd, it was time to begin! We decided to test these products in 10 of the farms in the Udawalawe corridor region, where we worked with communities on our Pre-school project. We would use camera traps in addition to the farmers’ own observations to document whether the sticks were working, over a one-month period.
Our field team worked tirelessly, to set up these cameras, taking into account the angles in which we can capture elephants and monitor the effectiveness of the incense sticks. Over the course of we began trials, starting with a two-week "baseline" period where we recorded how active elephants were on each property before testing the sticks. In March we had farmers light their supply of sticks every other day and record whether elephants appeared at all, and whether there was any damage to their fields. March and April were to be the all-important trial months, when farmers would actively be growing crops and harvesting following the rains. Unfortunately, we had a set-back due to the COVID19 global pandemic.
Impact of COVID19
There were two major impacts due to the coronavirus:
1) Sri Lanka went on complete lockdown, along with other countries in the world. The international airport was shut down, travel within the country and gatherings were disallowed. Curfews were imposed, preventing the field team from leaving their homes for part of March, all of April, and most of May. As a result we had to suspend all fieldwork, including not only the incense trials but also all other camera trap monitoring.
2) The restrictions on movement also prevented some farmers from cultivating at all. Without farmers cultivating, there is little chance of crop raids and therefore no point in testing the effectiveness of the incense sticks. Even though curfews have been lifted as of June, we've had to shift our timeline for this reason. The next harvest begins roughly around September, so if the situation returns to normal we hope to re-start the experiment prior to that time.
Hopefully, once the world recovers from COVID-19, the Coexistence Project can resume trials and monitoring.
All of us at Trunks & Leaves wish you good health and safety.
Watch huts are used to guard against wildlife.
Farmers like Jayasena can lose their whole harvest