The Asian elephant is as enigmatic as it is endangered. With a wild population of perhaps less than 30,000 globally, it occupies some of most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Despite having lived alongside people for thousands of years, wild Asian elephants are often mysterious and misunderstood. Our mission is to better understand wild elephants, the lives of people who live near them, and facilitate coexistence with these magnificent giants of Asia through science and education.
Asian elephants and people live in very close proximity in Sri Lanka, which presents risks to both parties. Elephants can cause damage to subsistence crops as well as injure people, and people can encroach on elephant habitat with fatal consequences. Studying the elephants of Udawalawe National Park as well as the livelihoods and concerns of the villages bordering protected areas, we see that for elephants to survive we need ways for people and elephants to safely share space.
We first want to understand the behavior of people and elephants outside protected areas by monitoring their activities with camera traps, and work with communities to improve safety and develop locally-appropriate warning systems. At the same time, we are investing in schools as a key community resource for advancement by providing support to 6 pre-schools (Montessories) in villages that border the national park that are most severely impacted by elephants.
More than 1000 elephants circulate through the project area, making it globally significant for this species. Their survival depends on maintaining connectivity between habitats, which also requires improving human safety and well-being. Once safety practices are in place, we will then be able to work with communities to replace conflict-prone agriculture with substitutes that provide equal or better income. We call this a triple-win: enhancing safety, livelihoods, and conservation goals!