Farming communities living with elephants can face serious economic hardship. Under such circumstances, there is little left over to invest in communal resources such as schools. Education is a universally valued asset, so supporting schools is one small way to help. This project sponsors pre-schools in villages bordering wildlife sanctuaries as a means of offsetting some of the financial burden of living with elephants as part of a longer-term effort facilitate coexistence
Habitat loss is the number one challenge facing Asian elephants. Sri Lanka has the second largest Asian elephant population in the world, living at high densities in close proximity to people. Communities that live with elephants need a way to turn them from being a liability into an asset, which is the best chance of ensuring elephants can survive on these landscapes. This project is a test case, focused on small-holder agricultural communities living near Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka.
Through surveys of hundreds of households in the area, we found that elephants impose significant financial hardship on households, many of which have an annual income of under $1500/year. Education is one thing that suffers as a result. By investing in schools, we build relationships within each village, open a channel of communication with community members, as well as engage the next generation of environmental stewards in working together to facilitate coexistence.
The continued survival of elephants depends on their being able to move through a mix of human-dominated space. We have two goals. The first is to gradually encircle critical habitats with programs that build understanding and cooperation within communities. The second is to work with these same stakeholders later on to change agricultural practices so that they will be more resilient to the presence of elephants, as well as more economically beneficial, improving livelihoods over the long-term.