Farming communities living near forest edges can face serious economic hardship, with individual farmers standing to lose some or all of their annual yield and income to wildlife. Yet these lands are important foraging areas for animals, so it's paramount that people and wildlife live together. We are working with these front-line communities to test systems to enable farmers and elephants to coexist.
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 focused on small-holder agricultural communities living near Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka.
Elephants disproportionately burden agricultural households, many with an income of under $1500/year. We have built relationships with these communities by supporting local pre-schools. In the next stages we will work directly with farmers to test a) a new incense stick specifically developed to repel elephants and b) new crop varieties that are resilient to elephants and thus supplement their incomes. We will use camera-trap observations and farmer feedback to study and scale viable solutions.
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 supportive programs that build understanding and trust within communities. The second is to work with these same stakeholders to change agricultural practices so that they will be more resilient to elephants, as well as more economically beneficial, improving livelihoods over the long-term.