Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants

by Trunks & Leaves Inc.
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Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Investing in Communities to Conserve Elephants
Our field team handing a ration pack to a farmer
Our field team handing a ration pack to a farmer

GlobalGiving Joint Report 23rd June 2022 - Project No. 37368 –

Investing In Communities to Conserve Elephants

 

Just as the world is ready to move on from the Covid-19 Sri Lanka is plagued with other problems.

Over the last few months, Sri Lanka’s economic situation has dwindled and now it’s facing one of its worst economic crises. For Sri Lankans, the crisis has turned their daily lives into an endless cycle of waiting in lines for basic goods, many of which are being rationed.

Sri Lanka now is facing a foreign currency shortage; the foreign reserves have been reduced by roughly 85% thereby making it difficult to purchase essentials to run the country. There are huge lines for fuel and gas. There are no imports into the country so certain products, like butter and milk powder, are unavailable in the market. The lack of fuel has disrupted the transportation thus it has created a shortage of vegetables in the market and due to this, the prices in the urban areas have drastically increased. The lack of fuel also affects the country’s power supply, with citizens facing up to 16 hrs of power cuts daily, thus hampering their daily life. In addition, the Sri Lankan Medical Association has also stated that medical supplies are running low. By the end of April, Sri Lanka will run out of essential medicines and medical supplies.

So where does this leave us and our projects?

 

Supplementary Crop Experiments

Despite all the issues in Sri Lanka, Trunks & Leaves still plan to go ahead with the supplementary crop project. We have, however, shifted the timeline to start our project next year as opposed to this year. With the fuel shortage in Sri Lanka, our mobility to get this project up and running in various areas will be hampered, hence we decided to start next year.

But that does not mean this year will be completely lost. Trunks & Leaves are looking to sign an MOU with another local NGO, Janathakshan. Janathakshan has been working with rural communities in the North Central region of Sri Lanka for nearly a decade, providing all types of support to the farming community there. Janathakshan’s expertise and resources cover five main areas, Micro and SME development, Agriculture and Natural resources management, Climate change and disaster risk management, Renewable energy, and  Information services to the rural community. A partnership with them will help our project reach deserving communities that are affected by the human-elephant conflict in the North Central region of Sri Lanka.

Before we begin our project we are, with the help of agriculture experts, studying the landscapes and types of crops we can cultivate in Udawalawe and other regions. So when our project commences next year we will have a sound understanding of the farming aspect of the project, thereby wasting no time in securing an additional income for these farmers.

We need all the help we can get so that we can continue to do our good work and help the communities in need. So thank you for helping us on this journey!

 Follow our updates on social media and stay tuned for more exciting news on this project!

 

GlobalGiving Report 23rd June 2022 - Project No. 56041 –

Emergency Relief For Rural Sri Lankan Households

 

Relief efforts in Udawalawe

Trunks & Leaves has been involved in Udalawawe for decades. We have worked with the community and helped them for many years, but now is when help is needed the most.

85% of the population surrounding the corridor, near the Udawalawe National Park, are farmers and the rest of them are laborers and daily wage earners. The farming community was severely affected this year. With the rising inflation, the increase in the cost of living, and the crop raids by wild animals, the situation in these areas has been the direst it has ever been. Many of the families have been surviving from the little vegetables they have grown in their backyard.

Many relief efforts are happening all around Sri Lanka, however, none specifically focused on farming communities that are affected by HEC. Keeping this in mind, Trunks & Leaves decided to provide $30 dry ration packs to the deserving households in that community. These $30 packs will help a family sustain for a month, giving them the much-needed essentials.  With the help of the GlobalGiving community, we set a target of USD 6000 and managed to collect 1/3rd of the donation to date. This allowed us to support 60 households in that area and we hope we can raise more funds to this project running and help as many people as we can. 

We hope to continue these relief efforts with the funds we raise further. Moreover, we wish to expand this relief work beyond Udawalawe and reach out to other HEC-affected communities that are in need as well.

Your donations are what propels us to continue this project, so thank you! We will update you with further details on this project in our next report.

There are other ways in which you can help us, it is never too late to do some good, so please do consider adopting an elephant to support our work. Our adoption program was launched last year, with each kit featuring a real individual from our study population. Each year we release a new cohort of calves who can only be adopted for a limited time. You can now learn more about the elephants we all love so dearly or gift a kit for an elephant lover in your life!

In case you missed it, here are stories about our work and what the new normal could look like:

How Sri Lankans Are Trying to Mitigate the World’s Deadliest Human-Elephant Conflict

On World Elephant Day (and every day) humans should stay away from wildlife (commentary by Shermin de Silva on Mongabay)

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @trunksnleaves

These were the houses the beneficiaries lived in
These were the houses the beneficiaries lived in
An elderly lady shedding a tear of joy,
An elderly lady shedding a tear of joy,
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Staff all "geared up" for 2022
Staff all "geared up" for 2022

It’s a new year and we sincerely hope it’s better than the last! 2021 was plagued with island-wide lockdowns and regular shutdowns of Udawalawe National Park, which drastically hampered our projects and activities in that area. But we weren’t idle - our field staff was busy raising and confronting multiple issues, as we’ve reported before.

In case you missed it, check out All About Asian Elephants - a new activity book for kids aged 4-8, available around the world from Amazon! Watch this space for more kid-centered initiatives.

The team are ready for a packed 2022, hoping to resume all our projects, research and community aid efforts. With your help, we'll continue speaking up for elephants, communities, and the land we all share!

Supplementary Crops Experiments - A Moonshot of an Experiment

We announced our Supplementary Crop project in the last report. Our Working Group on Socioecological Interventions, was launched last year and we’re incredibly grateful that the US Fish and Wildlife Asian Elephant Conservation Grant has given us the green light to proceed with large-scale experiments together with partners in Thailand and Sri Lanka. They’ve called our project a “moonshot” for elephant conservation – one that could be a game changer if it succeeds!

The supplementary crop project will be conducted in areas with high human-elephant conflicts. Through this project, we hope to answer the question: If farmers can supplement their incomes from crops that are more resistant to elephants, would they be more willing to coexist? Our initial studies have shown that farmers in Sri Lanka may not ill-will towards the elephants as such, but it is their economic worries that present the main challenge. Our trials of alternative crops will give us a clearer picture as well as a cross-cultural perspective. If we succeed, it will be a win for both farmers and elephants.

But working with farmers is only half the story. We will also engage with their communities that are not part of the crop trials through other types of community-based projects, such as our pre-school sponsorship program. Because elephants present severe economic hardships to communities in and around their habitat, these programs are a means of fostering dialogue and goodwill.

Follow our updates on social media and stay tuned for more exciting news!

Back to the park and on the lookout!

The team is excited to be able to visit the park again and we bring joyful news. From the time we visited the park in Oct 2021 till now (February 2022), we have spotted a total of 21 new elephant calves, of which 14 are males and 7 are females. We are thrilled to spot these new babies and hopefully soon we’ll be able to share some new candidates for adoption.

This Valentine’s day show your love by adopting an elephant . Each kit is a virtual adoption of a real individual from our study population. Each year we release a new cohort of calves who can only be adopted for a limited time. You can now learn more about the elephants we all love so dearly or gift a kit for an elephant lover in your life!

New Transitions

As we shared earlier, our founder Dr. Shermin de Silva is preparing to join the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada (profiled here).We’re thrilled to announce that Dr. Lizzie Webber, will be taking the helm at Trunks & Leaves. With her expertise and guidance and with Dr. Shermin overseeing our projects, we are sure to reach greater heights in the near future. Like we said last time, bigger and better things are in store- we hope you will stay tuned.

In case you missed it, here are stories related to our work:

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @trunksnleaves

The team are thrilled to be spotting new calves!
The team are thrilled to be spotting new calves!
Playful youngsters in Udawalawe National Park
Playful youngsters in Udawalawe National Park
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New calves are always great news!
New calves are always great news!

As we head into the last few months of 2021, we're reflecting on what has been a tough period for wildlife and human communities. The island-wide lockdowns imposed in Sri Lanka and regular shut-downs of the parks and protected areas have had a mixed impact. On one hand, the animals have had a break from the constant crowds and traffic that impedes their day-to-day lives in human-dominated spaces. On the other hand, conflicts with people have not gone away.

We've been busy.

Earlier this year, our field manager Sameera Weerathunga was instrumental in raising the alarm about illegal land clearing efforts at Dahaiyagala corridor. He also managed to successfully raise awareness and thwart a campaign to translocate Rambo, a wild bull who has been a fixture at Udawalawe National Park. We are also working to support the communities we've been working in to enable them to meet basic sanitation and infrastructure needs during this time of hardship. We also launched All About Asian Elephants a new activity book for kids, available around the world from Amazon.

With your help, we'll continue speaking up for elephants, communities, and the land we all share!

Supplementary Crop Experiments

We are incredibly excited to announce that our Working Group on Socioecological Interventions, launched earlier this year, has been funded by US Fish & Wildlife to test experimental crops in Sri Lanka and Thailand! In collaboration with Bring The Elephants Home, a nonprofit based in the Netherlands & Thailand, as well as Janathakshan, another project partner in Sri Lanka, and our colleagues at the University of Colorado, Boulder, we'll be launching our first large-scale experiments next year!

These funds, alongside support from sponsors like you will help us develop and trial alternative crops that can help these small-holders reduce or eliminate their conflicts with elephants. We will begin by researching which crops would be ideally suited both ecologically and economically in the different areas. Follow our updates on social media and stay tuned for more exciting news!

Back To The Park

Last year, we were happy to see several new babies and some families even had a baby boom. But the National Parks throughout the country had been shut for months in order to curb the spread of COVID. They are finally re-opening, with lockdowns slowly easing. We've been eager to get back to the elephants to see how they're doing!

As the holiday season approaches, consider adopting an elephant to support our work. Our adoption program was launched last year, with each kit featuring a real individual from our study population. Each year we release a new cohort of calves who can only be adopted for a limited time. You can now learn more about the elephants we all love so dearly, or gift a kit for an elephant lover in your life!

Coming Transitions

After nearly 10 years developing Trunks & Leaves, our president and founder Dr. Shermin de Silva is being recruited as faculty member at the University of British Columbia! This will bring a vast new set of opportunities and resources to our work, including the chance to work with more students and academic collaborators. Dr. de Silva will remain as the CEO of Trunks & Leaves and we will take on a new officer to oversee our programs. Bigger and better things are in store, we hope you will stay tuned.

In case you missed it, here are stories about our work and what the new normal could look like:

How Sri Lankans Are Trying to Mitigate the World’s Deadliest Human-Elephant Conflict

On World Elephant Day (and every day) humans should stay away from wildlife (commentary by Shermin de Silva on Mongabay)

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @trunksnleaves

Links:

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Meeting held to decide Rambo's future
Meeting held to decide Rambo's future

Dahaiyagala and deforestation in Sri Lanka

In our previous report we described illegal encroachment and attempted land grabs threatening critical wildlife corridors. The government has also been clearing out forests to various enterprises, domestic and foreign, under the pretense of 'development.' Not wanting to be left behind, local residents also want their share - all of this spells trouble.

The Dahaiyagala corridor is under such threat. It is narrow stretch of habitat that provides access to the larger forest north of Udawalawe National park. This corridor is important for elephants to crossover to gain access to much needed minerals and other food sources. Our field officer, Sameera Weeratunga, was a key figure in bringing awareness to the issue and rallying people together. He managed to get the local temples, certain Wildlife and Forest department authorities, and other environmental conservationists to make an appeal to the President, highlighting the ongoing human- elephant conflict that would only be worsened by these developments. After much persistence, we are heartened that the government has now decided to hold off distributing the land in Dahaiyagala, which we hope will maintain the integrity of the sanctuary.

 

'ECOCIDE' - A New Generation Awakens

With the government showing less interest in protecting the environment, a group of environment conservations organizations banded together to create a coalition to voice out against the ecocide that is happening across Sri Lanka. The coalition’s first course of action was to organize a protest, in the busy streets of the capital city, Colombo. It's the first time since the end of Sri Lanka's Civil War that there has been such attention on the environment, and the first time ever there has been such a massive mobilization to protect it.

With over a thousand participants, the protest was powered by a new generation of young conservationists and gained the traction it needed to create awareness. There were extensive media coverage and social media coverage that popularized #stopecocide in Sri Lanka.

But we know protests are not enough - when the cameras are off, and everyone goes home, there is work still to be done. We are there to do it.

 

Saving Rambo

Rambo was for many years a major attraction at Udawalawe National Park. Having pioneered the art of "begging" at the fence, he relished the fruit he received from local and international tourists alike. Our Ethical Elephant Experiences campaign last year highlighted the hazard such feeding creates for people and elephants alike, and unfortunately, we were right. However, the recent travel restrictions, curfews and lockdowns have stopped tourists from visiting the park and the park was mostly shutdown to prevent the COVID 19 spread. Perhaps for this reason, among others, last year Rambo started boldly breaking through the electric fence and raiding nearby plantations and farms. The Department of Wildlife conservation (DWC) therefore initiated plans to capture the 50-year old Rambo and relocate him to Horowupathana Elephant Detention Center.

The Udawalawe Elephant Research Project has been monitoring Rambo for a long time, and our field manager Sameera, believed that relocating Rambo was unjust. He was at risk of being injured or killed if confined. After coordinating meetings among many key people, the DWCsuspended plans for his relocation. It remains a delicate situation and we hope that neither human or elephant is harmed. Sameera describes these events in his own words, on our blog.

 

Incense sticks

We enlisted 20 farmers who were willing to participate in trials to see if the incense sticks provided by HDDeS Pvt. Ltd were actually keeping elephants from raiding their crops. Though our trials last year were held up by the pandemic, by April we did manage to complete them and are now preparing a report with our findings of whether this is a viable mitigation method for human-elephant conflict. In the the meantime, wildlife authorities have taken already on board the idea with some enthusiasm - we hope their optimism is well-placed.

Field team working with officials
Field team working with officials
Rambo being fed by tourists
Rambo being fed by tourists
Rambo, the tourist attraction
Rambo, the tourist attraction
The Ecocide protest.
The Ecocide protest.

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Illegal seizure and burning, Dahaiyagala Sanctuary
Illegal seizure and burning, Dahaiyagala Sanctuary

Emergency at Dahaiyagala Elephant Corridor!

Recently, Sri Lankan leadership has been endorsing illegal encroachment and land grabbing, set to destroy wild habitats at an alarming rate. This deforestation harms the wildlife, disrupts the ecosystem and thus leads to more human-elephant conflicts and other crises. Recognizing this, farmers in southern Sri Lanka last month actually went on a hunger strike asking for relief. They did not blame the elephants, instead asking the government to make good on the promised elephant reserve, the lands for which had also been encroached by development interests.

The Dahaiyagala corridor is narrow stretch of forest that provides access to the larger forest north of our long-term research site, Udawalawe National Park.  This corridor is important for elephants to crossover to gain access to much needed minerals and other food sources. Without it, elephants will be unable to move between protected areas, risking starvation. However, with the government as willing accomplices, local area council members aided by thugs have torched certain areas, trying to illegally seize protected land.

Trunks & Leaves, along with most of the environment conservation organizations, are in the midst of fighting with pen and paper to stop these illegal land grabbing and to enforce stricter laws in protecting these forests. Here's what we're doing:

  • Raising awareness through the press and media. Find more details on our blog and see how you can help.
  • Drawing upon all of our research and data with which to arm the conservationists, wildlife managers, community leaders, and other allies in fighting back.
  • Starting a legal defense fund and hopefully by the next report we can share some good news. Please support our efforts by donating on GlobalGiving, if you can.

Supplementary crop project 

We need to develop agricultural systems that can help farmers live with elephants. As we mentioned in our last report, we are currently working with partners to establish sites for this project. The country situation, with curfews and restricted movement between districts, has hampered progress. Nevertheless, we have identified several prospective areas and communities. Meanwhile, we are excited to have initiated a new working group rallying together partners to secure funding to trial this project on a larger scale in Sri Lanka as well as 3 other countries - India, Thailand and Cambodia (T&L | Socio-ecology Working Group - Trunks & Leaves). This will allow us to test our approach even more broadly and draw insights about what works and what doesn't in these very different contexts.

Updates on the Incense Experiment

It’s a new year and a fresh start for this project, which was stalled last year due to the pandemic.  We have finally been able to conduct tests of the incense sticks said to be capable of repelling elephants from crops, developed by our partner, HDDES.

Originally we enlisted 20 farmers willing to participate in our experiment. Half were to test the efficacy of the incense sticks whereas the others were to be monitored without the incense stick. Due to the economic situation stemming from the pandemic, some of the farmers were occupied with other work and decided not to harvest this time around. Hence instead of the initially planned 20, we had 16 farmers who were willing to participate in our testing. Over a period of two weeks, we can gauge if the sticks have reduced crop raids or if they are ineffective. Our field team took a week to get the farmers onboard and set the cameras up in their respective fields. As of today, the testing is in its final phase and by the 4th of March we would be compiling all our data, along with testimonials from farmers and presenting a report for the rest to see. We're eager to see the results!

Follow us on Social Media: @trunksnleaves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Find photos, videos and more stories under #CoexistenceProject, #LivingWithElephants and #ElephantOptimism

A felled tree at Dahaiyagala
A felled tree at Dahaiyagala
Distributing the incense sticks to the farmers
Distributing the incense sticks to the farmers
Elephants At the Dahaiyagala Sanctuary
Elephants At the Dahaiyagala Sanctuary

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Organization Information

Trunks & Leaves Inc.

Location: Newtonville, MA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AsianEle
Project Leader:
Shermin de Silva
Newtonville, MA United States
$4,884 raised of $10,000 goal
 
77 donations
$5,116 to go
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