While volunteering at the elephant conservation project in Sri Lanka, I have learned so much about myself, Sri Lankan culture and the issues facing its diverse biodiversity. The staff at SLWCS has so much knowledge to share with you. You will walk out of this volunteer project knowing so much more than you would have ever thought you would. Not only do you learn about elephant issues, you also learn about birds and other small mammals along the way.
We all know about the many issues being faced by endangered species across the world, but it becomes so much more real when you see it first hand. The staff here have dedicated their work to the survival of these animals. You work with people who are constantly involved in making a difference.
First off, human elephant conflict is a very real issue in Sri Lanka. It’s detrimental to both species involved. Elephants eat farmers crops because of a decline in food while farmers shoot and often kill elephants in retaliation. The species don’t get along well, and elephants have become very fearful of humans, enough to sometimes kill them.
We spend the mornings looking through a lot of poop to see what elephants have been eating. Many have raided farmers crops, leaving behind watermelon seeds, eggplant seeds, and rice. There also is a serious trash dumping issue going on in Sri Lanka. A lot of trash is dumped in the jungle, and with elephants not having enough to eat, they eat the trash. One of the saddest parts is seeing that many are eating multiple plastic bags, cigarette butts, plastic straws and stones.
In the afternoon we watch for elephants from either the tree hut or the lake. The staff has taught me how to tell the age and sex of an elephant from hundreds of feet away as well as how to tell them apart from one another. Not having much of a science background, I have learned the value of research. You come as a volunteer to help them collect data. This data includes their eating habits, their migration patterns, and elephant identification.
Yes, in ways it feels like data collection is not enough. It sometimes feels like it’s not making enough of an impact. Even so, without the help from volunteers it would be very hard to gather as much data. Without the data, they would not be working towards solutions to the issues faced here. Everyone here is so grateful for your efforts to contribute. Everything, no matter how small, makes a difference.