Encounter the beautiful Asian elephant on this elephant conservation program deep within the heart of the Sri Lankan jungle.
About the Project
This project, which is based in the breathtaking surroundings of the Sri Lankan jungle, offers a hands-on experience, carrying out vital, ecological research on the region’s elephants. The aim of this is to assess and reduce human - elephant conflicts, which have become very strained in recent years. Volunteers assist in the implementation of sustainable land-use initiatives using GPS, remote sensing and GIS techniques to develop conservation strategies which will help to protect elephants, leopards, and other wildlife in the Central and North Central Provinces of Sri Lanka.
Living in harmony with nature is deeply embedded in the cultural consciousness of the indigenous people of Sri Lanka. This is primarily due to the Buddhist fabric of the country, a religion and way of life that advocates Ahimsa (non-violence). This is a value which this project aims to cultivate and nurture, and to use in the rebuilding of human – elephant relationships.
The research conducted during this project is carried out to meet rigorous scientific inquiry and is based on adaptive management strategies. The project offers volunteers a unique opportunity to have an active role in the cultural milieu that makes Sri Lanka such an incredible destination. Through this programme, volunteers have the chance to experience a true, natural wilderness and contribute to field research and environmental protection in a meaningful way. The support and manpower from volunteer involvement is essential in safeguarding the wilderness, and sustaining cultural practices that are thousands of years old.
Prior to Arrival
You will need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. Short stay visas of thirty days can be obtained online via the Electronic Travel Authority. These can be extended for up to three months once in Sri Lanka from the Department of Immigration & Emigration. However, it is advisable to contact the Sri Lankan High Commission in your country of origin at least one month before travel. Please note that your passport must be valid for at least six months before travel.
You will be collected from your hotel in Colombo by the project’s site facilitators who will take you to the Fort Railway Station. You will be collected by 6 am on the day your program starts to catch the train at 7 am. After the train journey you will arrive at the cultural capital of Kandy. You will have an hour or two to visit Kandy before taking a bus directly to the field site. After you have settled in your orientation will begin and you will get to know your fellow volunteers!
During these days your group will be split into 2 teams and you will each engage in a wide variety of different wildlife and elephant conservation tasks in Wasgamuwa National Park. You will also get to visit local villages to observe human-elephant conflict resolution projects. There will also be time off when you can relax or visit cultural sites nearby (such as Sigiriya and the Temple of the Tooth). Activities during these days include:
Human-Elephant Conflict Observations:
This is the signature activity that you will be involved in during your time here. Volunteers spend their afternoons and an evening in a tree hut located within an elephant corridor. The purpose of this is to collect data on the spatial and temporal distribution of passing elephants and observe how villagers and elephants interact, as both factions use the area. You will also be able to spot other wildlife should it walk past! All of this collected data is essential for wider Asian elephant conservation.
This activity involves spending a session walking along a trail and recording dung found alongside the trail. The aim of the trail transect is to investigate Sri Lankan elephant abundance outside the park, seasonal variation and habitat preference.
Electric Fence Monitoring:
Each team will check the state of the solar powered electric fences, which have been erected to stop elephants from entering villages. Once checked, the status of their conditions will then be relayed to the local fence committees, who maintain and operate the fences. This process also enables volunteers and the project staff to see what can go wrong with the fences so that their design and management can be improved.
This is another important part of the project and involves checking around water tanks (irrigation reservoirs) situated outside Wasgamuwa National Park for the presence of elephant dung or tracks. The aim of this is to find out whether there are single males and/or herds present outside the National Park, what their patterns of dispersion might be and what kind of food source they may be eating.
Each team will spend a session at the Weheragala Tank looking for Sri Lankan elephants and then observing and photographing them. Elephant Identification Data sheets will be filled by observing different physical features of individual elephants. The aim of the elephant ID is to build up a catalogue of individuals as a basis for numbers, social organization and movement inside/outside the park. As you observe elephants you may also be able to observe other wildlife present in the area, which include sloth bears and even leopards!
Sustainable Land use and Livelihood Project Monitoring:
Agriculture is one of the main contributing factors in human – elephant conflicts. This elephant conservation project has established several sustainable land use and livelihood projects with local communities to develop agriculturally based measures that are compatible with the elephants. You will learn how important the involvement of communities is for sustainable elephant conservation. What's more, you will also help to monitor and evaluate innovative landscape management systems designed to help buffer communities from elephant raids.
Wildlife Observation and Data Logging:
You will spend time in your teams either at the water tank, where you can look for Sri Lankan elephants and other wildlife including peacock, mugger crocodiles, water buffalo, macaque monkeys and leopards and the extensive collection of birds within the area. The information collected will then be logged in the system.
During your time on the project you will spend time observing wildlife and various habitats, as well as visiting forest hermitages and looking out for signs of elephants for wider Asian elephant conservation and other wildlife.
Today will be your final day and after saying goodbye to the project staff and the friends you have made here you will be transferred back to Colombo for your returning flight or to commence your independent travel plans.
The weekends are generally free, so you might want to visit the next town over or chill on a beach. You can of course also get active and climb, hike or swim.
As you will need to leave for the project at 7am from Colombo's Fort Railway Station, you will need to arrive the day before your project start date and check into a hotel nearby. A project facilitator will then collect you in the morning from your hotel of choice at 6am and take you to the train station. You will then travel by train to the cultural capital of Kandy. You will have an hour to have a look around and then will take a bus directly to the field site.
Whilst on the project you will stay in the volunteer field house, unless there is a group of fourteen participants or more (when the Field Camp will also be used).
The house is very spacious with lots of room and has a high roof to catch the cooling breezes from the lake. You really feel like you are in the wilderness! The design of the house is perfect for the climate and terrain it is situated in and it helps to keep the house relatively cool during the hot days and nights and dry during the rainy season.
The house has two modern bathrooms with flush toilets, showers and sinks. However, there is only cold water (though this isn’t much of an issue as the water pipes will have been warmed in the sun most of the day). There are five bedrooms sectioned off for privacy and they are situated around the two communal social areas of the house.
The rooms are very basic and rustic but have comfortable beds. Electric fans, mosquito nets, pillows and clean bedsheets are provided, but please remember to bring your own towel.
Three fresh meals per day are prepared for you at the volunteer house. Food is prepared in the local style, with milder spices if preferred. Most meals will be vegetarian, with egg, fish and soy for protein.