The Coexistence Project

Update June 20th: We are halfway through the campaign & on track with reaching halfway to our goals of raising $5000 from at least 40 people! Help us close the gap by multiplying your impact on Bonus Day, June 20th – the top 5% of fundraisers within that 24 hour period will be eligible for matching support from Global Giving! Donate now >

Elephant and people observe each other across an electric fence.

The Udawalawe Elephant Research Project (UWERP) started as an attempt to understand the behavior and ecology of elephants, and yield information useful for conservation of this elephant population, and perhaps even the species. But it was always evident to us that understanding the elephants’ side of the story was important, but only half the picture.

It has become fashionable in conservation to speak about the need for “coexistence” with wildlife, as opposed to conflict. Elephants are a prime example, being a conflict-prone species, with large area requirements. Because elephants can never survive purely within the confines of national parks and protected areas, this means finding ways that people and elephants can share their space. But you may wonder – elephants and people have been living on the same landscapes for thousands (if not millions) of years, how was this possible? Weren’t they already coexisting?

They were.

The challenge today though, is that there are simply more and more people living on every square kilometer of land, converting ever more habitat for our own uses. Often, those who live on the bordering lands bear much of the cost but benefit the least from having elephants next door. In the areas we surveyed last year, the median annual income per household amounted to just $1200. Such communities cannot be expected to bear the burden of elephants on their own, they need help.

The Coexistence Project is our attempt to do that.

We’re kicking off the initiative with a fundraiser on Global Giving:

From June 11th-29th we need to raise at least $5000 from a minimum of 40 people in order to become eligible to join the Global Giving Network. The three areas we’re raising funds for can be summarized as Schools, Safety, and Scouts. More on each of these below.

The Schools

We were surprised though that despite hardship, each of the villages had some form of pre-school for their children. In Sri Lanka many follow the Montessori system, but these schools lacked some of the basics. We want to support these precious community resources, because children are the future stewards of the environment. Here are the schools and what they need:

Pubudu pre-school needs a clean water supply, desks and chairs, books, teaching materials, English training and an additional teacher, totaling an estimated $570. They would also love to have their own building instead of meeting at the community hall, which would cost $3500.

Dimuthu pre-school requests desks, chairs, shelves, musical instruments and English training for the teacher for a total of $800. They also would like their own building, construction estimated at $3500.

Wanamal pre-school needs a good water supply, books, teaching materials, and English training for the teacher for a total of $380.

Dilenatharu pre-school requires a basic signboard, desks and chairs, teaching materials and English training for the teacher totalling $590. An extension to the building for additional space would cost $1300

Sirisumana pre-school requires desks, chairs, floor mats, and teaching materials totalling $470.

Sirisumana pre-school is attached to an elementary school established in 1938! The whole building needs wire mesh on the windows ($2300) to protect against mischievous monkeys who steal anything lying around.

  • Chathuri pre-school (no photo) requires a toilet, desks, chairs and shelves for a total of $1480.

The Safety

The biggest challenge in living with elephants is physical safety. Although deaths from encounters between our two species are relatively rare, they unfortunately occur every year both on the human and elephant sides. The majority of these appear to be from accidental encounters, rather than farmers defending crops. We need to bring these numbers down to zero. Understanding elephant and human behavior will be part of that. We need to work with communities directly to ensure they recognize and behave appropriately in risky situations (for instance, not chasing elephants, especially bulls in musth). But then we need to develop ways that people can be safe when elephants are around, for instance through warning systems. We need to troubleshoot what techniques and technologies (low tech or high tech) could be applied.

The Scouts

We need to build teams to work with each of the communities. Our plan is to recruit up to 4 people from each of the villages to help with gathering information, maintaining the camera traps (more on that here), reporting incidents, and all other aspects of this work. We call them scouts, and they serve an important role – as members of the communities, they will be crucial in helping us understand the specifics of each context, who’s who, what works and what doesn’t. They will be the ones who help implement the Coexistence Project in their communities.

Becoming part of the Global Giving network will give us access to other sponsorship opportunities, such as corporate partners, and additional fundraising resources, because they will be much needed. Please help us meet and maybe even exceed our targets!

  • Donate, follow our progress, and share:


3 thoughts on “The Coexistence Project

  1. Pingback: The Secret Life of Elephants | Maximus

  2. Pingback: Envisioning The Future | Maximus

  3. Pingback: Militant exploitation vs. militant conservation – how far will this go? | Maximus

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