As we wrote earlier, our newly launched Coexistence Project seeks to find ways that people and elephants can continue to share space while meeting the needs for security on both sides. For people, this means economic as well as physical safety.
Back in January, we asked our focal communities in 5 villages to engage in a visioning exercise with us. Gathering at their local meeting house or at the home of a community leader, we first shared some of the results from our survey last year.
We then asked: What circumstances do you face? What are your hopes for the community for the next 10 years? And where can we help as a conservation-oriented organization? We were also curious about how people in each community responded to the presence of elephants – did they warn each other? If so how?
In larger gatherings, we broke up into small groups of 5 and had them discuss amongst themselves. We then wrote up a list of aspirations, and discussed where we might fit in.
A comprehensive list of these outputs will be provided in our final report, however some of the major themes that emerged were that:
- People felt their cultivation lands were being grabbed by outside interests and they felt pressure from reduced access to forest resources.
- Participants at around half the locations had grievances having to do with water rights and ownership of small reservoirs owing to activities of either the Wildlife or Forest department, whereas the other half didn’t.
- All locations were affected by elephant conflict, and one location had three human fatalities in April 2017, after which the elephant had been transferred to the holding ground at Horowpathana.
- The relationship between communities and wildlife authorities was strained. One role we could play was in helping to improve the communication between them, but we’d have to be careful not to get in the middle of disputes.
- Each community differed in the availability and use of technology such as computers, internet, phones, and social media. Clearly no single solution or safety mechanism would work everywhere.
- All participants nevertheless had high hopes that electric fences of some form were their best hope. In some locations we discussed the reality that even existing fences do not work once elephants habituate to breaking them, and that there was no such thing as an elephant-proof fence anywhere in the world, no matter what the design. This matter has to be further discussed and gradually understood given what we’ve seen on the camera traps.
- Despite all this, people were not unwilling to live with elephants. Although they saw no direct benefit from their presence, they seemed to simply accept it as a fact of life and that elephants had their place.
- Some participants, especially women, expressed the lack of after-school enrichment and need for more opportunities for their youth and children.
The last two points are promising for our future work but also moving. Did it have to be this way? It felt only fair to us that these communities, which bear the heaviest burden from elephants, should also receive some benefits from sharing their land with these powerful and emotion-provoking creatures. This is the spirit in which we launched The Coexistence Project, and part of the drive to begin with helping six pre-schools, one per village bordering Udawalawe National Park. Learn more about the schools >
We hope you’ll stay with us, as we work toward a shared vision of peaceful coexistence. If you’d like to help, please consider supporting us.