A Christmas Wish

By USW

Back in 2004, a male calf was born to the young female elephant, 458. The calf had baby tusks and this made his birth all the more special. He was named Therapuththa, or T458. We named him Therapuththa but labeled him as T458, following his mother’s ID, this is because it helps us keep track of him in the future when we catalog his movements, features and characteristics. His name, Therapuththa, was taken from ancient history: it is said that King Dutugemunu had 10 giant warriors protecting him and Therapuththa was one of the most loyal and endearing ones. The mother, 458, was often spotted with two other female elephants, who we have labelled as 040 and 041. After tracking this herd for so many years, we have unfortunately not seen any calves after Therapuththa. So he was quite special, besides being a tusker, which is rare in Sri Lanka.

He had a good mother, who gave birth to healthy calf and nurtured the calf throughout his life. T458, Therapuththa, grew up to be a majestic and healthy elephant. We noticed that his growth was slower than other elephants his age, but given the fact that he was healthy and his tusks were growing, he turned out to be a beautiful elephant. His herd, along with Therapuththa, was always on the move. One week, we spot them near the 5th mile post Udawalawe and the next week we spot them near another location, for example near places like Mankada lake ground and Pokkunuthena lake ground.

In our work, it’s absolutely important to recognize elephants through photographs, which allow us to follow their lives and behavior. With time, we noticed Therapuththa’s features were also changing. As he grew up, he started moving out of the herd as most male elephants tend to do. He was spotted all around the Udawalawe forest during this period. On one such occasion, around the month of January in 2014, he seemed to have got his leg injured by a rope or snare. We couldn’t help him, due to the fact that he kept roaming all around the forest and we couldn’t keep track of him. However, in March, we noticed that nature was healing his leg. Over the years Therapuththa has encountered similar situations, but fortunately, he has managed to survive and heal.

This past November he faced he yet another problem. This time he had gotten wire (mostly used as fences) wrapped around his trunk. It’s not clear whether this is by accident, or due to a snare like the ones hunters illegally use. Injuries to the trunk are more severe than in the leg and could impede his feeding. We have been in search of Therapuththa hoping to get help to him. We received information from farmers and goat herders that he was spotted around Balaharuwa, Kalavelgala, Habbegamuwa, Pokkunuthenna, and Galpaaye.

Below are some photographs from our own collection as well as those shared to us by Dr. Malaka Kasun Abeygunawardene (Veterinary Surgeon at the Elephant Transit home Udawalawe).  He had received these photos from a visitor to Udawalawe National Park (thank you for reporting this, whoever you are!). Ever since Dr. Malaka got to know about this situation with Therapuththa and his injured trunk, his team, along with us has constantly been on the lookout for any clues to T458, Therapuththa’s whereabouts.

This search has brought together many like-minded and caring well-wishers. With everyone’s help we still find it difficult to locate him. There are many hindrances in looking for Therapuththa, the rainy season has flooded the rivers, lakes and small potholes, this makes it all the more difficult to traverse the area in search of Therapuththa.  With the rain and the mud, it is difficult to identify Therapuththa among other elephants, and it always feels like it we are 10 steps behind when we search for him.  

Message to Theraputha –

We know you are suffering and walking around with pain. We know you overcame this in the past but we want to find you and help you. We hope we are not too late. We hope you hang in there longer. We want people to help us find you. As each second goes by, we fear we might lose you. Even if we don’t find you, we pray you get out of this dilemma and we spot you healthy and alive soon.

We hope we can find Therapuththa, we know many elephants have suffered similar fates, but we pray this is not the end to his life and that the story of Therapuththa will continue.  I am writing this story in hopes that many tourists will visit the Udawalawe National Park in the coming days and weeks and I am humbly requesting them to help us find him and save one elephant from this park. Please contact us or the authorities if you find any information about him. We pray for his safety.

Udawalawe Park Office: 0473475892

Thanks,

Sameera Weeratunga

Field Manager, Udawalawe Elephant Research Project.

Bees are Helping Thailand’s Elephants and Farmers to Peacefully Coexist – Bee Fences in Asia Part 2

A new study brings hope for reducing conflicts between elephants and farmers in Thailand

Guest post by Antoinette van de Water

Beehive fences in Thailand. Photo: BTEH

Kaeng Hang Maeo district in Eastern Thailand is in an area of high human-elephant conflict. A herd of about 70–80 elephants lives between the protected areas and agricultural land, causing damage to crops almost on a nightly basis. Over four years ago, Bring The Elephant Home (BTEH) and the Phuluang Wildlife Research Station started a joint project to evaluate the effectiveness of beehive fences in deterring Asian elephants, under supervision of Dr. Lucy King. We set up a pilot beehive fence around a subsistence farm surrounded by elephant habitat and installed camera-traps to record the elephants’ reactions to the bees, which belong the species Apis mellifera, or European honeybee.

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Can bees help farmers in Sri Lanka deter elephants from their crops? Bee fences in Asia – Part 1.

The tiny bee vs. the world’s largest land mammal…

Guest post by Kylie Butler

Elephants outside Wasgamuwa National Park / Apis cerana bees being transferred into a hive (Photos: Kylie Butler)

Over a decade ago now, Dr. Lucy King developed the beehive fence as an elephant deterrent, capitalising on a then-recent discovery that African elephants avoided African honeybees (Vollrath & Douglas-Hamilton, 2002). The beehive fence is a relatively simple, inexpensive deterrent, aiming to be a tool that communities can use independently following set-up. The basic premise is that a series of beehives surround an area to be protected from elephants, and if elephants attempt to enter, they will disturb the beehives, causing the colonies to swarm (refer to King et al. 2009; 2017 for more details). It should come as no surprise, that the success of multiple beehive fence trials in Africa, led to a curiosity as to whether this technique could also help Asian communities experiencing comparable levels of crop-raiding.

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Responsible Tourism & Ethical Elephant Experiences

Mother and calf - ethical tourismOn World Elephant Day, Trunks & Leaves is challenging travelers and travel companies alike to commit to responsible tourism practices when it comes to viewing and interacting with Asian elephants.

 For the first time in recent history, the world has slowed down, the travel industry is on hold, and humankind has a chance to reflect on the way we’re doing things and how we can improve in the future – for both humans and wildlife.

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Explosive Food and What it Tells Us About Ourselves

By SdS

Injured elephant in water.

Photo by Mohan Krishnan of injured elephant in the water.

Somewhere, there is a hungry elephant, following her nose, wandering an ever-diminishing forest in search of food. She ventures to her usual places, finds them lacking. She wanders further from where she feels safe, considering what she may find closer to the villages nearby.

Somewhere there is a hungry person. Perhaps a farmer, perhaps a hunter. He is looking to drive away pests from his land, or maybe to earn a bit of money from bushmeat. He selects a large fruit or vegetable, say a pumpkin or pineapple. He hollows it out, hides an improvised explosive inside, leaves it where some animal will find it.

We know what happens next. Continue reading

Baby tantrums

We’ve temporarily halted field work due to the pandemic. So, we thought this was a good time to bring you some stories from our archives of field notes! In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s an incident that helped us appreciate just how little we understand about what goes on beneath the surface of an elephant’s mind. Happy Mother’s Day!

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August 22 2012

Can you tell what’s going on in this video? Well, if you know the elephants individually, there’s quite an intriguing story behind it. Read on to see what’s happening, and see if you can follow the video…

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When farmers and elephants compete for space

By Lena Coker

These farmers in Sri Lanka are at the interface of forest and agriculture, where most incursions by elephants occur.

In Sherpur, rural Bangladesh, as the human population increases, so does the demand for the land and natural resources that the elephants need to survive. This is a story of human-animal conflict that is repeated around the globe with many species and rural communities as they struggle to find the balance for coexistence. Continue reading

Day 3 – Wrapping Up the 2019 Cohort

Lighting the oil lamp at Samagi preschool.

Our first stop was Samagi preschool, where we were pleased to see a very large contingent of parents attending. Together with the teachers, we took turns lighting a tall brass oil lamp, a traditional symbol of good fortune and prosperity in Sri Lanka. We were a bit nervous when they tried to hand the kids a match, but then it was decided it might not be quite such a good idea! Continue reading

Preschools Day 2: Or, how toilets can also be bridges!

New slide at Nirmala Sigithi preschool.

The second day we were accompanied by a hard-working (and long-suffering) wildlife officer named Naveen. Not only was it an opportunity for us to meet the parents, but it was a rare chance for dialogue between the community and wildlife personnel, with whom there tends to be a strained relationship in areas where there are conflicts with elephants. Continue reading

Coexistence Project Preschools: Day 1

Merry-go-round

Children dressed in their finery for the year-end school concert at Chuti Tharu preschool go for a spin on the merry-go-round sponsored by the Coexistence Project.

We supported 12 pre-schools in 2019 as part of the Coexistence Project thanks to contributions from individual sponsors and the US Fish & Wildlife Asian elephant conservation funds. We visited each of the schools toward the end of the year to take stock of what was done and meet the parents of the children. We were also invited to attend the school play and other festivities, where we distributed small packs of school supplies for the kids.

The teachers universally appreciated that we had asked them to decide what was most needed in their pre-schools rather than doing so our ourselves, and the smooth process for receiving the assistance they had been promised. A series of posts this week and next provide a run-down of the improvements made at each school and our experiences at them; photos were taken with their permission to post. Continue reading