Guest post by Austin Diamond —

03 October 2012

This is Amber.  She is a grandmother.

She has three daughters.  They are all comfortably married (more or less), prefer grass to grapes, and have suffered their share of life’s sorrows and joys.

Undeniably the pride and joy of the household, at this moment, is Little One.

Little One is celebrating her first month on this planet.  Her mother and aunts are wildly protective.  As the Land Rover draws too close, they flank Little One on both sides, so that she is saved from our glances.  Still, her curiosity cannot be suppressed, as she steals a glance at us from under her mother’s belly. Continue reading

Sharing shade

I spend a lot of time looking at elephant photos.  Now and then, I see something that makes me smile.  I just came across a set of pictures from back in May of 2009, which prompted this post.

One of the neatest things about the elephants at Uda Walawe is how habituated many of them are.  What does habituation mean?  When studying an animal’s behavior, it’s important that the presence of an observer doesn’t change its behavior.  It has to go about its business as if you weren’t there – or at least, not minding your intrusion.  Unhabituated animals are fearful, and we can easily tell that some of the elephants in Uda Walawe are not used to people at all.  But others we know very well – and maybe, they know us too?

The S unit is one such group.  The ‘S’ stands for Seenuggala, which is the name of a little reservoir inside the park around which we frequently see them.  This is one of the largest social units in our study.  One hot morning in May of 2009, we came across them scattered about under trees trying to avoid the sun, as elephants do in the middle of the day.  We ourselves pulled up to some shade by the side of the road, from where we could watch them.  We knocked off the engine and waited.

The ellies and we, escaping the heat beneath the same tree.

Continue reading

The Magnificence of Mud

It’s October, and the monsoon is in full force.  As we wrote in an earlier post the elephants love mud.  They’re just oversized piggies with big floppy ears.  Here’s a video for your amusement:

Why do they love mud so much?  As anyone who has seen or enjoyed a muddy spa retreat can tell you, it’s good for the skin and helps with thermoregulation.  Because elephants don’t sweat, when it’s hot outside the evaporating mud cools them off.  Rudyard Kipling so mischievously wrote in ‘The Elephant’s Child’:

‘Don’t you think the sun is very hot here?’ [says the Rock Python]

‘It is,’ said the Elephant’s Child, and before he thought what he was doing he schlooped up a schloop of mud from the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo, and slapped it on his head, where it made a cool schloopy-sloshy mud-cap all trickly behind his ears. Continue reading

The Dharmaloka School Nature Society takes a field trip

The school nature society and its teachers.

It’s 6:30 am when we pull up to the school, to be greeted by a gaggle of anxious students and parents.  Today we’re taking four jeeps, five teachers, the four of us, and a little over thirty kids who are part in the schools new ‘Nature Society,’ into the park on a field trip.  The youngest is just 11 years old, while most are 16 or 17. Continue reading

On what NOT to do when exploring a backyard in Sri Lanka.

– By Lauren Snyder

Kumari, Tharanga, Sameera and Me.

Kumari, Tharanga, Sameera and Me.

For the past month I have been visiting rural villages around Uda Walawe National Park conducting a survey on home gardens, farming habits and elephant crop raiding events. The survey team consists of Sameera, Tharanga, myself and occasionally Kumari, Ashoka’s sister. Ideally, Sameera and Kumari administer the questionnaire to the heads of household and Tharanga and I scout out the property, taking GPS points of property boundaries and gardens, and pictures of important things such as tap lines and toilets. Tharanga and I also compile a list of the crops that are cultivated on the properties. At first my identification skills were quite limited: coconut, mango, papaya, spinach, rice, and banana. Thanks to Sameera and Tharanga, I am now familiar with manioc, sweet potato, jack fruit, pomegranate, lime, orange, tamarind, drumstick, jasmine, anoda (custard apple), wood apple, ugurassa , and bread fruit. Continue reading

Lizzie has a proper ‘field day’: the first of many!

By Lizzie Webber

Observing a part of the “R” group.

“Maybe your camera is as excited as you!!” Ashoka teased with a huge grin as I fiddled with my temperamental camera, trying to get it to work again. Tomorrow was to be my first day studying wild elephant calves, and after a year of planning, I just couldn’t keep my toes from wiggling in excitement!! Continue reading

Students in Sri Lanka start Pen-Pal program

Students at Rathambalagamuwa (pictured below) and Uda Walawe have picked up the pen-pal project.  We hope this will be the beginning of many exchanges, so that students develop a one-on-one relationship with their buddies overseas.  We’ve got many ideas for future projects!

See more photos and learn about the program here!

The Pen Pal Team

Pen Pals Project Launched!

In a previous postwe mentioned a new project, “A Conversation About Conservation.”  We asked students in the U.S. and Sri Lanka if they would like to learn about one another through good-old-fashioned letters.  That’s right, pen-pals.  We wanted students to exchange thoughts on their lives and views, especially about nature and wildlife.  Happily, the response was quite enthusiastic!  Learn more by clicking here.