The Global Goals and Asian Elephant Conservation

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for people and the planet. In celebration of Earth Month, we broke down all 17 Global Goals to discover how each relates back to our mission to protect and conserve Asian elephants and their habitat.

Global Goal 1: No Poverty

In developing countries where elephants roam wild, like Sri Lanka, poverty and elephants can become intertwined. Small farmers can lose their entire livelihood overnight from an elephant raid, and an 8,000 pound animal walking through a farm can destroy everything in its path.

Finding ways for farmers to make a living alongside Asian elephants is key to the survival and success of both elephants and people. Our Coexistence Project studies both sides to develop innovative ways that farmers can maintain a steady income while living peacefully alongside wild Asian elephants.

Global Goal 2: Zero Hunger

Developing sustainable agricultural methods is a solution to the ongoing human-elephant conflict. As Asian elephant habitat is taken over for agricultural purposes, they are left with nowhere to go. Elephants trample and eat crops, which in turn leads to conflict.

By testing alternate crops that are less preferred by elephants and protecting key habitats and corridors from development, we are working toward solutions for humans and elephants to peacefully share the land.

Global Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19, can spread from human-wildlife interaction. Preventing disease transmission is essential for human well-being on a global level, as we’ve seen with the pandemic. Physical contact of any kind exposes both humans and animals to lethal pathogens from around the world, so it’s best to avoid any wildlife interactions like riding, bathing, or touching elephants.

As borders open and travel resumes around the globe, make an effort to be a responsible traveler and take the pledge to commit to Ethical Elephant Experiences.

Global Goal 4: Quality Education

The survival of elephants depends on the goodwill of those living closest to them. Supporting education in vulnerable communities creates understanding and is essential for developing long-term environmental stewardship.

As part of our Coexistence Project, we sponsored preschools living alongside elephant habitat to provide electricity, water supply, classroom materials and playground equipment. Building relationships with schools and supporting education gives us an opportunity to foster a new generation that will love and protect nature.

Global Goal 5: Gender Equality

Women tend to be the backbone and forward-thinking visionaries of many communities. At our project sites in Sri Lanka, women have a crucial role to play in creating sustainable livelihoods that enable coexistence with elephants and other wildlife. By investing in economic opportunities for women, we can help communities become more resilient and progressive.

Global Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Water is a necessity for ALL life on Earth. Our water supply is the result of ecological cycles that depend on healthy natural systems and a stable climate. This precious resource needs to be used and shared wisely for the ultimate benefit of both people and nature.

Asian elephants need access to fresh water, and so do the surrounding communities, farmers, schools and children. One of the schools we sponsored, Samadhi Preschool, only wanted one thing. They simply requested a water supply. With our support, they not only got a water supply, but we also erected a water tank and installed plumbing for the toilet and kitchen sink. They were then able to use this water supply to renovate the preschool building, with their own resources.

Global Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Energy derived from biofuels may be touted as renewable, but they often come with a heavy ecological price. Oil palm and traditional firewood, as well as large dams, can destroy ecosystems native to elephants and other wildlife. To be truly sustainable, energy sources should not only reduce our carbon emissions, but also reduce our overall impact on the biosphere.

Global Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Wildlife tourism offers an opportunity for vast economic growth in developing countries. This industry can support entire communities, opening up new jobs for tour guides and drivers and also bringing tourists to spend money on accommodation, food and souvenirs.

However, there can be a dark side to wildlife tourism. Irresponsible tour operators and facilities that act under the guise of “sanctuaries” can threaten endangered species, like Asian elephants, even further. Check out our responsible tourism page for the do’s and don’ts of wildlife experiences.

Global Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

As we continue to develop and foster innovation, we must recognize that the traditional model of agriculture has a huge carbon footprint, causing land degradation, water scarcity and pollution around the world. Newer methods of agriculture should focus on regenerating and repairing damaged ecosystems by restoring the earth’s essential natural infrastructure alongside our own.

Our socio-ecology working group is focused on finding innovative solutions for this. We are studying and developing economically viable agricultural practices that are compatible with land-sharing between people and elephants.

Global Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Those on the frontlines of conservation consist of communities that are often socially and economically marginalized. Empowering these communities through social justice and sustainable economic opportunities goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection.

Through our Elephant Ecosystem Services working group, we are working on assessing the services and benefits provided by elephants and their habitats so that they can be better protected.

Global Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The impacts of urbanization and development extend far beyond our cities themselves, from the resources that go in, to the waste that comes out.

Sri Lankans dispose of 15 million polythene sheets per day and 20 million plastic shopping bags per month. These items, along with countless others, end up piled in landfills and garbage dumps. Our team often sees Asian elephants scouring garbage dumps for food scraps, and accidental ingestion of polythene or plastic can be fatal for Asian elephants and countless other species.

Cities and communities must make it a priority to curb their ecological impact, as much as possible, for the health of people, wildlife and the planet.

Global Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Habitat loss from land-use conversion is the number one threat to Asian elephants, along with many other endangered species. The products we buy often contain ingredients sourced from far-off landscapes and come at the cost of natural ecosystems.

It’s important to be a responsible consumer by recognizing that all choices matter, from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the paper we use every day.

Global Goal 13: Climate Action

Small farmers experience dual threats to their survival from both climate change and elephant damage, but there are agricultural methods that can help mitigate both issues. Using more resilient, ecologically-appropriate crops can reduce water and fertilizer consumption, buffering farmers against climate change while also reducing crop loss from elephants.

Global Goal 14: Life Below Water

Watersheds connect all life on Earth, flowing through river ecosystems and out into the open ocean. In the wild, Asian elephants depend on fresh water to survive. Water greatly influences their daily activities, reproduction and migration, so they stay close to any source of fresh water when possible. Healthy waterways and a healthy ocean are essential in sustaining all life on our blue planet.

Global Goal 15: Life on Land

Asian elephants are known as the gardeners of the forest. Their large size and the long distance they cover enables them to spread and disperse seeds, helping forest ecosystems thrive. They also create open pathways through dense areas, which serve as corridors for other wildlife. Even their footprints create habitats for smaller species, like frogs. Protecting Asian elephants and their habitat doesn’t only benefit the elephants. The ecosystem services of these animals trickle down, ultimately helping all life on Earth.

Global Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Wildlife and wild places suffer when institutions are weak or corrupt. Prime examples include land-grabbing, as we’re seeing with Dahaiyagala Wildlife Sanctuary, and wildlife trafficking. Strengthening these institutions requires everyone to play a part in exercising civic duty to enhance peace, justice and equity in institutional structures within our communities.

Global Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Trunks & Leaves is part of various working groups with partner organizations like WWF, Bring the Elephant Home and the Elephant Valley Project. These groups bring together scientists and specialists to work together toward innovative solutions around the issues facing Asian elephants and other wildlife. Current working groups focus on Socio-Ecology and Human-Elephant Conflict, Elephant Ecosystem Services and Tech for Conservation.

Fostering relationships between organizations enables collaboration and brings together different perspectives. Organizations, companies and countries must all work together in this way to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

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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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

Can Incense Sticks Help Protect Crops from Elephants?

By Salik Ansar

Pradeep’s father along with Pradeep’s wife and daughter, welcoming us to their farm.

Almost every other day we read about some “human-elephant” conflict in the local Sri Lankan newspapers. Some claimed that 2019 has seen the most deaths of elephants, due to human elephant conflicts. The government resorted to the dubious strategy of handing out guns to the Civil Defense Force and wildlife officers in order to control the problem. Through-out the passage of time, humanity has never been great at making moral judgements. Lack of government regulations, rightful laws, proper economical structure and even cultural knowledge, the humans and elephants become victims of this shortfall. Sadly, without proper regulations and monitoring, the human-elephant conflict will only increase in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile conservationists are also busy finding ways to reduce the suffering from either of the two sides – the Elephants or the Humans. 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

Why We Study The Asian Elephant

Guest post by Drs. Priya Davidar & Jean-Philippe Puyravaud, Sigur Nature Trust
All photos courtesy of Drs. Davidar & Puyravaud

During the 2017 drought in Tamil Nadu, up to 25 elephants per day were coming to drink water in our water tank.

We were trained as plant ecologists but have made the decision of venturing into research on the Asian elephant. The reasons are two-fold: first, we have a lot of respect and affection for this animal, second is our concern about the demonization of the elephant by the media where it is held responsible for intentionally causing ‘conflicts’ that harm human interests and cause loss of human lives (1). Although the destruction of its habitat, increasing human density and expansion into forest areas are routinely mentioned in most publications, interventions to arrest the loss of habitat and population connectivity is rarely considered a mitigation issue. The human-elephant ‘conflict’ (HEC) mitigation however is given a high priority for funding agencies and research (2,3), although its not clear how successful these efforts have been. Our ultimate reason to get involved in conservation biology however is somehow self-centered. If people don’t learn now to live in harmony with nature, including elephants, then our civilization will alter the biosphere to such an extent that humanity itself will suffer. To us, this is an unacceptable but possible outcome that we attempt to fight. Continue reading

Militant exploitation vs. militant conservation – how far will this go?

By SdS

Protecting nature can be dangerous and messy. Two recent reports bring to light what seem to be flipsides of the same coin. On one side are those who heroically fight and even lose their lives defending their homes, wild places, and wild animals. Then there are those who take lives, for the same purpose. August 12th is World Elephant Day. Normally, I would say something about elephants. But I already did that in the last post. So today I want to reflect on the people who protect wildlife, in one way or another.

It’s been on my mind a long time, but particularly since a conference I attended a few years ago. It was supposed to be an academic conference, but the audience was a mix of scientists, conservation practitioners and activists. Alongside the sessions people would huddle around in their little cliques, chatting about the state of affairs on the ground. Some of the conversations were depressing, there was no hiding it. Here we were free to speak truth out loud, in an atmosphere of urgency that everyone present acknowledged. I had a palpable sense that some (perhaps even many) of those present acted as though we were at war. It was a mindset that people stewing in, breathing in, day in and day out. I imagined that this was not unlike how reporters felt, who had spent too long embedded in war zones – a creeping feeling that far from the comfortable lives that most of our colleagues and acquaintances led, an epic battle was raging. Continue reading

The Patels Visit Udawalawe

Guest post by Yogi & Nikita Patel

We traveled to Sri Lanka to work with Trunks & Leaves in support of schools surrounding the Udawalawe National Park. We first arrived in Negombo, Sri Lanka where we were met by Deepani, who works with Trunks & Leaves, and her friend Jocelyn. We traveled by car to Udawalawe where we were joined by Sameera, the project coordinator. We visited the first Montessori preschool, operated by Sameera’s sister, Chathurika. She was gracious in showing us the school, which was closed for the holidays. She had been hard at work painting furniture and cleaning the classroom and play area for her 18 students. Her school, which is attached to her home, is surrounded by many fruit trees. Her family members supported her passion for educating children in her town.

Our next stop was school teacher Shiromi’s home. We met with Shiromi who greeted us with her family and offered the most amazing homecooked treats. We chatted about her work in the village and her school, Dimuthu preschool. We met with Shiromi again the following day, where we observed the children in her classroom. The parents were very supportive of Shiromi and came to the school with their children even though they were supposed to be on holiday. We got to sing and dance the “hokey pokey”.

Deepani, Yogi and Sameera with the first cohort of preschool teachers whose schools received support from Trunks & Leaves’ sponsors (photo courtesy of Yogi Patel).

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