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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The Consequences of Irresponsible Tourism

By Salik Ansar & SdS

Tourist feeding elephants.

September 27th is World Tourism Day, so today we offer some more reflections based on the Udawalawe experience.


Until the recent COVID-19 epidemic halted travel around the globe, the island of Sri Lanka thrived on tourism. A big part of the country’s GDP is attributed to tourism. According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Association, 783,000 tourists visited Sri Lanka’s national parks in 2018, which is roughly 38% of the travelers who entered the country. The parks earned over 2 billion rupees (over $11 million USD) in entrance fees alone. Clearly, elephants have a huge economic value (more about this here).

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Social Media & Wildlife Tourism: Powerful Tools for Good and Bad

Earlier this month, we launched the Ethical Elephant Experiences campaign to shine a light on the issues that irresponsible wildlife tourism can present and to encourage travelers and travel companies to commit to responsible practices.

Before COVID-19 halted travel, wildlife tourism was becoming increasingly popular, and elephant experiences were at the top of many people’s bucket lists. Wildlife attractions account for 20-40 percent of all tourism worldwide, with up to 6 million people visiting these sites each year. In Asia, there are over 3,800 elephants living in captivity. This is a significant number when you take into account that there are only 40,000-50,000 Asian elephants left in the wild.

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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

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

E is for “Endangered”

Or why we shouldn’t take those large odd-looking animals for granted.

E is for Endangered

Step into any nursery or play room, take a quick walk down the isles of your local bookstore or library. Or just look at the clothing and toys we surround children with. They are full of images of iconic animals – giraffes, rhinoceros, hippos, lions, elephants…

We use these animals to teach the alphabet, and cherish them as beloved characters in our story books. They adorn everything from birthday cards to blankets.

What would the world be like without them? Continue reading