project review

A Note from the Jungle

Review submitted by Craig Fox
Review date 11 Jul 2018



A Note from the Jungle
The street(s) of Hettipola are a far cry from the bustle of Sri Lanka’s metropolis, Colombo.  The jungle air is intoxicating.  The men discuss whilst the women glide in their saris, commerce everywhere.  Fresh fruit, vegetables and fish add colour to the timber buildings.  Hettipola is the closest town to the research station, in Sri Lanka’s Central Province.  Here, the city echo that drowns out silence is gone.
It takes an hour to drive to base camp from town.  It doesn’t feel like an hour.  The road is small but functional.  Two canals flank the concrete and separate the cars, bicycles and tuc-tucs from rice fields and the jungle.  
The trip from Colombo to base camp can be quite arduous.  But, all that frustration seems to vanish when I’m being introduced to the camp staff.  The camp is open-air, functional and the custodians are very welcoming.  
I quickly discover that I have arrived at an exciting time.  New projects are being developed.  This research will help to evaluate the social and economic impact of human-elephant conflict within the study area.  
Tracking elephant movement can help the researchers identify and predict patterns.  This information is vital to achieve minimum levels of conflict. The team is in the process of developing new trails (transects) that researchers and volunteers can regularly use to monitor elephant activity.  I’m very fortunate to have been witness to the foundational phase of this research.  Like the first time I saw a wild elephant, this was extremely exciting.
Walking in the jungle with very experienced researchers and scientists is mesmerizing.  We got to see some fascinating wildlife, including sambhur, water buffalo, elephant and a montage of birdlife.  We walked, collecting information as we identified elephant dung, ground and aerial spoor.  
A large elephant bull had arrived in the area.  Tracking an elephant can be quite difficult.  They can move a lot faster than people, especially people who are relentlessly searching for tracks.  Nonetheless, this didn’t stop us.  This Bull had walked along a new transects less than two hours before we arrived in the area.  Everyone was very confident that the new transect was going to yield some good data.  The presence of this new bull was daunting but very encouraging.   For days after we first found fresh tracks, we always seemed to be just behind this elephant.  It was becoming clear that this bull had never been in this area before.  His movement patterns had very little deliberateness about them.  As we developed new transects we would regularly note the presence of this giant.  I think he was lost and most certainly confused.  
During most evenings we would retire to a tree house that they had built with the local villagers, to observe elephants moving in the buffer zone of Wasgamuwa National Park.  Being up high is a great way to observe terrestrial mammals.  By being very quiet and patient you can almost blend to the surroundings, allowing wildlife to behave very naturally.  We observed elephants moving to water on three occasions.  Both were top class sightings.  We were able to get some good picture of each elephant’s head, ears and flank.  All this information will be used to identify individuals in the future and create a database that can be used as a reference for future sightings.  
I met a lot of the local villagers and farmers on my trip. There is a shared respect, which is marvelous to see. All the people I met were very warm and welcoming.  Something I haven’t always experienced in other parts of the world.