Volunteer Memoirs SLWCS Volunteer Experiences * * * Annie Winchcombe Australia January 18th, 2017 I first became interested in participating in

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Volunteer Memoirs


SLWCS Volunteer Experiences

Annie Winchcombe
January 18th, 2017

I first became interested in participating in a conservation project because of a desire to help care for our precious environment. Previously, I had volunteered in other areas and countries, generally helping people in some way, but I came to feel that a more important thing was to conserve our environment first. I was delighted to discover the Wild Elephant Conservation Project in Sri Lanka, offered the chance to help both people and the environment!

I didn’t have too many preconceived ideas about what to expect on this project, but instead came with an open heart and mind, determined to offer what help I could and to educate myself about the human/ elephant conflict. I arrived late afternoon on a Sunday with 3 other volunteers and immediately we were all taken up with the beauty and tranquility of the setting around the field house. The vast water reservoir below the house was breathtakingly beautiful and in the evening we sat by an open fire, listening to crickets and frogs. We talked with Chinthaka into the night trying to understand the basics of how the Human/ Elephant conflict arose and how, by supporting the Saving Elephants by Helping People project, we could contribute to finding some more sustainable strategies for people and elephants to coexist.

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Annie Winchcombe, Wasgamuwa, Sri Lanka 2017

I enjoyed starting the day taking in the sunrise from the huge granite outcrop above the house, while listening to the morning-chants from the Buddhist temple drifting across the rice paddies. Breakfast would be traditional Sri Lankan food, such as rice, beans, coconut, sambol, fresh fruit and bread. We would head off to the field under Chandima’s guidance around 8.45am to complete tasks, such as; examining elephant dung to determine feeding habits and food sources, collecting and changing memory cards from strategically placed remote cameras*, collecting information from and creating new sand traps – which capture animal prints, clearing grass from fence lines, setting up new sample plots of forest to monitor elephant foraging habits and interviewing villagers and witnessing first–hand some of the damage caused by elephants.

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Going on a transect to gather information on elephants

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Preparing a sand trap

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Setting up a remote camera

Lunch was enjoyed back at the field house around 1 pm, where we had some free time to relax, read, paint a fresh design on the house walls, contact home, take a cool shower, play games or snooze in the heat of the day. Several cats and dogs kept us entertained, along with the friendly staffs that were extremely helpful. While the house was extremely basic, it was comfortable enough and had everything there we required.

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Meals were mostly typical Sri Lankan cuisine. Breakfast of hoppers, chili & onion paste and fresh and fresh papaya

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Field House Graffiti artist

Around 3.30 pm, if we didn’t need to pop into the local village for supplies, we would drive to the tank to wait for elephants to emerge from the forest, where they would graze on the open grassland surrounding the Weheragala tank (an irrigation reservoir). It was apparent that the wet season had not provided the normal rainfall, and the water reserves, along with rice paddies were looking particularly dry in comparison to the expected levels for the time of year.

Sometimes elephants would appear and at other times we would spend hours observing a large herd’s behavior and recording information until nightfall. The waiting time was always a social time playing games, sharing stories about our cultures and having fun with new found friends, from other parts of the world.

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Bonding with fellow volunteers, staff and a dog while waiting for elephants to arrive

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As the card games got heated up the elephants would emerge from the surrounding jungle


Two bulls in the water testing each other out

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Observing and collecting data on the elephants

After a late dinner of delicious Sri Lankan dishes, our evenings were spent reading, dancing, and playing Carrom (an Indian board game), chatting or entering data from our day’s activities. I really enjoyed the solitude and peace that comes from living with the natural rhythms of life, closely connected to nature and other like-minded people. I also managed to travel on weekends around most of the island, visiting temples and ancient monuments, tea plantations and beautiful beaches while experiencing some of the cultural dances and market treasures.

I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to become a part of this family of passionate people whose efforts are making a real difference to both the wild elephant population and the local villagers whose livelihoods are under constant threat. I hope to be able to pass this information onto my community in Australia, raising awareness and support for the elephants, so their future remains secure and possibly even brighter.

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Working on a beehive fence

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Experiencing nature, culture and new friendships


Photo credits:

Annie Winchcombe/Australia
Chinthaka Weerasinghe/SLWCS
Chandima Fernando/SLWCS
Ravi Corea/SLWCS

*Remote cameras courtesy of S.P.E.C.I.E.S/SLWCS Carnivore Project


Big, rumbling thanks to our Corporate Partners for their kind support and to everyone who had donated and supported our elephant conservation efforts!

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