Photo by Kylie Butler 2Sri Lanka cropped

"For those who feel this kind of thing might be out of your comfort zone, this is the first time I have done anything more adventurous than camping in a tent for a long weekend, and I’d do it all again, a million times."

Kitty Mitchell From England

Kitty Mitchell

I thought I’d write a review for all those intrepid and not so intrepid travellers and adventurers out there, just in case any of you have any doubts of coming here and that you will neither learn nor enjoy yourselves while staying here…You will see some of the most beautiful countryside in the world and hear and see some of the most majestic animals and insects in the world.

For those who feel this kind of thing might be out of your comfort zone, this is the first time I have done anything more adventurous than camping in a tent for a long weekend, and I’d do it all again, a million times.

I have learnt much about elephants and their behaviors and the history of them living in the same vicinity as villagers. The damage created by both and the process and projects that the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) have and are putting in place to improve and increase the longevity of both living together. An elephant can smell a bag of rice or a lump of salt from a great distance and will travel across land to get to it. However, they can be persuaded not to by the whiff of a lemon or lime tree…

06. Sandra Dodson
05. Sandra Dodson

The SLWCS is implementing the planting of citrus trees for the locals and teaching them the importance of why? This is just one revolutionary idea being put in place by the SLWCS and their volunteers for how the villagers can protect themselves against the elephants.

I have been trekking (light trekking) across rice fields to monitor the electric fences. I have met villagers who have welcomed us onto their property to share their frightening experiences of elephants coming onto their land, damaging gardens and crops and homes. I have been to the lake and watched eagles, kingfishers, egrets, bee-eaters, pelicans – to mention a few bird species here. I’ve seen families of elephants with their babies and lone bulls meandering through the jungle living their lives naturally.

Not only have I been educated about the damage caused by both elephants and humans, I have done a little bit to help and by doing so I have had the most incredible time here.

It has been surreal and magical and at times sad. But an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I have met like-minded, honest, caring and funny people and had the pleasure of living in their company while here.

The staff are very welcoming, super friendly, incredibly informative and helpful – not just with anything connected to the project, but places you want to see and best how to get there. The field house is rustic and basic and you live while you are here as one big happy family. Another fabulous experience.

While you are here, wave to everyone you see , it will be greatly received with huge smiles and reciprocated waves. Do as much as you can; get up as early as you can to see the sunrises and, for those who might find themselves going to the toilet in the middle of the night time, listen very carefully to all the night creatures and the Buddhists preying. I’m not religious but that was something very special. Try not to miss out on any of it.

Kitty Mitchell
December 30, 2017

Linn Agnes from Sweden

Lynn Agnes with SLWCS Research Scientist, Rashika

Today I had my last day here at SLWCS and I could not have had a better last day. We saw like 20 elephants and they were all so close. Amazing! I have now been here for three weeks (okey a little bit shorter since I went to The Maldives for Christmas) and I have had an amazing time here. This is such a great project with really determined people who wants to make a change and preserve the elephants and their habitat.

The whole project is very complex and covers a lot of things. When I first got here I thought we would mostly observe elephants, but I love how that was not the case. Talking with farmers about the damage elephants have done, make them feel heard, coming up with solutions such as bio fences, all to protect the elephants. Also analyzing dung to learn where the elephants have been, what they have been eating and other interesting things. The sand traps and camera traps were also very interesting! The project is covering almost the whole problem which is superb!

I also want to say a big THAN K YOU to Rashika for being a fantastic person and teaching us so much about elephants, birds, farmers, everything. She is the best!
So yes, I really enjoyed my stay here! You guys are the best! :D

Many hugs
Linn Mansson, Sweden

Madeline Bastow From Australia

Madeline Bastow

Although I only got to spend one week here I have highly enjoyed my experience here! The conservation project was amazing and a great opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life. I really enjoyed being able to understand the human-elephant conflict of Sri Lanka and the measures this organization have put in place to reduce it. I have really enjoyed all the activities I got to experience while being here, especially visiting and interviewing farmers as well as visiting the National Park and seeing the beautiful elephants.

As this was my first volunteering project I wasn’t too sure what to expect but I can definitely say I will hope to continue to travel and immerse myself in more of these volunteering experiences. My experience here was one I will always remember. I will especially remember all the staff members and the memories I have had with them. This wonderful experience is credit to the amazing expertise of all the members here and I will highly recommend it to anyone.

Overall an amazing experience!!
- Maddy Bastow, AUSTRALIA

December 2017

Bohan Li

Bohan Li

My experience here has been wonderful. I must say that in my past 19 years, I have not experienced anything like this. Firstly, it was great to learn about why there is human-elephant conflict and how it affects people’s lives. Moreover, I also got to know about the efforts SLWCS has put in to solve this problem in order to protect the elephant population and to create a better living environment for everyone.

The various activities such as making sand traps, observing elephants, monitoring fences are really interesting and enriching. Last but not least, people I have met here are great. The staffs of SLWCS are friendly, kind and knowledgeable. I also met people from all over the world. Talking with these people really broadened my horizon. In a nutshell, it has been an amazing week and I really hope to come back soon in the near future.

Bohan Li, China
December 2017

Rebecca Morgante Italy

Rebecca Morgante

I have spent 3 weeks volunteering with SLWCS, it has been an amazing time. I have learned a lot about elephants in general and other species, like birds, that live in Sri lanka, and I got aware of the elephant human conflicts. I had the chance to observe elephants in the wild in a beautiful environment. I had the chance to get in contact with local people, getting to learn more about their habits than what a normal tourist does.

The conservation work we had to do every day is very interesting, the locations are stunning. The people that work together with the volunteers are really nice and helpful. The field house is placed in a wonderful spot, so the view is amazing as well as the surroundings, and although very basic, it is comfortable enough to live in.

So thank you for the beautiful experience.

Rebecca Morgante
December 2017

Arnaud Clermonte Canada

Arnaud Clermonte

My first week at SLWCS was an immersive and instructive experience.
I got to learn a lot, not just about the local fauna, but also about local people.
The volunteer activities are varied, and in my experience involve mostly observing and learning, as opposed to actively solving the human-elephant issues.

Bring a good camera to take home nice shots of the amazing wildlife.
The local staff is very friendly and helpful. The accommodation is very basic but there is a good atmosphere. The staff cooks delicious local, mostly plant-based dishes.

Touristic activities are possible on weekends, and there are some amazing ancient sites to visit in the region.

Arnaud Clemonte
December 2017

Sandra Dodson From England

Sandra Dodson

How do you describe living here for two weeks? Your first impression as you round the bend and the lake springs into view is one of wonderment. And then you see the Field House. For Westerners with rather different ways of living, the impression is one slight fear. ‘Oh my goodness, how will I manage? It’s so basic.’ but once you have settled in and become familiar with the way things are here it is absolute paradise on Earth. The typical open plan layout i.e. walls that don’t meet the roof is very Sri Lankan and sensible for air circulation. That first night I settled in a comfy bed, under my mosquito net, breathing in the scent of the clean crisp cotton pillow case and sheet to the sounds of the forest insects.

I rose early. At 7.30 the sun is high over the lake in front of the Field House. Gone are the reflected long strands of sunrise that reach out to turn the silvery grey waters blood orange red, weaving a dark tapestry of patchwork weeds across the lake. The landscape is slightly bleached now by the intensity of a bright, steely lemon-grey sun. Behind the lake, behind the forest, are mountains. Distant peaks hardly visible in heat haze, mist or cloud. It is truly glorious here.

02. Sandra Dodson
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03. Sandra Dodson
04. Sandra Dodson

My first day out in the field is quite an adventure. We all pile into the trusty old land Rover and head of for a forest area to check sand traps and camera traps for animal activity. New sand traps are also created by the Field workers and we help by raking over the newly created traps to make the earth smooth and soft and hopefully capture good prints (pug marks). Our morning is cut a little short as Rashika our fabulous Field Leader smells elephant…and we all can. The smell is surprisingly strong. SLWCS don’t take any risks with elephants, so we all head back to the Land Rover.

All the field work we do here is exciting. We go in search of wildcat by looking for poo (scat) and paw prints (pug marks) and making plaster casts of the prints. We survey the progress of orange plants given to the local farmers to grow on their borders to deter elephants (they hate the scent of citrus).and the farmers can sell the orange fruits to help boost their income. Win-win! We monitor electric fencing, measure elephant droppings and best of all we observe the wild elephant in its natural habitation.

07. Sandra Dodson
08. Sandra Dodson

And although undoubtedly the elephant is the star of the show there is so much more to see, especially the myriad of birds that this area of Sri Lanka has to offer. A bird watcher’s paradise! Here are a few examples I captured on my humble camera.

09. Sandra Dodson
10. Sandra Dodson
11. Sandra Dodson
12. Sandra Dodson
13. Sandra Dodson

And when an elephant raided a local farmer’s rice store, damaging the wall and stealing 5 bags of rice, which he ate on the spot, SLWCS were at the ready to repair the damage. The cost was 7,000 SLR to re-build the wall so the volunteers came to the rescue by donating the cash and off we went. The family was so pleased to see us and we all enjoyed their hospitality of hot, sweet tea and biscuits. It was really good fun and the wall was done in no time. Please… Mr. Elephant don’t knock it down again!

15. Sandra Dodson
16. Sandra Dodson
17. Sandra Dodson

It was Christmas whilst I was there and Brianna, who is the chief Bee Project person of the moment and field volunteer Max put on a terrific Christmas Day, including the most extensive brunch of cookies, pancakes, scrambled eggs, eggs in a hole, chipolatas, fruit salad…all laid out around a lovely little Christmas tree. Great fun was had by us all, all day and long into the evening.

18. Sandra Dodson

Everyone had a truly festive time!

19. Sandra Dodson
21. Sandra Dodson

And so my days and nights here have come to an end. I have loved every moment. An experience of a lifetime! The Field Workers, especially Rashika who seems to work 24 hours a day are all superb. Everybody is so lovely - the Field House staff that look after us, clean, keep us safe day and night and most importantly cook fantastic meals for us every day are truly wonderful people. Blessing to you all and the fantastic conservation work you do.

Happy New Year and more success in 2018.
Bye, bye…hope to be back soon!

Sandra Dodson
December 30, 2017

14. Sandra Dodson
20. Sandra Dodson
Anna Preston From Australia

I thoroughly enjoyed my week volunteering with this fantastic elephant conservation project. I have treasured this opportunity to partake in such important work as to ensuring the longevity of a healthy elephant population in this region of Sri Lanka. As a volunteer I believe I was well looked after and treated excellently by all staff members and fellow volunteers; which made making friends easy! My overall experience was a positive one which I will never forget! However, I felt as though you may be able to better optimize the man power supplied by the volunteers.

You run an excellent organization which you should be very proud of, I will never forget the people and the time I spent here. This was my first wildlife conservation volunteer project and such an incredible and joyous experience with you has motivated me to volunteer at more projects like this. I learnt valuable knowledge about the human elephant conflict in this region and hope to use this knowledge in future volunteering. Thank you so much for having me I have had the most amazing week!

Lots of Love,
Anna Preston
Melbourne, Australia
December 18, 2017

Photo Credits:

Rashika Ranasinghe/SLWCS
Sandra Dodson/Volunteer

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

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