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Nicola's Elephant Encounter in Sri Lanka

Nicola's Elephant Encounter in Sri Lanka

Author -  Nicola Philips

My Encounter with Elephants so far

After an 11 hour flight to Singapore, 5 hour flight to Colombo, 1 night in a hostel, several tuk tuk rides, a 3 hour train ride and a 5 hour bus ride, I am finally here at the Wild Elephant Conservation project in Sri Lanka.

 

Nicola Wild Elephant Project Sri Lanka -1.jpg

This was a mission to say the least, but i must say so far the journey was worth it.

My 24 hours in the Colombo back packers felt more like a few hours as i slept nearly the entire time! Despite the 30 degree temperature! I think my body was so tired I really couldn't care what temperature it was! The hostel was nice was basic but perfect for what i needed, it had a lovely communal area which was very typical Sri Lankan. It had big glass doors that opened up (mostly for air flow, it got very hot!) and i can only describe it as something you would see in a little villa in Bali. 

The locals are lovely, everyone is so warm and welcoming. They made me breakfast in the morning and bought me lunch and dinner which was very unexpected. The owners of the hostel did everything they possibly could to make me feel at home. A fourth year med student came to brief me on the do's and don'ts of Sri Lanka (which was very helpful) and gave me his number incase i needed him. As i said, they are all super welcoming which made everything easier. 

A 5.30am wake up on Monday morning really wasn't so bad considering I had slept for the entire previous day, I woke up feeling great and ready to tackle the day! 

A taxi was waiting for me at 6am sharp to take me to the train station where i would then board my train to Kandy. On route to the train station, we picked up 3 others from various organisations, all heading to the same project. 2 girls from China and a guy from England, all rearing to go for a long day ahead!

Our train tickets were all organised by the taxi driver, and he took us right to the train platform and waited with us until our train arrived (our train was 30 minutes late, I'm starting to gather that time is very flexible here in Sri Lanka). 

Our taxi driver handed us over like a small fragile package onto one of the train assistants which then took us to our seats. The train ride was 3 hours, very scenic and surprisingly not that hot! I don't know if you've ever seen on movies the infamous trains in Sri Lanka where you can hang out the windows and doors? Well, its not a myth. We hung out the windows taking selfies - going full tourist mode! 

Nicola Wild Elephant Project Sri Lanka -3.jpg

Our small fragile package of 4 tourists was then handed over to our next guide, Chintaka! 

Chinktaka works as the operation manager at The Wild Elephant Conservation Project. We walked (at a very fast pace) through the chaotic streets of Kandy, to a restaurant where we sat down and had lunch. Chintaka briefed us on the project and gave us a bit of history. We ended up talking about his years of working for the project, he had some fantastic stories, we got on really well with him, such a laugh. 

Chintaka took us to the bus station and we boarded the bus to a town near to the project. I don't know what is about Sri Lankans but they are always up for a good time. The only way i can describe this bus is a party bus you see on movies. They had the music blasting for 5 hours, the same pop beat that robbed us all of sleep while the locals seemed quite content tapping their feet along to the beat for the duration of the bus ride. 

The locals barely spoke english but they were all very lovely and smiley, always asking if they can take a seat next to me. We got by on hand gestures and friendly smiles.
We finally arrived around 6pm, to a very remote location that was literally the middle of nowhere. The project is situated high up, giving us a spectacular view of the National park we are working on. There are around 20 volunteers here, from England, France, Australia and China - of course I'm the only kiwi!

Now I am glad they told us to travel with an open mind when coming here, because this place was far from a 5 star hotel that you would find in NZ. 

2 large girls rooms, with around 6 beds in each one. 

Sleeping side by side like sardines, we all had a mosquito net (extremely necessary) and clean linen for our beds. 

We had outdoor showers (cold water, actually really refreshing after a days work!) and a big communal area where every one ate, read books, chatted and drank tea, a lot of tea! 

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Where drinking 10 cups of tea a day is the norm. 

So i kept an open mind, and embraced the fact that we were sleeping in the bush, welcome are all kinds of creepy crawlies, but when else would i ever get a unique opportunity like this.

I woke up at 6am, I'm really not a morning person but sleeping outside sort of means the sun is your alarm clock. I sat watching the sun rise while reading my book and enjoyed the peacefulness of the morning when everybody was still asleep. There is something magical about being awake at that time, i don't know why I don't make an effort to do it more often. 

2 cups of tea later, breakfast was served at 8, and we got on with our day at 8.45. 

Much like other volunteer programmes, we were split into groups to complete the days tasks efficiently. 

The tasks included;

  • Fence monitoring - (checking that the elephants haven't destroyed any fences into the villages overnight, they are testing a theory, instead of fencing the elephants in an area, they are putting fences around the villages, at an attempt to keep the elephants from destroying not only their homes but also their crops)
  • Dung analysis - (collecting dung and examining it, figuring out what the elephants are eating primarily, this also shows an amazing amount of trash that elephants eat including bottles, razor blades and plastic)
  • HEC -Human elephant conflict (You head out to the villages and talk to the locals about the activity of the elephants in that past week, record data, this can be quite emotional at times, seeing what devastation the elephants can cause to these villages)
  • Orange Tree Plantation - (Elephants hate the taste and smell of citrus, therefor the project had an idea that they are testing, to plant a "barrier" of orange trees, in an attempt to keep the elephants away from their crops. During this activity, not only do you plant and check the trees, you also record any data, checking for any destruction)
  • Sand and Camera Traps - (This one is awesome. The guides take you through the bush, they know it like the back of their hand, and you check the sand traps for any wildlife footprints, mainly elephants of course. They want to see where the elephants are and they can identify individual elephants by their footprint. You also see footprints of animals such as wild boars, spotted deer, small cats, sloth bears and leopards. Camera traps are similar, you can collect the data from the photographs taken, all in an effort to identify the elephants)
  • Elephant watching! - (Searching for wild elephants, we split into 2 groups and go to 2 seperate locations, the tree hut and the tank, and watch. We see elephants 90% of the time! So incredible!

 

The landscape and views are incredible here, something you only dream of. It reminds me of Jurassic Park, honestly! Lush green terrain with big lakes that compliment each other to make the perfect picture. If you're lucky you might spot a croc in the water and an elephant on land, can you just imagine that!

A typical day will consist of one of the above morning activities, finishing around 11.30-12, then you will have a few hours in the middle of the day (the hottest part of the day) and re group at 3.45 for a couple of hours searching for elephants. 

 

I would recommend 2 weeks here to experience all the activities. You do have a fair bit of down time, and with no wifi, i do recommend bringing a few books! I never read, but I've nearly finished two books over the course of 10 days. I actually think its been really good for me, living with no connection from the outside world, reading books and drinking tea, almost like a detox!

This entire project is based around this one problem, Human Elephant Conflict and how they can avoid it. They want to help the villages so that elephant and humans can live in harmony. It is extremely interesting to get involved in the volunteer side of a wildlife project because you get to experience first hand the real issues these gentle giants cause. 

Due to their incredible memories, elephants never forget where they came from. Because of this, if people decide to build a village on land where elephants spend time, they will always go back to this spot to forage, causing a massive issue with the villages. Hopefully with the efforts of this project, we can make a difference to help minimise conflict and make a difference to the lives of the people that live in villages, and in return, a fresh papaya, the best kind of gratitude.

This entire experience would not have been the same without the amazing people that live here. I always say how welcoming and warm people are at all the volunteer projects I've been to, but Sri Lankans top it, despite the language barrier. You don't always have to speak the same language to show kindness and warmth. I love and have a huge respect for their culture and the way they live. 

Nicola Wild Elephant Project Sri Lanka -2.jpg

 

I will miss them hugely, i haven't laughed this much in a long time.

Till next update - Nicola

Sri Lanka Wild Elephant Project Details

Nicola's Elephant Encounter in Sri Lanka

After an 11 hour flight to Singapore, 5 hour flight to Colombo, 1 night in a hostel, several tuk tuk rides, a 3 hour train ride and a 5 hour bus ride, i am finally here at the Wild Elephant Conservation project in Sri Lanka. This was a mission to say the least, but i must say so far the journey was worth it.

My Encounter with Elephants so far

After an 11 hour flight to Singapore, 5 hour flight to Colombo, 1 night in a hostel, several tuk tuk rides, a 3 hour train ride and a 5 hour bus ride, I am finally here at the Wild Elephant Conservation project in Sri Lanka.

 

Nicola Wild Elephant Project Sri Lanka -1.jpg

This was a mission to say the least, but i must say so far the journey was worth it.

My 24 hours in the Colombo back packers felt more like a few hours as i slept nearly the entire time! Despite the 30 degree temperature! I think my body was so tired I really couldn't care what temperature it was! The hostel was nice was basic but perfect for what i needed, it had a lovely communal area which was very typical Sri Lankan. It had big glass doors that opened up (mostly for air flow, it got very hot!) and i can only describe it as something you would see in a little villa in Bali. 

The locals are lovely, everyone is so warm and welcoming. They made me breakfast in the morning and bought me lunch and dinner which was very unexpected. The owners of the hostel did everything they possibly could to make me feel at home. A fourth year med student came to brief me on the do's and don'ts of Sri Lanka (which was very helpful) and gave me his number incase i needed him. As i said, they are all super welcoming which made everything easier. 

A 5.30am wake up on Monday morning really wasn't so bad considering I had slept for the entire previous day, I woke up feeling great and ready to tackle the day! 

A taxi was waiting for me at 6am sharp to take me to the train station where i would then board my train to Kandy. On route to the train station, we picked up 3 others from various organisations, all heading to the same project. 2 girls from China and a guy from England, all rearing to go for a long day ahead!

Our train tickets were all organised by the taxi driver, and he took us right to the train platform and waited with us until our train arrived (our train was 30 minutes late, I'm starting to gather that time is very flexible here in Sri Lanka). 

Our taxi driver handed us over like a small fragile package onto one of the train assistants which then took us to our seats. The train ride was 3 hours, very scenic and surprisingly not that hot! I don't know if you've ever seen on movies the infamous trains in Sri Lanka where you can hang out the windows and doors? Well, its not a myth. We hung out the windows taking selfies - going full tourist mode! 

Nicola Wild Elephant Project Sri Lanka -3.jpg

Our small fragile package of 4 tourists was then handed over to our next guide, Chintaka! 

Chinktaka works as the operation manager at The Wild Elephant Conservation Project. We walked (at a very fast pace) through the chaotic streets of Kandy, to a restaurant where we sat down and had lunch. Chintaka briefed us on the project and gave us a bit of history. We ended up talking about his years of working for the project, he had some fantastic stories, we got on really well with him, such a laugh. 

Chintaka took us to the bus station and we boarded the bus to a town near to the project. I don't know what is about Sri Lankans but they are always up for a good time. The only way i can describe this bus is a party bus you see on movies. They had the music blasting for 5 hours, the same pop beat that robbed us all of sleep while the locals seemed quite content tapping their feet along to the beat for the duration of the bus ride. 

The locals barely spoke english but they were all very lovely and smiley, always asking if they can take a seat next to me. We got by on hand gestures and friendly smiles.
We finally arrived around 6pm, to a very remote location that was literally the middle of nowhere. The project is situated high up, giving us a spectacular view of the National park we are working on. There are around 20 volunteers here, from England, France, Australia and China - of course I'm the only kiwi!

Now I am glad they told us to travel with an open mind when coming here, because this place was far from a 5 star hotel that you would find in NZ. 

2 large girls rooms, with around 6 beds in each one. 

Sleeping side by side like sardines, we all had a mosquito net (extremely necessary) and clean linen for our beds. 

We had outdoor showers (cold water, actually really refreshing after a days work!) and a big communal area where every one ate, read books, chatted and drank tea, a lot of tea! 

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Where drinking 10 cups of tea a day is the norm. 

So i kept an open mind, and embraced the fact that we were sleeping in the bush, welcome are all kinds of creepy crawlies, but when else would i ever get a unique opportunity like this.

I woke up at 6am, I'm really not a morning person but sleeping outside sort of means the sun is your alarm clock. I sat watching the sun rise while reading my book and enjoyed the peacefulness of the morning when everybody was still asleep. There is something magical about being awake at that time, i don't know why I don't make an effort to do it more often. 

2 cups of tea later, breakfast was served at 8, and we got on with our day at 8.45. 

Much like other volunteer programmes, we were split into groups to complete the days tasks efficiently. 

The tasks included;

  • Fence monitoring - (checking that the elephants haven't destroyed any fences into the villages overnight, they are testing a theory, instead of fencing the elephants in an area, they are putting fences around the villages, at an attempt to keep the elephants from destroying not only their homes but also their crops)
  • Dung analysis - (collecting dung and examining it, figuring out what the elephants are eating primarily, this also shows an amazing amount of trash that elephants eat including bottles, razor blades and plastic)
  • HEC -Human elephant conflict (You head out to the villages and talk to the locals about the activity of the elephants in that past week, record data, this can be quite emotional at times, seeing what devastation the elephants can cause to these villages)
  • Orange Tree Plantation - (Elephants hate the taste and smell of citrus, therefor the project had an idea that they are testing, to plant a "barrier" of orange trees, in an attempt to keep the elephants away from their crops. During this activity, not only do you plant and check the trees, you also record any data, checking for any destruction)
  • Sand and Camera Traps - (This one is awesome. The guides take you through the bush, they know it like the back of their hand, and you check the sand traps for any wildlife footprints, mainly elephants of course. They want to see where the elephants are and they can identify individual elephants by their footprint. You also see footprints of animals such as wild boars, spotted deer, small cats, sloth bears and leopards. Camera traps are similar, you can collect the data from the photographs taken, all in an effort to identify the elephants)
  • Elephant watching! - (Searching for wild elephants, we split into 2 groups and go to 2 seperate locations, the tree hut and the tank, and watch. We see elephants 90% of the time! So incredible!

 

The landscape and views are incredible here, something you only dream of. It reminds me of Jurassic Park, honestly! Lush green terrain with big lakes that compliment each other to make the perfect picture. If you're lucky you might spot a croc in the water and an elephant on land, can you just imagine that!

A typical day will consist of one of the above morning activities, finishing around 11.30-12, then you will have a few hours in the middle of the day (the hottest part of the day) and re group at 3.45 for a couple of hours searching for elephants. 

 

I would recommend 2 weeks here to experience all the activities. You do have a fair bit of down time, and with no wifi, i do recommend bringing a few books! I never read, but I've nearly finished two books over the course of 10 days. I actually think its been really good for me, living with no connection from the outside world, reading books and drinking tea, almost like a detox!

This entire project is based around this one problem, Human Elephant Conflict and how they can avoid it. They want to help the villages so that elephant and humans can live in harmony. It is extremely interesting to get involved in the volunteer side of a wildlife project because you get to experience first hand the real issues these gentle giants cause. 

Due to their incredible memories, elephants never forget where they came from. Because of this, if people decide to build a village on land where elephants spend time, they will always go back to this spot to forage, causing a massive issue with the villages. Hopefully with the efforts of this project, we can make a difference to help minimise conflict and make a difference to the lives of the people that live in villages, and in return, a fresh papaya, the best kind of gratitude.

This entire experience would not have been the same without the amazing people that live here. I always say how welcoming and warm people are at all the volunteer projects I've been to, but Sri Lankans top it, despite the language barrier. You don't always have to speak the same language to show kindness and warmth. I love and have a huge respect for their culture and the way they live. 

Nicola Wild Elephant Project Sri Lanka -2.jpg

 

I will miss them hugely, i haven't laughed this much in a long time.

Till next update - Nicola

Sri Lanka Wild Elephant Project Details

Nicola's Elephant Encounter in Sri Lanka

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