Organization: Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society
Location: Himbiliyakade forest, Sri Lanka
Research: Saving Elephants by Helping People: Field Scouts Program
Species/Topic: Sri Lankan Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)
Abstract: The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society has been developing community-based initiatives for the past eight years to address the issues of human- elephant conflict (HEC) for the long-term conservation of the endangered Sri Lankan elephant (listed in CITES Appendix I). The mission of the SLWCS is to enable communities to balance ecosystem protection and economic development by pioneering a model for sustainable conservation. We have realized that community development and sustainable economic development must be ultimate goals that coincide with our conservation and scientific research efforts. The overall vision of SLWCS is to develop a new model for sustainable conservation with the following goals: 1) the protection of biodiversity in priority areas, 2) the promotion of sustainable use of biodiversity, and 3) the strengthening of rural institutions and promoting cooperative governance and community involvement in conservation. The Field Scouts Program (FSP) was developed with such an aim in mind. The FSP is a community integrated field research program that involves training villagers to carry out the data collection, data storing and some limited analysis on the ecology of elephants to resolve HEC. Lack of empirical data on the local elephant population is a deficiency that hinders the efforts to resolve HEC as well as address other elephant conservation issues successfully. While mostly anecdotal evidence exists a focused effort to collect empirical biological and ecological data on the elephant populations at our project sites is needed. Such data will be necessary and important for the following reasons: 1) to develop conservation management strategies which include the resolution of HEC. 2) To provide ecological data when village expansion is planned at the local level, and at the national level when government authorities enact rural development programs. 3) To develop alternative economic incentives to reduce dependency on agriculture. If we know the population biology and the ecology of the local elephants our efforts can be more effective. The FSP is a pioneering attempt initiated by the SLWCS to build the capacity of local people to participate in wildlife research and conservation in an effort to promote a new paradigm for sustainable conservation.