Trunks & Leaves 2015 Annual Report

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2015 Annual Report

A letter from our family to yours Dear Friends and Colleagues, This year our lives were transformed by some new additions—Sergey and I welcomed our daughter into the world while in Uda Walawe our site manager Sameera Weerathunga experienced the joy of having a son! The elephants also had a pretty good year, owing to a lot of rain. The Udawalawe team carried out a second round of study in Minneriya National Park, noting the growing concern of waste. As Sri Lanka develops, its wildlife must contend with more and more manmade material appearing in their spaces. Snares also remain a present threat. In the future we hope to increase public awareness of these problems through educational programming for students. While our work has always been motivated by the desire to ensure that future generations will continue to be able to feel the profoundness and wonder of nature, we are now more than ever committed to that cause.

Shermin de Silva, PhD President & Founder



Our Board Shermin de Silva - President & Founder Shermin obtained her Ph.D University of Pennsylvania 2010, studying the Asian elephants of Uda Walawe National Park. She was an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Colorado State University, in the Department of Fish Wildlife and Conservation Biology, a Fellow at The Institute For Advanced Study in Berlin and is currently a James Smithson Fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. She is also a trustee of EFECT, Sri Lanka.

Sergey Kryazhimskiy - Treasurer Sergey received his Ph.D from Princeton University in 2008 and is currently a professor in Ecology Berlin, Behavior and Evolution at the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Kryazhimskiy is interested in making science open and relevant to the public.

Esther A. Clarke - Clerk Esther completed her Ph.D in 2010 at the University of St. Andrews. Dr. Clarke studied the vocalizations and behavior of wild whitehanded gibbons in one of Thailand's National Parks. She became interested in elephants after a run in with a rather large one in the forests of Thailand. Currently a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with Durham University, UK, Dr. Clarke has broad interest in biodiversity conservation and education.


Catherine Craig - Advisor Cay is the president and founder of CPAL International. She is a member of the research staff of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. Previously she served as an Associate Professor on the biology faculty at Yale University. She is a fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Association of University Women and a Science Scholar at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute. Dr. Craig has been the recipient of grants from both public agencies and private foundations including the National Science Foundation, the Whitehall Foundation, and the National Geographic Society. She is the author of the book "Spider webs and silk: tracing evolution from molecules to genes to phenotypes" (Oxford , 2003).

Stefano Vaglio - Advisor Stefano gained his Ph.D. in 2009 from Florence University (Italy). He is interested in primate behavioural ecology, welfare assessment and management of captive animals, and insitu conservation initiatives. He works as a Lecturer in Animal Behaviour at University of Wolverhampton (UK) and collaborates with Durham University (UK) as an Honorary Research Fellow in Anthropology. For several years he has been working on applied projects about primate conservation and the sustainability of local communities, as a result of this experience, he co-founded a specialized consultancy firm (CarbonSinkGroup) launched in 2011 as a Florence University spin-off of which he is currently Partner. He is also Research Associate at Garda Zoological Park, Member of the Steering Committee of the EU LIFE Northern Bald Ibis project, and Member of the Board of Directors of the École Nature Recherche.


Team News

Welcome Deepani Jayantha Dr. Deepani Jayantha is consulting with us our partner organization EFECT in Sri Lanka to develop outreach programming and work with the Department of Wildlife Conservation. She comes with more than ten years of experience in the

field of community-based conservation, having previously served as the country representative for the born Free Foundation.

Dr. Kryazhimskiy joins UCSD Dr. Sergey Kryazhimskiy has commenced the Department of Ecology Behavior and as an assistant professor at the Evolution. Congratulations! University of California at San Diego in

Dr. de Silva joins the Board of the Asia Section of the Society for Conservation Biology In July the Society of Conservation Biology’s Asia section announced the results of a special election to add new board members. Dr. de Silva was elected to the position of communications officer. She will serve a

term of three years and hopes to use this position to enhance conservation communication in the region and awareness about Asia’s issues beyond the continent.


Field Reports

Rambo turns Romeo Rambo, the erstwhile ‘beggar’ at the Uda Walawe National Park fenceline, has been at his post for well over a decade. Possibly the very first individual at the park to discover that humans were prone to tossing tasty treats across if you waited patiently in plain sight, without needing to resort to the risky activity of crop raiding. Indeed, he seemed to have lost interest in natural foraging altogether. The UWERP team had

even even seen him there during his ‘musth’ period. Musth is when adult male elephants would typically go off searching for mating opportunities. Rambo seemed so addicted to the hand outs he was receiving that he appeared to have forgotten that most important drive to reproduce… Or so we thought, until this year. For the first time in our memories, we spotted him amongst females during his musth! Because Rambo’s presence at the fence has long been perceived as a nuisance and potential hazard (he once injured a tourist who mistook him for a tame elephant and climbed through despite posted warnings), authorities have expressed the desire to remove him. However, his genial demeanor may yet enrich the gene pool of Uda Walawe, if only he manages to pass it on!


Field Reports

Getting My Feet Wet By Lisa Barrett, Ph.D. Student, University of Wyoming

This past summer, I visited Uda Walawe National Park to evaluate whether I would be able to carry out tests of personality and cognition with Asian elephants there as part of my dissertation. While I was there, I learned how to identify individual elephants with a lot of help from research assistants Sameera and Kumara. They took me with them three days per week, where I was able to conduct behavioral observations on the elephants. Our typical schedule involved a morning shift of elephant-searching, a break in

the shade for breakfast, more elephant observations, lunch, and then an afternoon shift in the park. My favorite new meal to try was boiled chickpeas with coconut for breakfast! It was exciting to scan the trees and bushes for elephants—and although I often mistook a rock for an elephant, I soon got the hang of elephant spotting! I was so impressed by Sameera’s and Kumara’s superb elephant identifying; they had memorized what hundreds of elephants’ ears (and other distinguishing marks) looked like, and


they could identify an elephant within a matter of seconds! They were also superb navigators of the difficult terrain in the park. We also came across several other exciting wildlife, such as crocodiles, star tortoises, Malabar pied hornbills, monitor lizards, gray langurs, mongooses, and parakeets. When we weren’t in the park or entering data at the office, Kumara and Sameera kindly took me sightseeing, and since this was my first time to Sri Lanka, I was overjoyed! Trips included a visit to the local village’s temple and to the Elephant Transit Home (ETH), where about 40 orphaned elephants live. It was intriguing to learn about the ETH’s

work. The facility fosters the learning of necessary skills for elephants without adult role models so that they can then be released into the national park. I had the opportunity to see the result of such a successful program—we spotted several elephants in the national park who had previously been released and were doing quite well. These individuals wear radio collars so that the ETH can track them. My trip to Uda Walawe was very helpful in that it gave me a lot to think about with regard to my project! I am excited at the prospect of returning to conduct fieldwork there in the future. Thank you to the UWERP team for welcoming me!


Field Reports

An orphan becomes a surrogate mom By Deepani Jayantha, Sameera Weerathunga & Shermin de Silva

[208] with her newborn calf in June 2015

In August 2015, one of our Uda Walawe residents named Indika was seen suckling two calves of different ages on either sides of her. She already had a rounded and bulky belly suggesting another calf was on the way. But the younger calf suckling Indika was only about three months old, merely skin and bones. This intrigued us so we dug deeper into our field notes. We soon recognized he must belong to [208] born in June, 2015. But she seemed to have stopped

lactating soon after birth so the calf’s health declined, which our team informed the veterinarian at the Elephant Transit Home (or ETH, an orphan elephant rehabilitation centre) run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Back in 1995 an elephant drive took place in Southern Sri Lanka to try and mitigate human-elephant conflict in the area. This resulted in the deaths of a few adult animals. One orphaned


female calf was rescued by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and named Sandamali. She was among the first arrivals of the ETH, later released to Uda Walawe National Park with a few other orphans in 1998 as the first graduates of that program.

seemed equally attentive to her own female calf (now about 26 months old) and the weak male calf (about three months old). Female elephant society centres on the next generation, as raising calves successfully is key to evolutionary success. But due to the nutritional demands of nursing, it’s seldom possible to nurse more than one calf at a time, let alone an unrelated one! Indika must have not only been in very good physical condition, but we wonder whether she also maintained some Indika with [208]’s calf in affinity for her former August 2015 social contact.

Sandamali was about five years old when released. Not knowing this history, UWERP had named her Indika. She was seen roaming with her ETHmates Kithmali, Mattali and Evelyn. Indika had her first calf, a male, in 2008 followed by a female in 2013. Interestingly, [208] had been one of Indika’s companions, the two having been seen together at least as far back as 2005 when the UWERP study first began. Though they hadn’t been companions since Indika had her own calves, there they were. Indika

The ETH attempted to rescue the calf, but he was unfortunately too weak to be saved and passed away in September. Nevertheless, Indika’s altruistic actions leave us wondering about the depths of elephant social bonds and hopeful for the future of such orphans. 11

Field Reports

Follow up visit to Minneriya National Park Photos by Sameera Weerathunga & T.V. Kumara

Last year the UWERP team started a fresh effort to apply the same methods used in Uda Walawe to assessing the population numbers and behavior of elephants in Minneriya National Park. Elephant gather here for a brief window of about three months during the dry season to take advantage of the water in its ancient man-made reservoir. Last year they arrived in August, which was already too late as the rain soon came and

with it the elephants vanished. This year the trip was made in July, and the team saw its fill of elephants. Not all the animals seen this year had been seen before, and there are still lots of photographs needing identification. Just one month of field time creates many more months of work carefully entering data! But at the end of it the project hopes to have the basis for better understanding the dynamics of this population.


Above: A hefty and distinctive one-tusked bull, also seen last year.

Left: With plenty of food and water around...’s possible to just relax! Centerfold: Could this be what elephant heaven looks like?


Field Reports Left: A calf with a swollen jaw is spotted. Below: The team cautiously approaches accompanied by veterinary staff. They dart and treat the calf, which may have tried to eat something sharp.


Above: Sameera & Kumara with Dr. Devasurendra and his staff. Below: UWERP receives major funding from US Fish & Wildlife. Cory Brown, program officer for the Asian elephant conservation funds, visits the team in Minneriya, witnessing the work first-hand for the first time!


Conservation Alerts

A Load of Garbage

Above: Some big bulls are regulars at dumps, and can become involved in conflict with people once accustomed.

Right: This tiny baby, its mother and her family were feasting at the dump. The calf risks poisoning and injury if it eats toxic or sharp substances, and risks losing its mother if she does so.


Above: Unregulated dumping is an increasing problem for wildlife, as they can spring up anywhere, even next to national parks.

Left: Plastic bag in the dung offers clear evidence of garbage being eaten.

T&L will support efforts to educate people about the garbage problem and eradicate them by working with local constituents.

Read more on the blog:


Photo Break

The hunted‌ Photos by Sameera Weerathunga

Above: Spotted deer (Axis axis) at the Uda Walawe reservoir. Right: A tufted grey langur (Semnopithecus priam) stays vigilant in Minneriya reservoir.

Above: Endemic Sri Lankan swallows (Cecropis hyperythra).

Above: A Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). 20

The hunters! Left: A sleek jungle cat (Felis chaus) stalks the undergrowth of Uda Walawe.

Left: Jackals (Canis aureus naria) are competitors of cats, this one has caught a peacock! Below: The biggest predator in Sri Lanka is the leopard (Panthera pardus cotiya), a rare sight in Uda Walawe.



Conservation means helping people

Each year elephants kill over a hundred people in Sri Lanka, many of them farmers and some of them primary income earners for their households. T&L provided support to the Biodiversity and Environment Conservation Trust (BECT) which conducts school education programs and provides a year’s worth of books and school supplies for students who have lost a family member though elephant conflict. BECT operates throughout

Sri Lanka. These students were from schools close to Uda Walawe National Park. From the top left: P.G. Dilan Madushanka (grade 9) & P.G. Kethaka Kaushalya (grade 5) K.K. Pradeep Madushanka (grade 5) G. Aruna Prasad (grade 10) & Waruna Sandakelum (grade 4) R.M. Dannjaya Dilruk (grade 12), Dharshana Dilshan (grade 4), & Dasuni Prathana (grade 11)


Above: The school’s principal accepts the donation from Sameera Weerathunga on students’ behalf.

We sponsored microphones for the media unit of the school in Uda Walawe (above) as well as infrastructure maintenance to help ensure wildlife in the National Park have water in dry seasons, and that tracks allow access areas of the park that are less frequently traveled so that illegal activities are kept in check (right).

Donate online:


Spreading The Word

Shermin visits the research group of Dr. Virpi Lummaa at the University of Sheffield, UK, to speak at the department and exchange expertise with the research project which studies Myanmar’s timber elephants.

Shermin quizzes a group of enthusiastic middle school student participating in Nature Camp at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, organized by Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ). They were impressive in their knowledge of elephants and conservation!


Presenting results at the headquarters of US Fish & Wildlife, in Washington D.C.

Below: Shermin presents a keynote at the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation’s Asia-Pacific chapter meeting in Cambodia.


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Spreading The Word Sri Lanka: Elephant Island produced by Mike Birkhead Assoc. & BBC in consultation withUWERP was included in the Jackson Hole International Elephant Filmm Festival. (Photo: Mike Birkhead) Elephant Ecosystems our coproduction with Untamed Science was also included in the festival lineup and was also translated and aired in Cambodia by Flora & Fauna International.

Elephant Landscapes was a collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to tell the evolutionary story of humans and elephants in a planetarium dome, part of their Digital Earth series.


Support Visit the online support page for ways you can help!—contact.html Ask for the Tiger Stamp at your local post office, or order online to help US Fish & Wildlife raise funds to support programs like UWERP. Designate T&L as your preferred charity on Amazon Smile, and make a zero cost donation each time you shop for eligible products on Amazon.

SUPPORT US Mail checks to: Trunks & Leaves Inc. 2235 Sierra Court Concord CA 94518 USA Donate online at: Trunks & Leaves (Inc.) is a registered 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit organization (EIN 45-3996546)


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