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TRUNKS & LEAVES

2017 Annual Report


Note From The Founder Dear Friends and Colleagues, For over ten years, the Udawalawe Elephant Research Project has been documenting the lives of the elephants in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka. I initiated this project as a graduate student, then Trunks & Leaves became an extension of this work. This year, we returned to some long-time goals: understanding the human communities that live alongside elephants. Picking up from work begun in 2011, we ventured beyond the park to understand how humans and elephants use the land outside the protected areas. We’re excited to try to get a handle on both species’ sides of the story to finally get a more complete picture. This year we also embarked on a new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, also based in the US, to provide technical assistance to the Department of Wildlife Conservation in implementing SMART, which stands for Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool. It is a system designed to allow wildlife managers to manage their areas and conduct patrols more efficiently, using digital software. We and our partners are grateful to have received support from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the US Fish & Wildlife Asian Elephant Conservation Fund for supporting these activities. Lastly, we launched the #ElephantOptimism Initiative, to uplift and inspire by sharing positive stories about elephants. We hope you will follow us. With optimism,


Facilitating evidence-based conservation of Asian elephants and their habitats.


Our Board of Directors Shermin de Silva - President & Founder Shermin obtained her Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania in 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. She holds the title of Assistant Project Scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and is a Research Fellow at San Diego Zoo Global. 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 an assistant professor in Ecology, 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 - Secretary Esther completed her Ph.D in 2010 at the University of St. Andrews (UK). 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 a 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 the 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 a Research Associate at Garda Zoological Park, a Member of the Steering Committee of the EU LIFE Northern Bald Ibis project, and a Member of the Board of Directors of the École Nature Recherche.


UWERP News & Field Reports

The Bull Project PhD student Christine Minge is trying to decipher the mysterious social world of male elephants. The project aims to understand how male social relationships govern conflict and cooperation among bulls as they search for food and mates. the jeep, breathe in the fresh air and let my eyes wander over the landscape. However, spotting elephants turned out to be quite a Entering “Udawalawe challenge in the beginning, as I National Park� (UWNP) for the first often mistook an elephant for a time was simply overwhelming - it rock, a tree or a wild water buffalo. bursts with so much life. To date, I learned then: elephants are even after 11 months of fieldwork, I masters of hiding. Kumara, my still get excited about the early dear colleague and elephant morning hours, when the park identification genius from the Uda wakes up. I stand on the back of Walawe Elephant Research

Friends or Foes: 11 Months Among Wild Elephant Bulls

Chris takes a photograph of a bull crossing the road, together with a distance measurement. When they are angled just right so that they are perpendicular to the viewer, with their feet planted clearly, such photos can be used in calculating the height.


Project, frequently pointed at elephants I did not see, because they were perfectly camouflaged by the leafy tree branches. With time my eyes sharpened. However, spotting the elephants was not the biggest challenge in the field, but identification was. At first I could not even distinguish the sexes, let alone the individuals, but with the help of a self-made photo memory game I now regained control over the unending number of elephants to learn. We have been following the elephant bulls of the UWNP population since March 2017. I still remember the first time I saw two bulls fighting each other. I was intimidated and fascinated by the enormous forces released and the various social interactions exchanged. Male Asian elephants have the reputation of being aggressive, hormonal and antisocial beasts. The intolerance towards other males has been explained by their contest for females. Superior males gain the mating monopoly, which increases the selecting pressure on male fighting traits, i.e. large body size, length of “musth� (a type of reproductive state) and also

aggression. In view of the foregoing, we expect male social relationships to be characterized by competition, aggression and intolerance but not friendly and cooperative behavior. But a lot of this has been based on assumptions, not field studies. This was our starting point. For 11 months we have been tracking the social dynamics of more than 120 male elephants and already gained some fascinating insights. The bulls show a variety of social behaviors. Contrary to expectations, males

Chris explains her project to a rapt audience of Sri Lankan college students.


UWERP News & Field Reports display not only aggressive behavior, but also engage in friendly interactions with other males. We learn two things. First, the former “aggressive beast reputation� has to be reconsidered. Second, we know

little about aggressive vs. friendly male behavior. Under which circumstances does a male elephant decide to be friend or foe? I am very excited about the fieldwork in 2018.

social complexity, intelligence and longevity. Our understanding of how male elephants negotiate costs and benefits of social relationships in the face of different individual demands will shed light on social evolution in

mammals and therefore also us. Understanding the social dynamics of male Asian elephants will also help us to improve current Human-Elephant Conflict mitigation measures, as it will give insights on the differences Understanding the biology between conflict and non-conflict and behavior of male Asian males. We want to compare elephants is important to me both, the social dynamics and because like us humans, habitat use of both crop-raiders elephants are characterized by vs. non-raiders. This information


will provide insight for future elephant management plans.

Follow Chris’ Progress on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MaleElephantResearch/

Sumedha’s Epic Musth

He’s neither the oldest nor the most elegant elephant in the park, but in this mostly tusk-free population Sumedha has an edge. It also helps to be built like a tank. Sumedha is the reigning tusker at Udawalawe.


UWERP News & Field Reports Sumedha displays reddish secretions on the sides of his face from the temporal glands, and legs gleaming with urine are the signs of peak musth.

Sumedha’s been a regular at Udawalawe since before the project began, but since the disappearance of the tusker named Raja, he’s had little competition.

The two had a tussle and though it was a bit uncertain at first, Sumedha did manage to hold his own. Usually Sumedha is only seen for a month or two, but this time he astonished us by sticking around the park for 5 months, exhibiting the characteristic signs of “musth” the whole time. Musth is a male reproductive state, when they are

This year, he almost met his match in a tuskless bull we nicknamed “Double –Trunk”. Double trunk is so named because the tip of his trunk had nearly been severed at some time in the past, perhaps by a snare. This was the same fate that met Raja. However, DoubleTrunk seems none the worse for it— not only was he in fine form, he was brave enough to take on Sumedha.

Double-Trunk has entered musth despite the difficulty in feeding presented by his old trunk injury. His body condition is also very good.


At one point, Double-Trunk appears to be gaining the upper hand, placing his trunk over Sumedha in a show of dominance. pumped on testosterone and reeking of odor. They also don’t eat much in this state, so it’s only bulls in the best condition that can hold out so long! African elephants are reported to have such long musth periods when they are very old and dominant. Captive Asian elephants can also sometimes show the signs of musth—for up to 8 months! Because such males

can be difficult to manage, their handlers sometimes deprive them of food to bring them out of the condition. Sumedha’s musth is the longest we’ve ever recorded in a free-roaming Asian elephant. Will Sumedha be able to keep up this marathon musth next year? We’ll just have to wait and see!

Read more on the Blog: asianelephant.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/sumedhas-epic-musth




Research Highlight

The Buzz About Elephants And Bees

Elephants resting under trees were the ideal subjects for the playback experiments testing whether they are averse to the sound of bees. In 2014 Lucy King paid a visit to Udawalawe to try and replicate her study, performed in Africa several year earlier, testing how elephants reacted to the sound of bees. African elephants turned out to be very bothered by bees, retreating quite hastily while producing what appeared to be “bee” alarm calls. This led Lucy to start the Elephant and Bees

project with Save The Elephants, where they developed beehive fences to protect crops. Naturally, many people wondered, could the same work in Asia? Given that both the bees and the elephants were different, it wasn’t clear. As we reported in 2014, we put this question to the test for the


first time by conducting playback experiments where elephants resting under trees were played recordings either of disturbed honey bees or white noise. After a month of hard work by Lucy, PhD student Mickey Pardo and the UWERP team, Lucy went off to analyze the data. The results are in: indeed, Asian elephants also display a distaste for the sound of bees, but their responses were far more muted than that of their African counterparts.

They do move away and vocalize more in response to bees as opposed to the mere sound of white noise (in this instance, from a waterfall), however odd the latter would seem on a random afternoon. But they seemed to do so rather reluctantly. We weren’t sure if this was because the conditions failed to convince them of a real threat, or whether these species were simply different from their African relatives. The utility of fences with live bees remains to be seen.

Asian elephants move further away (a) and react more quickly (b) to the sound of bees as opposed to white noise. They also vocalized a lot more in response to hearing bees than to hearing white noise, and did so most during the play back compared to before or after (d). Study to appear in the journal Current Biology, January 2018.


Research Highlight

Beyond the Safety of Protected Areas: The Coexistence Project Conserving elephants requires understanding not just what elephants do inside parks and protected areas, but also what they do outside, as this is where most of the threats can be found. To this end, it has been a long-time goal to study elephants outside the parks, and also the human communities around them.

We finally got the opportunity to resume our work, originally initiated in 2011, to understand this broader context thanks to funding from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the US Fish & Wildlife Asian Elephant Conservation Funds (the latter to EFECT, our partner organization). In order to protect

A family fills up containers of purified, filtered water. This region is among several in Sri Lanka that suffers from poor water quality, elevating the risk of kidney disease. The causes are as yet not well understood.


Clockwise: A paddy field with elephant damage; A home-made alarm gong; Playhouse for children; Thanking a survey participant for her time with a gift of school supplies. elephant habitat from encroachment, and also protect agricultural fields from elephant intrusions, the Department of Wildlife Conservation planned to reposition some stretches of the electric fence placed along Udawalawe National Park’s eastern corridor, named Wetahirakanda. This corridor leads to Lunugamwehera National Park, centered on another large reservoir. We wanted to understand

when and how people encountered elephants, and what sorts of issues they had to contend with as a result. But in addition, we asked about their basic income and livelihoods, perceptions about the park, the wildlife, and authorities in charge. We also wanted to evaluate how effective the re-positioned electric fences were in addressing the conflict issues. The survey was designed with input from Dr. Jenny Glikman


Research Highlight of San Diego Zoo Global, Dr. Sahan Dissannayake, now at Oregon State University, Dr. Philip Nyhus of Colby College. It was edited and translated into Sinhalese by Dr. Deepani Jayantha. The UWERP team performing the fieldwork consisted of Deepani, Sameera Weerathunga and T.V. Kumara,

Clean drinking water was a limited commodity. More than 70 % experienced some degree of crop damage from elephants and, 30% knew someone who had been killed by an elephant while 5% had lost members of their own family.

Yet the overwhelming majority agreed that the environment needed to be Of 100 respondents, nearly protected for future generations, 80% were subsistence farmers and and a majority even agreed that the median annual household elephants were either valuable or income amounted to just $1200. sacred. The challenge was sharing

Top row: Both men and women cultivate. We provided useful items to show appreciation for talking to us, and also letting us place cameras on their property. Bottom: A camera trap kit; Canals head toward the corridor.


space with them.

doing, we were astonished at how frequently elephants and people We noticed some houses occurred in the same areas. had make-shift playrooms for their Analysing just two months of data, young children, to provide chances we were in for another surprise. In for learning and exploration some locations the time difference because their access to stimulating between the passing of an and educational material was elephant and a person or vehicle could be as little as one minute! This showed that not only could people and elephants use the same spaces even outside protected areas, but they were doing it astonishingly well—likely without the people even noticing the elephants were there. Can we live together limited. Improving access to safely? Follow our new initiative: educational resources emerged as The Coexistence Project a concrete way that we could help #UWERPcams #CoexistenceProject these communities offset some of the economic loss they suffered. Going back in August, we were in for a surprise. A massive irrigation canal was making its way toward the corridor, slicing the landscape in two. Because most settlers had no formal title to the land, some had to give up portions of the land they had cultivated for years, with no compensation. Along with the survey, we set out camera traps at strategic locations in and around the corridor. Though we were mainly interested in what elephants were

Follow updates on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ Trunksnleaves Twitter: @Asianele


Photo Break

Home of the Great and Small Photos by Sameera Weerathunga & T.V. Kumara

The Fly Little Fly, Thy summer's play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away. Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me? For I dance And drink, and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing. If thought is life And strength and breath And the want Of thought is death; Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die. —William Blake


Building Partnerships

Ushering in a SMART Era

The August session focused on data management and had 27 participants. Front row: Dr. Tony Lynam and Mr. Gaminie Samarkooon (left) with Dr. Deepani Jayantha and Mr. Suranjan Karunaratne (right) with officers of the DWC. In 2016 we held a workshop on evidence-based conservation and management for officers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka. The DWC was very interested in implementing SMART, which stands

for “Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool.” In essence, it’s a free software designed to be used with Android-based mobile devices, such as a smart phone, enabling wildlife managers to


Building Partnerships

Udawalawe National Park—One of the two cohorts, totally 72 participants, trained in the field patrol components in October. design and keep track of their patrols and other activities digitally. The head of the Law Enforcement Division, Mr. Gaminie Samarakoon was very keen to have the system deployed in Sri Lanka for the first time.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). We provided backpacks and some basic essentials for patrol teams. The Lead instructor, Dr. Tony Lynam, had in fact been one of the speakers at the workshop held in 2016.

With funding from the World Bank to the DWC, and a grant from US Fish & Wildlife to EFECT, our partner organization in Sri Lanka, two sets of workshops were held in August and October Sri Lanka hosting trainers from the

The program aims to launch SMART on a trial basis at five national park complexes in the south: Udawalawe, Lunugamwehera, Yala, Kumana and Maduru Oya. Eventually, the plan is to roll out SMART nationally.


Support Visit the online support page for ways you can help!

Trunksnleaves.org/support—contact.html

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Trunksnleaves.org Follow us: www.facebook.com/Trunksnleaves Blog: asianelephant.wordpress.com Twitter: @AsianEle


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