Born Free USA Global Field Projects
Recognizing the ongoing threat Asian elephants face due to conflict with humans, the Born Free Foundation has been working with communities in Rathambalagama, an area in the south of Sri Lanka’s bordering Udawalawa National Park since 2008.
Like all wildlife, elephants have no respect for lines on a map and frequently wander out of the confines of protected zones into surrounding areas. Crop-raiding elephants pose a very real threat to local livelihoods, with up to a quarter of annual income of farmers recently wiped out by elephants wondering through Rathambalagama farmland and eating crops such as rice, banana and coconut.\
Retaliation by rural communities when faced with this kind of conflict is common across Sri Lanka, and Born Free has been exploring the means to address this conflict, starting with Rathambalagama.
The main approach being developed by Born Free is the production of elephant-resistant crops in order to achieve a long-term reduction in the conflict and promote a change in attitude among communities living alongside elephants. This project is going from success to success (look out for a progress report soon).
However, recognizing the need for additional short-term measures in some instances, an electric fence system to protect 25 acres of vital rice paddy fields was set up in December. The farmers involved — the "Paddy Eight" team — supplied the fenceposts, wires and accessories, as well as the labor, and Born Free met the cost of the electrical equipment. The project was designed under the guidance of the local electricity board to ensure safety and the Paddy Eight now collectively maintain the fence and pay the monthly electricity bill.
The elephant fence works every night with no interruption, and although the marauding elephants continue to visit the area, the fenced plot has proved elephant proof. The Paddy Eight team harvested its complete, undamaged crop last month, and the relieved farmer families are preparing to celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year in mid April. Born Free Sri Lanka staff also took part in reaping the rice crop — a new experience for the team!