Ask any 5 people what makes the tropical island of Sri Lanka such an appealing and alluring country…. and you are likely to get 5 different answers.
This is because Sri Lanka has SO much diversity to offer.
For us, Sri Lanka’s wild elephants population has, from the very start, been a core part of our Sri Lankan experience.
We were enroute from Thailand to Southern India, when we first visited Sri Lanka for three weeks. We had discovered that Sri Lanka has a large wild elephant population and that was reason enough to change our plans and incorporate a stop.
On this first trip Peta fell in love with the baby elephant, Namal, at the Elephant Transit Center in Udawalawe.
This little guy had a tremendous impact on us, and we resolved to do what we could to help him get a better prosthetic leg, as what we saw was disheartening, to say the least.
To read about our first meeting with baby elephant Namal, and the story of his need for a prosthetic leg, read the blog post below…..
Then, in trying to come up with a solution for Namal, Ben went into a “deep dive” of all prosthetic technologies available, learning the pros and cons of 3D printing for both human and elephant prosthetics. This in due course eventually led us to a group of Sri Lankan professionals who are specialized veterinarians, prosthetic makers and elephant experts and animal activists.
Long story short, on our second trip to Sri Lanka, we met with this group and were fortunate to be there the very day baby Namal, then 4, and no longer the little guy, but rather a more robust version of his smaller self, got his first new prosthetic leg.
Peta’s task on the day of the fitting at the Elephant Transit Home, was to distract Namal with treats of watermelon, while a team of handlers lifted him in order to attach his new prosthetic leg.
For the blog story we wrote which describes in more detail how Namal got his new prosthetic leg, check out the post below…..
And today, March 20th 2017, as we open the local newspaper, there is a story about the elephant orphanage at Uduwalawe. The article has a paragraph about Namal as the first elephant in the world to receive a prosthetic hind leg. (The veterinarian specialist who heads the team, had worked in Thailand where he successfully made a prosthetic leg for an elephant there who needed a front leg.)
We are overjoyed to see that the Elephant Transit Home, (a phenomenal institution that has already cared for over 300 baby elephants) has been recognized in the media for it’s good work.
And our friend Namal has his very own page on the Ministry of Wildlife department’s website. The great part about this, is that the page will serve to hopefully attract more funding to support Namal’s need for new prosthetics twice a year as he keeps growing bigger and heavier.
Buoyed by the news that the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe has gotten the much needed visibility for its good work, from the Ministry of Wildlife, we start to consider a broader set of elephant centric issues that we need to better understand in order to perhaps contribute in some way.
There is much to do with regard to the well-being of elephants in Sri Lanka.
Of course, we are very aware of how complex achieving impact is, and we do not wish to seem flippant about what we think we can do to assist. So let’s say we are establishing the trajectory of where and how we would like to have impact…
Here are two of the major, complex issues and problems facing wild elephants in Sri Lanka today.
There is a recurring problem, every year, when droughts are severe, in Sri Lanka. The wild elephant population suffers directly from the lack of water, which translates into a lack of food. Elephants eat a tremendous amount of food and droughts impact their food source directly. So, not surprisingly, when there is a lack of rain, elephants start to reach out beyond their normal habitat in search of food and water. This leads to all sorts of human/elephant conflicts as elephants raid villages that were built by humans directly on the path of migrating elephants.
Perhaps technology can be deployed, such as desalination plants, that can take advantage of nearby sea water to provide potable water for elephant (and human) populations during droughts…
Elephant / Train collisions
There is a recurring problem in Sri Lanka, as there is in India, of trains hitting elephants, on a fairly regular basis. This is a heart-wrenching problem.
India has started to address this problem by deploying infra red cameras on its trains to act as early warning systems for the train conductor to slow down and avoid hitting elephants crossing train tracks. Perhaps such systems can be deployed in Sri Lanka as well.
So all this to say, we are very happy to share the news that Namal now has received an improved and functional prosthetic leg.
Many of you have followed Namal’s story on Green Global Trek and Peta’s Facebook page and have inquired as to his well being. Thanks to many of you we were also able to successfully raise money to help Namal. These funds will be donated to the ETH which is now set up to receive contributions.
We hope to visit Namal again at the center, sometime soon.