Elephant foster parents in Sri Lanka

15 January 2010 | News story

In Sri Lanka, three elephants are killed every week as a result of human-elephant conflict, leaving behind defenceless orphans. To address this, IUCN State Member The Department of Wildlife Conservation has launched a novel foster parent scheme, where contributions from donors are used to shelter helpless young elephants in a transit home until they have reached an appropriate age to be released into the wild.

Elephas maximus maximus is a one of the subspecies of Asian elephant confined to Sri Lanka and has been officially identified as an endangered species. Find out more about Asian elephants on the IUCN Red List website.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation launched their foster parent scheme to build on their successful Elephant Transit Home project established in 1995, which rehabilitates orphaned baby elephants. Human-elephant conflict and various illegal human activities often cause female elephants to orphan their babies, and some of these then become wounded. The majority of these orphaned babies require immediate veterinary care if they are to survive. When they are physically strong enough they are then taken to the Elephant Transit Home (ETH).

The Elephant Transit Home is a veterinary hospital complex and wild animal rehabilitation centre managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. It is located in a corner of the Udawalawe National Park in the Sabaragamuwa Province. As the baby elephants are being rehabilitated for introduction into the wild, the centre aims to maintain as little human contact as possible. An observation platform has been built to allow the general public to observe the elephants without disturbing them.

The baby elephants are provided sufficient water for both drinking and playing, which is important factor in reducing stress. The babies are able to graze freely during the day and there is a feeding programme scheduled at 3 hour intervals where they receive specially formulated milk. Maintenance work and the cost of milk are major expenses and the centre is grateful to the national and international wildlife enthusiasts who have donated support for the infrastructure and building work. Additional support for maintenance costs is sought through the foster parent scheme.

Rehabilitation takes place when the elephants are 4-5 years old. They are released back into protected areas to become acclimatised to their new habitats and become self-sufficient. The elephants also wear collars to monitor their movements and behavioural patterns. Rehabilitation success depends on integration with wild herds.

For more information about how to get involved in the foster parent scheme, please contact Mr. W.A.D.A.Wijesooriya, Director General, Department of Wildlife Conservation, Government of Sri Lanka via the contacts on their website or via the IUCN Sri Lanka Office.