26th September marks the first birthday of Baby Dilmah – one of the two rescued elephant calves currently being sponsored by Dilmah Conservation at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Uda Walawe National Park. Following her rescue from a paddy field in Hambantota, Baby Dilmah was adopted by Dilmah Conservation as a part of its elephant conservation projects that look towards protecting this impressive species.

Dilmah’s involvement in elephant conservation began in 2009 at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Uda Walawe National Park. The ETH was established in 1995 by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) to care for orphaned wild elephant calves until they are independent and able to fend for themselves in the wild. In 2009 Dilmah Conservation assisted with the construction of an information centre at the ETH and worked with the DWC to develop a ticketing system. This ticketing system has enabled the ETH to generate a steady stream of revenue that feeds back into improving the facilities at the centre.

The very first ticket sold at the ETH was purchased by the CEO of Dilmah Tea PLC, Mr. Dilhan C. Fernando, and sold by the then wildlife minister Mr. Patali Champika Ranawaka. Ever since, Dilmah Conservation has been actively involved in elephant conservation initiatives aimed to alleviate the growing problem of human-elephant conflict in the country. Today Dilmah’s elephant conservation initiatives span from supporting the day to day operations of the ETH to propelling research on elephant migratory patterns and disseminating accurate scientific information to spread awareness on the plight of Sri Lanka’s elephants.

Dilmah’s work at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH)

The ETH has a calf adoption program to attract sponsors for rescued elephant calves. Dilmah Conservation frequently participates in this programme and is currently sponsoring the care of two orphaned elephant calves named Baby Dilmah and Ted -

Ted is named after the New Zealand All Blacks rugby coach Sir Graham Henry KNZM who has been a strong advocate of the Merrill J. Fernando Foundation’s work. Ted is four years old and will be released to the wild in 2019.

Baby Dilmah is a female calf that was recently found and rescued in a paddy field in the Hambantota region. On the 26th of September Dilmah Conservation celebrated the first birthday of Baby Dilmah – a significant milestone in her journey towards rehabilitation and independence at the ETH.

The ETH is located adjacent to the Uda Walawe reservoir and provides a diverse environment for both orphaned elephant calves and visiting wild elephants. The orphaned calves are fed milk every three hours, 365 days of the year and provided medical treatment until the age of 5 when they are released back into the wild. Since its opening the ETH has successfully cared for over 250 rescued wild elephants.

The elephant calves are fed human infant milk formula because a formula specific to the needs of elephant calves does not currently exist. Great care needs to be taken to boil and sterilise the water used to make the milk to avoid gastrointestinal upsets in the calves. The calves at the centre collectively consume 640 litres of Lactogen 2 milk every day. Therefore, milk powder costs present a major expense to the centre.

Since Dilmah’s first involvement with the centre, the Dilmah Conservation team has worked closely with the Department of Wildlife Conservation to maximise the number of calves the centre is able to rehabilitate. In 2011 Dilmah Conservation funded the renovation of the entire ETH and initiated a programme designed to train trackers and safari guides at the Uda Walewe National Park.

Dilmah Conservation also makes frequent donations of milk and any other required items to support the day to day operations of the centre. In 2014 Dilmah Conservation donated a state of the art solar powered water heater to help the centre easily and sustainably produce boiled water to make the staggering quantity of milk required each day.

Spreading awareness on the plight of Sri Lanka’s elephants

In 2014 Dilmah Conservation in collaboration with the MJF Charitable Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Dilmah Tea PLC) initiated a community pottery project at the ETH gift shop. The project aimed to improve the socio-economic status of the local community by providing a full-time source of income in a conservation related field.

The objective of the project was to produce sustainably sourced conservation-oriented products to be sold at the gift shop whilst also engaging the local community in learning more about elephant conservation. As part of this project Dilmah Conservation together with the MJF foundation conducts frequent workshops to educate the local community on the importance of, and threats faced by Sri Lanka’s unique elephants.

To solidify long-term commitment to the cause of elephant conservation, Dilmah Conservation initiated the renovation and refurbishment of the information centre ETH and undertook its upkeep. In 2016, Dilmah Conservation unveiled the newly refurbished information centre equipped with an extensive collection of publications and displays on topics that range from elephant origins and evolution, to elephant social behaviour and conservation threats.

The Dilmah Conservation Information Centre at the ETH provides an immersive learning environment for all age groups and has proven to be a great educational tool for teaching school children about elephants and the threats they face. Through the centre Dilmah Conservation aims to raise awareness on the escalating problem of human-elephant conflict and disseminate accurate scientific information that can help curtail the problem.

Dilmah’s elephant conservation research programme

To Celebrate World Elephant Day on the 12th August 2017, Dilmah Conservation partnered with the Centre for Conservation Research (CCR) to undertake a long-term project to study the migration patterns of Sri Lanka’s elephants.

The project utilised advanced radio collars to monitor the movement of elephants over time and gather detailed information regarding the ranges and migratory behaviour of elephants in Sri Lanka. With the help of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the CCR and Dilmah Conservation successfully attached radio collars to two elephants in the Yala national park. The first elephant to be collared was Dushya, an adult female elephant belonging to the elephant Gamunu’s herd, followed by a second female named Rolli.

Recent studies show that 52% of all elephant calves under the age of 5-years-old die of starvation due to the scarcity of fodder in the Yala National Park. According to Dr Prithiviraj Fernando (Chairman - Centre for Conservation and Research) this is caused by action taken in 2004 to stop human-elephant conflict by driving elephants out of Forest Department areas and confining them in national parks by way of electric fences. Not only has this measure failed to address human-elephant conflict in the villages adjoining the Forest Department areas it has also contributed to the rapid decline of Sri Lanka’s unique elephant population.

By better understanding elephant movement patterns and behaviours more informed decisions can be taken to mitigate human – elephant conflict. Through this project Dilmah Conservation hopes to enable Dr Prithiviraj and his team to set the ground work for elephant migration behaviour studies and establish a solid scientific framework for elephant conservation initiatives in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) are one of the four unique species found in Asia. At a population size of less than 6000, they are currently one of the most endangered land mammals on the island and face the very real threat of extinction. Human-elephant conflict is rapidly increasing in Sri Lanka due to increasing land use by humans. It is estimated that approximately 250 elephants are killed each year due to clashes with humans over territory. Immediate targeted action needs to be taken to stem this mounting problem and protect one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic flagship species.

Dilmah Conservation was founded in 2007 as an extension of Dilmah’s commitment to ensuring that all its operations are bound by a respectful and sustainable interaction with nature and the environment. To read more about Dilmah Conservation’s efforts in protecting Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and access Dilmah Conservations publications on Sri Lanka’s iconic elephants and the Uda Walawe National Park visit www.dilmahconservation.org.

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