As of June 2008, over 60 orphaned elephants have been returned to the wild by the Elephant Transit Home which was opened in 1995 by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Ongoing tracking of these animals has revealed that one of the elephants released in 1998 has given birth to a calf in the wild, the ultimate goal of endangered species rehabilitation.
Threats to the Asian Elephant in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is faced with shrinking and degraded habitat. Irrigation programs for agriculture, which allow for human settlements in traditionally dry parts of the country, create problems for the Sri Lankan elephant population in several ways.
The encroachment of humans into this elephant habitat has resulted in increased human-animal conflict. Each year one hundred or more elephants are killed as a result of this conflict. Calves orphaned when females are killed are found starving and alone. Elephants, especially young animals, also fall into irrigation ditches and become trapped, resulting in separation from their herd.
Rehabilitation at the Elephant Transit Home
When orphaned elephant calves are found anywhere in Sri Lanka, they may be taken to the Elephant Transit Home, located within the Udawalawe National Park where they are cared for until ready for release to the wild.
Calves are hand reared but contact with humans is limited to individual caregivers. The young elephants are encouraged to browse on natural foods as soon as they are healthy, reducing the amount of contact with humans. They can then be integrated into herds when they are weaned at three years of age. Once a group of elephants has socially bonded, it is ready for release.
Release Back to the Wild in Udawalawe National Park
Herds of four to eleven elephants are released in various parts of Udawalawe National Park. Generally these groups stay together for several months, then disperse into wild herds within the park. Several members of each released group are radio collared so that they can be tracked to ensure that they are reintegrating successfully into the wild elephant population.
Adopt an Elephant Calf to Help This Important Project
Caring for elephant calves for three or more years is expensive. Born Free Foundation manages an adoption project that aids in covering those expenses. A gift pack including a certificate, framed photo and updates and information on the orphaned elephant is given to those that chose to help by donating to the adoption fund. The Department of Wildlife Conservation also accepts donations to the program.
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