REQUEST A CALL BACK

UK: +44 (0)1903 502595 | USA: 1-603-574-4935 info@travellersworldwide.com

SRI LANKA

ELEPHANT AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IN WASGAMUWA NATIONAL PARK IN SRI LANKA

The main aim of thise project is to "save elephants, other biodiversity and their habitats by helping people".The activities on this project are diverse - one moment you could be observing elephants overnight in a tree-house, and the next you could be helping to reduce human-elephant conflict within the national park.

A real gem of a project! If you want to go back to the very basics, in a stunningly beautiful part of the world, helping local people and the local wildlife this project is perfect for you. You’ll do work that is really valued and that makes a significant difference to people’s lives. And the location is breathtaking!

SUMMARY: THE BASICS

Price: £1,545 (approx. US$1,945) for 2 weeks
£1,895 (approx. US$2,385) for 3 weeks
£2,245 (approx. US$2,825) for 4 weeks
£350 (US$440) for each additional week.
Excludes flights. Please see Full Price List & prices in other currencies
Duration: From 2 weeks to 12 weeks or longer, subject to visa requirements.
Start Dates and Availability: All year round. Projects start every Monday. You should arrive in Sri Lanka on the Sunday before your chosen start date.
Requirements: Minimum age 18. No qualifications or experience required, but you will need to be reasonably fit as you will walk or cycle up to 10-15 km each day over rugged terrain – in the heat this can be very tiring!
What's included: Arranging your Programme
Full pre-departure support and assistance
Payment Protection insurance
Accommodation
Food
Meeting you at the nearest Airport
Transfer to your accommodation
Daily transport to and from your Project
Local in-country team support and backup
24-hr emergency support
Free T-Shirt
Certificate of Completion
What's not included: Flights, Insurance, Cost of Visas, accommodation in Colombo on Sunday night (your day of arrival) and Saturday night (on departure), Return transfer to airport.
Who can do this Project? All projects are open to all nationalities.
Suitable for gap years or those taking a year out, grown-up gappers, career breakers, anyone interested in conservation and caring for animals and working with wildlife overseas. Suitable if you want to learn about rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife and doing voluntary work with elephants, projects abroad or study abroad.
May also be suitable for university credit or requirement.
Also available as a summer placement or a short break activity.

WHAT YOU'LL GAIN FROM DOING THIS PROJECT

  • An exciting opportunity to travel, see the world and experience a foreign culture first-hand.
  • New skills, more confidence and invaluable personal and professional development.
  • An in-depth understanding of elephant conservation.
  • The enormous satisfaction of knowing that your work is contributing to wildlife conservation and that you made a difference.
  • An opportunity to take a break from the traditional academic track or your current career path in order to gain life experience and global cultural awareness
  • An entry on your CV or Résumé that will enhance your career opportunities and make you stand out from the crowd.
  • Make friends, form relationships and build memories that will last a lifetime.
  • Opportunities to enjoy some exciting adventure and cultural activities while on your programme.
  • And best of all ... an unforgettable experience!
BOOK NOW! SEE ALL PROJECTS IN SRI LANKA info@travellersworldwide.com

ANY QUESTIONS?

Please fill in the form below. If you haven't heard from us within one working day, please check your Junk Mail / Spam folder.

Please tick the 'I'm not a robot' box below. It helps to stop spam. Then don't forget to click the SUBMIT button afterwards. Thank you :-)
BACK TO TOP

WORK CONTENT AND DESCRIPTION

The work you can get involved in is diverse and fascinating. It also covers a broad range of elements and activities. You’ll be conducting all the work yourself, but will, of course, have the supervision and guidance of either the project researcher or his assistant.

You’ll also monitor the ‘ele-alert’ electric fence. This fence greatly reduces the human-elephant conflict in the area as it protects the locals’ farmland, which is their livelihood. The elephants are kept out by the electric fences and are in turn, protected themselves (as they are not ruining the local populations livelihood, the locals have no reason to attack and hurt the elephants.)

The project has a broad scope and volunteers will help out in any of the research projects and operational needs summarized below to accomplish the objectives of the Society. Not all these activities will be available at one time – you’ll likely be involved in several, or a selection, depending on the needs of the conservation society we work with. Below is a list of the current activities, but some of these can change depending on what is required at the time you’re there and on other factors, such as the weather.

ELEPHANT RESEARCH:

  • Tank (where the elephants bathe) monitoring
  • Trail transects (a hike to identify if elephants have been in the area) on the trails that range from 5-10 kilometres on undulating to steep terrain.
  • Road transects outside (buffer zone) of the national park.
  • Park ID - identification of elephants within the park
  • Fence monitoring - in both Pussellayaya and Weheragalagama
  • Observations of elephants from tree hut and at tanks.

GIS RESEARCH:

  • Identification of trails which predators / prey species use
  • Biodiversity mapping
  • HEC mapping
  • Analysis of GIS data from all other research projects

SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND AGRO/SOCIAL FORESTRY RESEARCH:

  • Village Headman (GND) Surveys
  • HEC (Human-Elephant Conflict) assessment surveys
  • Project Orange Elephant (alternative crops project that is providing locals with oranges to farm as well as their usual crops. Elephants do not eat citrus fruits, so even if the farmland was destroyed by elephants the livelihood of the locals would not be ruined as they still have the oranges to sell.

FARMING & AGRICULTURE:

  • Data on farming operations (such as number of eggs produced, milk production, health issues, paddy/fruit production)

OPERATIONS AND BASIC HOUSEKEEPING:

  • Cleaning and maintenance of vehicles, bicycles and other equipment
  • Clearing / Cleaning of field bases and equipment
  • Packing / Storing and Stock taking of all equipment before departure of groups of volunteers / at least every two months.

The work is vigorous and also mentally challenging at times, due to the warm and humid climatic conditions (especially in summer) - but it is extremely satisfying and rewarding! There can be a lot of physical activity involved in the project, you may be walking up to 10 kilometres a day and / or cycling up to 15 kilometres a day!

PROJECT START AND FINISH DATES:
The project starts on the first and third Monday of each month throughout the year. You should arrive at Colombo Airport on the Sunday before your chosen start date. You'll be picked up at the airport and taken to your accommodation for the night. Please note your accommodation for this night is not included in the project cost and you will have to arrange this yourself (we can assist you with this). The following morning you'll be picked up by the Wasgamuwa team bright and early (around 6am) and taken to your project.

For your first night in Colombo, the project recommends the Hotel Shalimar, a 3 star hotel with reasonable pricing roughly 20 km from Colombo International Airport It offers air-conditioned rooms with free Wi-Fi, 24-hour front desk, a restaurant and bar. If you wish to find your own accommodation, please note you will have to make your own way to the Fort Railway Station in Colombo by a 6 am on the Monday.

Return transfers from Wasgamuwa to Colombo are arranged on Saturdays. We advise spending the night in Colombo then flying out on Sunday or continue on with your travels.

REQUIREMENTS: CAN YOU DO THIS PROJECT?
Please bear in mind that this project is suitable for those people who enjoy reading and solitude as there is nothing to do in the evenings except socialise with the other volunteers! BUT, if you want to gain an excellent cultural experience that is worthwhile and gives you much, much more than you'd get as a mere tourist, then this is an excellent placement.

TRANSPORT:
Transport will be in the form of a jeep, bicycle or by foot. Getting around means that bicycles are essential as the main form of transport. Buses run from the region to Kandy, Dambulla and Colombo – taking approximately 5 to 9 hours. Buses run more frequently to Hettipola, which is the nearest town, located about 45 minutes away from the site. There are two 3-star hotels about 10-15 minutes bike ride away, one serving excellent Chinese food and the other having a nice pool and bar for some very welcome chilled drinks after a hot days work!

VOLUNTEERS IN ACTION - SAVING ELEPHANTS BY HELPING PEOPLE

Waiting by the WG Tank to observe and record data on elephants

Data sheets ready to identify elephants

Observing elephants

A curious bull elephant

Taking photos for the Elephant ID Catalogue

Ecologist Chandima showing how the data helps to develop conservation measures

ACCOMMODATION

You'll live in a remote village called Pussellayaya on the outskirts of the National Park, located around 7 hours east of Colombo. The community is mostly dependant on paddy farming for its livelihood and as such the way of life here is very simple - you'll need to be prepared to 'get back to basics' and to live like the villagers.

"The open floor plan allows for air to flow freely throughout the house, and it made me feel like we were a part of nature."

The Wasgamuwa house is very basic. The makeup of the house is the first thing you notice. You really do feel like you are in the wilderness! The house is very open to the outdoors, but don’t worry - the makeup of the house is perfectly sufficient and the openness keeps the house cool during the hot spells of the day and dry during the storm.

The house has five bedrooms, you may have your own room but dependent on the number of volunteers, you are likely to share with at least one other volunteer. There are mosquito nets, a fully functional bathroom with a shower (cold water only), a sink and a Western style toilet. The accommodation has recently been modernised and there is now electricity, fans and Wi-Fi internet!

Wi-Fi / Internet: There is Wi-Fi / Internet available, but you will have to take your own devide (with a wireless card) and you will have to purchase air-time top-up cards, which will give you surfing time.

It's also possible that you may stay in a another field site near to the Wasgamuwa National Park, depending on the number of volunteers on the project and your activities and research - this would usually only be for a limited time.

You are welcome to bring your Laptop with you as the field house has electricity and quite good wireless Internet connectivity.You'll be able to stay in contact with your friends and family.

FOOD:
Your food will be freshly cooked by the house caretaker and his wife. Neither of them speak very much English but a smile goes a long way! They are both lovely and love looking after you! The food is basic but delicious! The food usually consists of vegetarian curries, which are made milder than they would for themselves – but there is still a kick to them!

I couldn’t write this account without mentioning the fantastic food we are given three times a day. Delicious and sometimes unusual Sri Lankan fare is plentiful every day. I shall definitely miss those wonderful curries. Thank you so much Leila, Leela and Swarna for helping make the field house feel like home. Sheree Mitchell

There is also a shop about 5 minutes away from the field house, where you can stock up on snacks and cold drinks for your sugar fix! There is a fridge in the house, which can be used to store all your food.

Here are some photos from my placement. There are a few photos in there from the weekends. Me and the other volunteers usually go exploring on the weekends, our first weekend we visited the golden temple in Dambulla and climbed Pidurangala Rock, the views were amazing! The weekend just gone, we spend a night in Kandy, visiting the markets, and a cultural dance and fire walking show. Transport is cheap and fairly easy, and the guys at the field house are always happy to give you a hand with organising. Rhiannon Harkin

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

YOUR SAFETY, SUPPORT AND BACKUP:
Read important information about the Support & Backup you receive before you leave and during your programme.

Read about the Safety and Security measures we take to ensure your safety and wellbeing while on our programme.

WHAT THE PROJECT GAINS FROM YOUR VOLUNTEERING:
The volunteer program is an integral component of the sustainable initiatives we are implementing in Sri Lanka. There has been a completely new economic development at the local level just based on the volunteer program. You can observe this in the growth and development of so many of the local stakeholders who are directly and indirectly benefiting from the program.

Even for the Wasgamuwa National Park we provide their biggest revenue. Ravi Corea, President and Founder.

ABOUT WASGAMUWA NATIONAL PARK:
The location is amazing, with breathtaking scenery and wildlife set in the remote hinterland of the island, given the accolade – by natives – as the most beautiful part of Sri Lanka. This placement is ideal if you enjoy wildlife and the outdoors - there is plenty to keep you occupied in this beautiful region. The surrounding jungles and villages can be explored easily by foot or bike and trips to other parks in the region can be arranged.

This beautiful and untamed region is full of photo opportunities - outstanding rivers, lakes and wildlife that make for a photographer's paradise. There is no other entertainment, thus you'll enjoy serenity and spending time alone.

The Maduru Oya National Park, which is about an hour away by jeep, is renowned for its Elephant population and Elephant sightings during an organised safari are very common - the amount of wildlife in this area of Sri Lanka is just incredible! This is a remote area with very basic facilities but will give you a true Sri Lankan experience.

This project is run by one of Sri Lanka's top Conservation Societies and is enormously beneficial to the local people and environment. They have won the United Nations Development Programme's prestigious Equator Prize. The Award honours community-based projects that represent outstanding efforts to reduce poverty through conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The teaching project in Wasgamuwa was initiated as a way of reducing the human-elephant conflict in the region. Through community participation the Project aims to resolve this conflict over the coming years. The on-going goal is to increase the level of English amongst villagers.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BOOK YOUR PLACEMENT?
Once you have applied for a placement, we'll contact you and send you our Welcome Pack. You'll also receive Log-on details and password for our Volunteer Extranet where you'll have access to all the documentation and information which we've put together to facilitate preparations for your adventure! Your Project Co-ordinator for your country will liaise with you throughout the arrangements process, as well as while you're on your placement and on your return home.

The documents you'll have access to also include a Country Factfile, Safety Guide and any manuals that may assist you on your particular programme (e.g. Teaching Guide, Sports Manuals, Enrichment Suggestions for Animal Care, etc.). We do all we can to make your stay one that you'll never forget. This is a truly awesome, elegant and beautiful country.

On Your Arrival: When you arrive you will be welcomed by a member of staff who will take you to your accommodation and introduce you to everyone. During your first few days you'll be given an induction so that you can learn about the country and its culture, as well as other useful information, like how to use the transport system, banks, safety issues, tipping, and lots more.

FIELD REPORT:
25 November, 7.00 p.m.: Night observations of elephant behavior WG Tank, Wasgamuwa, Sri Lanka

It seems dominant bulls undergo a Jekyll and Hyde transformation in the darkness of the night. By 7 pm night has descended and with no moonlight the entire area was in total darkness. We were in the Land Rover which we had parked as close as we could get to the elephants. As we stayed quietly in the vehicle the grazing elephants gradually advanced and were all around us—some just touching distance. As darkness engulfed us we could barely discern the elephants. They disappeared from view and only their sounds were there to keep us company.

Turning on the night vision we observed the elephants. The night vision observations gave an amazing insight into elephant behavior especially of the dominant bulls. We observed that the large dominant bulls had undergone a remarkable change in their behavior. The normally placid and sedate bulls became boisterous big bullies chasing cows and trying to separate the young calves from their mothers.

Several times we faced a tensed situation as some of these cows came running towards the Land Rover with a towering massif of a bull chasing after them. In the darkness we were concerned whether the elephants would crash into our vehicle. Fortunately every time the elephants managed to evade the Land Rover and run past us without causing any mishaps.

BOOK NOW! SEE ALL PROJECTS IN SRI LANKA info@travellersworldwide.com DOWNLOAD THIS INFORMATION in .pdf How to Fundraise for your Program

ANY QUESTIONS?

Please with any questions and include your phone number, if possible, to help us give you the best possible response.

We'll get back to you very shortly, but if you haven't heard from us within one working day, please check your Junk Mail / Spam folder. Thank you.

BACK TO TOP

OPTIONAL ADD-ON ACTIVITIES:

Make the most of your time there! To help you do that, we've put together some exciting activities, courses and tours that you can add to your itinerary. These are designed to be fun, but also to enable you to learn, and expand your personal and professional development enjoyment ... but mostly for your enjoyment! :-)

An Elephant Experience at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka

1-WEEK ELEPHANT EXPERIENCE AT PINNAWALA ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE:
Price: £595 for 1 week
includes food and accommodation, plus transfer to and from the Elephant Orphanage.

The Elephant Orphanage is a sanctuary for over 80 retired, abused or orphaned elephants. Visitors from all over the world come to see these magnificent animals. At times, there are also some small babies who have been born into the herd. The daily highlight is the walk from the Orphanage to take the herd down to the river to bathe the elephants. It's amazing to watch an entire herd splashing around and rolling in the river, just a few feet in front of you!

This project is an elephant experience, rather than elephant conservation ... and it is an awesome experience! You'll have about 3 to 4 hours manual work each day and you'll also get to wash and hose down several Elephants. In the late morning or afternoon, you'll usually go down to the river and spend about 3 hours amongst the Elephants. You can watch them relaxing, play with them and sometimes help to bathe them. Your main duties will include:

  • Mucking out the elephant enclosures in the morning (this is hard, muddy work!)
  • Participating in bathing some of the smaller elephants.
  • While the mahouts are bathing the larger elephants, you will be able to relax by the river, chat to the mahouts and watch the elephants play and interact with humans and each other. This is an absolutely beautiful sight and being around these serene animals in such a beautiful setting can have a very calming effect!
  • You'll also have up to two opportunities per week to feed the beautiful baby elephants.
  • There may also be the opportunity to do other things around the orphanage, however this is subject the amount of work available at the orphanage at the time of your project.

Book Now

Warsini the elephant raiding the bins in Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Terms and Conditions apply for Add-Ons, please see here.

SEE ALL PROJECTS IN SRI LANKA info@travellersworldwide.com

BACK TO TOP

LOCATION | SIGHTSEEING:

We cannot BEGIN to tell you how beautiful this paradise island is! Nor how cheap to live and get around. It is almost too good to be true! But it is true.

Towering Pagodas, Hindu temples and ancient fortresses to holy rivers and sacred mountains. The local people are very welcoming and friendly, especially in the rural areas. The tea plantations are a must, the lace making, monuments and architectural splendours, etc., but the most appealing is the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala. Not to be missed! It's an emotive sight that you'll never forget!

LOCATION: THE WASGAMUWA AREA:
There is a lot to do and see if you enjoy wildlife and the outdoors. The Maduru Oya National Park is also about an hour away by car. This park is renowned for its wild elephant population. The surrounding jungles and villages can be explored easily by foot or bike. Sri Lanka’s longest river is about 20 minutes away and tubing (travelling a few kilometres down the river in an inner-tube) is safe and great fun - except during the rainy season!

Sigiriya, Polannaruwa, Nuwera Eliya, Dambulla and Kalkudah Beach are all about 3-4 hours bus ride away.

To cool off, you can hire a van and go to the Knuckles Range which, at 5,000 feet, is much cooler! It is about 70 minutes away with beautiful areas to hike and plenty of cool streams to bathe in. The temperature drops to a comfortable 20-28 degrees at this altitude. The Field staff at the project will be able to help you plan any trips you want to take. They have a wealth of knowledge on the local area and Sri Lanka in general.

SRI LANKA'S FANTASTIC BEACHES!
Sri Lanka has miles and miles of amazing beaches. Some of our favourites are:

MIRISSA: Perhaps a contender for the most beautiful beach in the world. Long, deserted and hot. You know you have got away from it all as you sit and watch the sunset over this horizon…The snorkelling is also incredible here.

NEGOMBO: To the north of Colombo lies Negombo, a busting fishing town with golden beaches and a pallet of colour provided by sails and boats against the deep blue of the ocean.

UNAWATUNA: A sleepy peaceful cove with deep still water and a temple overlooking the bay from the protecting cliffs.

HIKKADUWA: A long stretch of beach with plenty of hostels, restaurants and some nice bars, not forgetting the impromptu beach parties held on the beach front bars blaring Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Led Zeplin and many other classics! Sri Lanka is a conservative island brimming with culture and Hikkaduwa offers an exciting opportunity to holiday for the odd celebratory weekend! Many a volunteer birthday has been seen in over Hikkaduwa cocktails. You can also body board and even surf on this beach.

ARUGAM BAY: This tiny fishing village is Sri Lanka’s newest hot spot and hosts the best surfing and an easy going happy party atmosphere. With its wide sweeping beach in front of the village and year round gorgeous swimming it is no surprise that this bay has developed into a low budget travellers haunt.

ADRENALIN JAUNTS:
White Water Rafting:
Sri Lanka’s boulder stream rivers are the ideal setting for white water rafting. This is the best way to see the stunning environment what this region has to offer. Many tours are available and many begin with days of action, rafting the white waters. This high adventure is suitable for fish time ‘go for it’ rafters and experts alike. Rafting has become a very popular exciting yet safe adventure sport option.

Rock Climbing and Mountaineering:
Mountaineering is an adventure sport that requires skills and levels of fitness that few other adventure sports can match. The mountain ranges in Sri Lanka offer breath taking, enthralling, climbing routes. Climbing is all about discovering the natural world around and with you.

Hiking and Trekking:
There’s no better way to explore the natural scenic beauty of this island with diverse climatic zones. Trekking is an excellent way to explore a country, people, their traditions and beliefs. Paths and campsites have been set up to give nature lovers the experience of a lifetime. All possible steps are taken to ensure local community benefit and nature conservation in keeping with all international camping guidelines.

Canoeing & Kayaking:
This relatively new sport is rated as the most adventurous of all adventure sports. It involves descending a stream as it drops over waterfalls and boulders. In Sri Lanka they have low waterfalls for beginners and some as high as 700 feet for the very experienced - all surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

CLIMATE:
The driest and best seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come, the majority of them escaping the European winter.

The coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy expanses as far as the eye can see. The Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Then there are the ruins, ancient and inspiring architecture in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to satisfy any archaeologist.

TRAVEL:

Read about Travel arrangements and what happens when you arrive in your new country.

REVIEWS AND FEEDBACK:

REBEKAH SMITH
American
Elephant Conservation in Wasgamuwa National Park

Coming to volunteer was the best decision I have ever made. I was very nervous about how I would adapt to living here, would I be able to complete the activities, and how I would get along with the staff and other volunteers. After spending 4 extra days in Colombo waiting for my lost luggage, I was anxious and excited to finally get to the field house. Chinthaka and Sampath came to meet me at my hotel and took me out to dinner. They were so nice and their enthusiasm was infectious. I felt comfortable with the two of them. They made the 12 hour drive to the field house seem fun and easy.

We arrived at the field house after midnight when everyone was already in bed. That was my first time meeting Siriya and I could tell what a kind and caring man he was. I immediately climbed under my net into bed, had a brief conversation with my new roommates, Remy and Natalie, and fell asleep.

The next morning my first time seeing the field house in the light was a shock, completely different than any home I’ve ever been in. I joined my fellow volunteers for breakfast. It only took me a short time to get the routine down. My first day we left at 9.00 a.m. to do a transect.

I had no idea what to expect but I knew I needed a positive attitude. My jaw dropped after seeing the jeep we were riding in. I was certain I would fall out. The ride to the elephant corridor was amazing. I quickly learned we need to wave at the children we pass by.

We arrived at our transect site and I had no idea what to expect. Remy, Natalie, Becca, Kirsty, and Thomas were all very helpful. They let me just observe them before I started to participate. This was my first time meeting Supun and Sarath. I noticed the friendship between them and the volunteers and I wondered if I would develop the same relationship. They were very helpful, explaining what they found while Kirsty explained the data recording to me.

The hike was easy and the surroundings were beautiful. It was a successful first activity. When we got home we all sat in the common area and spent time getting to know each other.

Our afternoon activity was going to the tree hut. Once I saw it I got so nervous. I’ve never climbed a tree hut before! But everyone was helpful, telling me which branch to grab and where to put my feet. We were all huddled up there together. Some read, some were on their phone. I wasn’t sure what to do. But when it was time to record, everyone immediately paid attention. Again, my fellow volunteers showed me what to do.

I haven’t gotten used to the spiciness of some of the food but it is always really good. One thing I love about having a lot of volunteers is splitting up and having a choice of afternoon activity. I like the hike Chathuranga started taking us on up the mountain where the monk is. By far, the most exciting experience of my life was getting charged by the bull by the lake. I have never been so scared in my life but I fully trusted Chathuranga and Sampath to get us through it safely.

The staff are like a family to me at this point and I will be really sad when it’s time for me to go home. I love everyone.

WENDY FRANKCOM
British
Elephant Conservation in Wasgamuwa in Sri Lanka

I spent 2 months in beautiful Sri Lanka, working as a volunteer with 3 different placements. Having recently retired gave me the opportunity to do something exciting. Last year, my granddaughter had a gap year and went travelling. I loved following her adventures; when I was young, few people were able to have that kind of experience. This year she looked after my house and cat while I had my turn.

Is just so breathtakingly beautiful. Travelling on the long bus journey I was transfixed watching the amazing scenery as we travelled deeper into this remote area, seemingly far away from any habitation- yet as we travelled along by the river, seeing so many people down in the water bathing or doing their laundry. This blend of the remoteness, yet observing people going about their lives, ran throughout the experience at Wasgamuwa.

Bandara the Tuk Tuk driver met me from the bus and insisted on taking me all the way to the field house; despite my offers to walk when I couldn't believe a little vehicle could get up the steep, deeply rutted tracks we came to. He knows the place well and somehow delivered me safely. The house itself is unlike anywhere I encountered before, covered with a roof but open to the elements at the side, offering an amazing view over the lake.

I spent many hours just watching the scenery, starting the day by watching the sun come up and the multi-coloured sky gradually getting lighter from my favourite spot on a hill just above the house, back down to the house to sit outside watching the numerous birds who visited first thing in the morning. Sitting in the sunshine looking over the lake after lunch, and in the early evening as the sun went down. And the stars are so bright at night when there is no light pollution, and there are little fluorescent fireflies to see, and bats swooping down.

As we travelled around, we saw the villagers busy working at harvesting the rice which is the major crop in the area. The sheer scale of this operation, largely carried out by hand as has been done for generations, was amazing to watch. The projects understanding of the traditions and economics of the farmer population is central to its approach .With the field staff, we were able to visit villagers and see the ways they are working to develop alternative agriculture that is less vulnerable to elephants and can help provide additional sources of income.

Every day was different. We trekked through jungle tracking elephants, learnt to inspect elephant dung to identify what they had eaten, checked sand traps and cameras for evidence of wildlife activity, maintained fences and spent afternoons up in the treehouse recording elephant and human movement. Some days we cooled off after our treks with a wonderful dip in the lake. Not sure how local women manage to keep themselves covered with a sarong in the water-if I tried I'm sure it would fall off! I just jumped in with my clothes on-feels great and you don't get cold going home wet in Sri Lankan heat.

The field staff are so knowledgeable about the area, identifying birds, plants and the contents of elephant poo with impressive skill! It's been brilliant learning about the different projects people are working on and the range of levels involved, from day to day data collection to discussions with government. All volunteers participate in collecting data, which informs a variety of ongoing initiatives based at the Fieldhouse. So we all play a small part in a bigger, positive impact.

For some people, time here is part of their route to careers in conservation. But there is room for people like myself, with no special skills but willingness to try anything. It was an amazing experience, quite unlike anywhere I'd encountered before. I had a wonderful time and have learnt so much.

The project description did give good preparation for this experience. Only disappointment was not having a bicycle and that we were driven to the day’s site in the jeep. Apparently this is now the way it works. So the physical demands were less than suggested, but some days did involve quite strenuous hikes in very steep, rugged territory. No bikes available though. I'd have loved the independence one would have given for exploring locally.

I was able to get a bus to Hettipola on my first weekend there. 2nd weekend I did feel I could do with independent time. Dambulla and Sigyriya made a good weekend trip, a couple of hours bus ride away ( thanks to Sampath's heroic offer to drive me to town to catch a bus at 5.30a.m.) And I was able to hire for a bike there and spent a happy afternoon cycling around Sigyriya.

I've had a fantastic time in Sri Lanka and volunteering gave me so much more than just a holiday. Travellers information enabled me to be well prepared and choose projects that were right for me, and all the arrangements worked smoothly and stress-free. I'll definitely do it again; the only difficulty will be deciding where to go when there are so many possibilities!

I'd be happy to talk to anyone else thinking about volunteering: it's not just for teenage gap years. I'd love to encourage more oldies like me to give it a try.

IAN VOYSEY
British
Elephant Conservation in Wasgamuwa National Park

My time at Wasagamuwa: It is funny that even when standing on a plateau watching a beautiful sunrise over the Sri Lankan plains and a smorgasbord of exotic birdlife on offer, I still spend some considerable moments watching the all too recognisable statuesque figure of the Grey Heron; a bird I have seen regularly since I was a boy. Even now, I can see a solitary, shadowy figure waiting for its prey and still grabbing my attention despite my familiarity with the bird and the three magnificent peacocks who are giving it a run for its money!

The reason I am contemplating this is because, as I sit overlooking the lake with my cup of tea I realise that my thoughts have turned to home. It is by no means a rare sight, to see an Englishman abroad dreaming of England but in this case it is not a negative emotion but a complementary one.

For me, my memories of England, with its grand history and beautiful countryside makes me appreciate where I am and what I am doing all the more. The staff at Wasgamuwa share the same passion for their cause with environmentalists worldwide and more importantly, have a passion for teaching others, an essential part of conservation. Everyday that I have spent here has impressed me, taught me something new and challenged my outlook on the world. It is not only with regards to the spectacular that the Wildlife Conservation Society achieves its goals but with the little things as well.

The presence of a kettle and basic supplies can make a world of difference to one’s attitude towards the day. The accommodation is simple but comfortable and the easy-going nature of each task makes every day here a joy.

However, it is the spectacular that will bring people to this far-off place. The prime attraction of the area is the wild elephants which roam around bringing both delight and despair. The aim of the project is to reduce the human/elephant conflict which is taking its toll on both parties. Tasks here consist primarily of monitoring this conflict by searching for dung, prints and the creatures themselves in order to see if the measures being taken are working.

It almost goes without saying that the elephants themselves are worth seeing. They are more graceful than one would imagine and can move with surprising stealth. When out in the open you can really appreciate just how beautiful and seemingly tranquil these creatures can be. In spite of this, you should not let this fool you as elephants can and will threaten humans which is one of the causes of the conflict. One morning an expedition to search for dung was cut short when an angry trumpet from the forest caused our normally relaxed guide to lead a swift march back to the Land Rover. It is unknown variables such as this which can make this experience so exciting and even when activities do get cut short one cannot complain as a fun alternative, such as swimming, can usually be found.

Last night as we were driving back from an afternoon in the tree hut, we spotted some Elephants on the opposite side of the lake. We drove round and sat at a distance where we could get out and watch them without disturbing them. For half an hour we stood and watched them feeding and washing in the dust. Taking a few moments to look away from them I noticed that over the lake, several white-fronted fish eagles were circling whilst on the shore a number of great white egrets, red-wattled lapwings, black-headed ibis’ and the ever familiar grey heron searched for food. On the lake itself, fisherman made their way back to the shore and the call for prayer sounded out.

Turning back to the Elephants, they had begun to melt back into the bushes, their performance over for the evening. The best thing about this experience is that I am only half way through and hopefully there is so much more to come.

The project receives a healthy number of volunteers, who are always accommodated well and are free to mingle during the generous amounts of free time. People looking for a hard graft will be disappointed, but as a location in which to connect with an environment and a community it is flawless.

Press Report on the Wasgamuwa Project in the Sunday Observer

English with a smile - In a unique teaching exercise the use of a parachute allows the children of Gamboraya village to "learn how to be cooperative instead of competitive, as there are no winners or losers.
by ROHAN CANAGASABEY

Being able to speak and understand English is the key to employment or business opportunities in the urban commercial sector. But in Sri Lanka's archaic learning-by-rote system, learning is not usually associated with fun and enjoyment.So when one sees giggling children running around a multi-coloured parachute as part of their English lesson, it is certainly worth investigating.

With the southern boundary of Wasgamuwa national park just behind them, a kilometre away, and with the peaks of the Knuckles mountain range, north of Kandy in sight, the children of Gamboraya village have for the last eight weeks been learning English the fun way, with two retired teachers hailing from the county of Hertfordshire, England.

Carole Bennett and Roberta Bird were here on a self-financing voluntary project organised by www.travellersworldwide.com of the UK, which was facilitated by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society's (SLWCS - www.slwcs.org) Saving Elephants by Helping People programme.

The connection between helping to conserve elephants and teaching English is understandably not obviously apparent. Gamboraya, like the other villages in this area, is a relatively new farming settlement, established in the last few decades, and consequently part of the human-elephant conflict zone, with the associated crop destruction and occasional tragic human deaths.

The main focus of SLWCS's work here is to maintain and continue expansion of solar-powered electric fences around threatened villages, whilst also researching wild elephant numbers and roaming patterns outside of Wasgamuwa national park nearby.

Facilitating the learning of English, argued SLWCS Project Director Chandeep Corea, gives farmers' children the option of seeking a livelihood other than through farming, thus eventually reducing the demand for cultivated land in this human-elephant conflict zone.

Though Ms. Bennett and Ms. Bird were not English teachers as such, at this level, when even native English speaking A-level school leavers are placed on voluntary teaching projects in many villages throughout most of Sri Lanka, they have brought a wealth of experience, particularly Ms. Bennett, who was involved in teacher training in the UK. And the use of a parachute, said Ms. Bennett, has been employed for some time in the UK, progressing from a single-colour military parachute to a specifically designed multi-coloured one, as it gained in popularity as an innovative method for teaching, at the basic level to young children.

Here in Gamboraya, the parachute was used in the under-12 class. It begins with the distribution of different coloured ribbons corresponding to some of the colours on the parachute. With Ms. Bennett and Ms. Bird at the helm, the children respond to instructions, which apply to one set of children at a time, depending on the colours of the ribbons given to them.

The actions asked and conducted by the children can range from running around the parachute, to running back and forth under it in the fastest possible time, sometimes after picking up a hat. At the end of the session, which included keeping a red ball in the air with the parachute, they all huddled together for a few seconds under it, in quick response to an instruction. And afterwards the children continue to linger, having enjoyed this once weekly novel teaching experience, as the other afternoon classes during the week are conducted in the classroom.

These two foreign volunteer teachers were assisted by local youth employed by SLWCS as field scouts, who in the morning conduct research into wild elephant roaming patterns a few kilometres away. Watching the young children of Gamboraya laughing and enjoying themselves, through this English lesson, on an overcast day recently, left me wondering if this was playtime or an actual lesson.

But there is serious side to this fun. As Ms Bennett explained, the use of the parachute allows the children to "learn how to be cooperative instead of competitive, as there are no winners or losers". In this case, it is achieved when children with one set of coloured ribbons have to cooperate, to complete the tasks.

The different coloured teams are created only to manage numbers, as they do not compete against each other. The other point, apart from encouraging cooperation instead of competition, is the obvious one, as "it is fun way to learn, using colours and numbers as well as enabling the children to understand and follow instructions", said Ms. Bennett. In the next class for the older children, Ms. Bennett and Ms. Bird also used role-play.

This for example, meant one of them holding their stomach and acting out being in pain, while the other went around the class with a card on which was written the words stomach ache. The children clearly enjoyed watching their teachers act out different words. Another method used in the classroom was interactive learning, and as it implies, an actively participatory way to learn English.

Whilst Ms. Bennett and Ms. Bird have finished their time here in Sri Lanka, and will very shortly be returning to their respective families in England, they leave behind with the children of Gamboraya, an eagerness to continue learning English, and hopefully, said Ms. Bennett, with other volunteer teachers from Travellers Worldwide.

On the question on what they had achieved in their eight weeks of teaching, both said that they had succeeded in giving the children confidence to speak in English, which they had already learnt at school, but were previously reluctant to use.

Perhaps there are lessons here in the teaching methods used by these retired teachers for the school teaching profession in general in Sri Lanka, that the Education Department should consider incorporating, as, a cooperative, fun and interactive way to learn could be achieved, with or without a parachute.

AIMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS:

The Challenges
Human-elephant conflict is one of the biggest socioeconomic and environmental problems in Sri Lanka. Even though the people of Sri Lanka and elephants have had an association that is nearly 5000 years old and the elephant is a living cultural and religious icon and symbol today, this association has become one full of strife and intense conflicts.

Annually elephants cause over US$10 million worth of crop and property damage to rural farmers. In retaliation farmers kill elephants. Every year on average 225 elephants are killed because of this conflict and elephants kill about 60-80 people every year as well. Most of these farmers are killed in their own villages, backyards and fields.

This is an alarming situation. HEC is pretty intense in Sri Lanka and is escalating practically every year.

Our Goals
The main threats elephants face in Sri Lanka are habitat loss due to clearing of forest for subsistence agriculture, poaching for ivory, illegal capture and retribution killing for raiding crops.

By providing volunteers to work in the Saving Elephants by Helping People Project, Travellers is helping to make elephants more valuable to the local communities alive rather than dead, by helping the project to engage, train and pay locals to be involved in their conservation, together with scientists and volunteers, and by helping to develop a sustainable tourism program in the area.

By engaging and working with locally recruited and trained field assistants the volunteers help to send a strong conservation message to the local communities to value and protect their environment and wildlife.

Our Achievements:
The support provided to the project by the volunteers and their contributions has made it possible for the us to establish projects that have helped to create co-existence between people and elephants.

One of these projects is Project Orange Elephant (POE) where they encourage farmers to cultivate crops such as oranges and limes that are not attractive to elephants so they have an alternative income when elephants destroy their rice crop. Since they have a supplementary income the farmers will feel less hostile towards elephants for destroying their rice crop.

The POE received a Most Innovative Development Project Award from the Global Development Network in June 2015. Due to the projects it has been possible to reduce human elephant conflicts by nearly 99% in the project region. Famers’ income has increased by 212 percent and today the most villagers’ have a more tolerant attitude towards elephants.