Asian Elephant Conservation
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To rescue and breed Asian elephants in Sri Lanka
The island of Sri Lanka is situated south of the Indian sub-continent, covers about 65,000 km² and has a tropical climate. The human population is about 20 million and the government is democratically elected. The island recently suffered a three-decade-long civil war conflict. Agriculture is the main source of income and Colombo is the commercial capital. Sri Lanka is a global hotspot of biodiversity, but no wild species is the focus of greater affection or concern than the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).
The Asian elephant is one of the most endangered species of large mammals in the world, and Elephas maximus maximus, the sub-species in Sri Lanka, has enormous cultural and religious significance. The conflict between humans and elephants has become a serious conservation problem in Sri Lanka, where a combination of deforestation, agricultural expansion and human population growth has substantially reduced the available elephant habitat. The conflict has escalated in the recent past, with 160–170 elephants and 50–60 humans dying per year. According to Wildlife Department statistics, 238 elephants died due to intruding on human habitat in 2008 alone.
In 2003, the Vienna elephant and education team was invited to hold an elephant management training workshop in Colombo at Dehiwala Zoo and at the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. Thereafter, Vienna Zoo supported Dehiwala Zoo, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and Transit Home (an elephant rescue centre) with medications and veterinary equipment, from blow-pipes to high-tech equipment such as a machine for narcosis control and one for blood analysis, basic elephant care equipment as well as various binoculars.
In December 2004, the tsunami catastrophe hit, shaking the entire country. With international help, reconstruction began. Vienna Zoo played an active role here as the Friends of the Vienna Zoo funded not only private homes of park rangers, but also the construction of a ranger office at the eastern entrance to the Yala National Park. Thereafter, the government extended the protected region.
In July 2005, ASERC (Austrian Sri Lankan Elephant Research & Conservation Project) was founded by Dr. Harald M. Schwammer (Deputy Director, Vienna Zoo), Gaby V. Schwammer (Head of the Zoo Educational Department, Vienna Zoo), Brigadier H.A.N.T. Perera (former Director Department of National Zoological Gardens) and Lalith Seneviratne (HEC Project Pokunatenna).
ASERC marks a cooperative effort between Vienna Zoo and Sri Lankan experts in elephant research and management, veterinary medicine and technical resources. It conducts research and conservation on elephants in situ and ex situ and is designed to guarantee species-appropriate management and to help settle the animal–human conflict in habitat use.
Moreover, ASERC helps fund the elephant care centres in Sri Lanka and provides support in the form of experts in the veterinarian and management sectors.
WAZA Conservation Project 04022 receives financial support from Vienna Zoo, which also provides assistance for developing a new elephant keeping concept. There is cooperation with Dehiwala Zoo and Pinnawela on several research projects.
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