Responsible tourism: Elephant conservation in Sri Lanka
Asian elephant numbers have been falling dramatically for the last 100 years, in part due to human-elephant conflict. This project is the first participatory, community-based, elephant research and conflict resolution project in the world. The UNDP Equator Initiative awarded the project an Equator Prize in 2008. Volunteers are vital in the collection of field research and involvement in conservation activities, which develop strategies for elephant conservation, sustainable land use and to mitigate human-elephant conflicts.
The monetary contributions of the volunteers is what makes it possible for the wildlife research, conservation and community development programmes of this project to sustain themselves in the long term. These funds make it possible to conduct research, maintain field equipment, pay salaries of field staff, hire local youth to work on projects, help to maintain electric fences, and provide villagers with innovative land-use measures to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation by minimising their impact on the environment.
There is a common misconception that volunteering abroad must be a good thing and will positively benefit not just the volunteer but the host community and those involved. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The increased demand for volunteer placements in developing countries has been met by an influx of new projects and volunteer-sending organisations created purely to meet this demand. The result may cause devastating effects to local culture and result in the exploitation of both the volunteer and the host community.
This project strives to adhere to the strict Responsible Travel policy, and has been developed so that it addresses actual local needs and has the community’s needs at its heart. Understanding and respecting the host community is paramount to the success of any project as long term commitment, support and adoption of sound environment, economic and social practices. This project employs as many local people possible, making it sustainable socially as well as environmentally.