The approach to sustainable mitigation of Human-Elephant Conflict in GonaganAra


Being employed in an Eco-Tourism Organisation is extremely rewarding if you have the right mindset to see it for what it is… Though like every other concept in the world, the topic is debated on its impact on nature. But if done the right way, as we at Eco Team the parent company of Mahoora do, it can bring marvellous benefits to nature and human societies both.

This is my experience, in my own words, as to how I became fortunate enough to be a part of an extraordinary project which is now on the verge of bearing fruits.

It all began a few months ago when we decided to write an article on our “Journeys” newsletter (another must-read... If you have some spare time). We wrote about one of our camp employees, Chaminda, who on a daily basis dodges the elephants to come and go back home from work facing the inevitable. This literally ignited a series of events that led us to this date of “renovating a fully abandoned reservoir” that could hold water approximately for about an 80-acre field.

The article inspired our long-standing business partner, Annemiek Van Gijn in the Netherlands, “All for Nature”, who came up with the funding to support a project where we would focus on mitigating the Human-Elephant Conflict in the area in a sustainable manner, where we get to help out both parties, elephants and humans alike.

As I am overlooking the Sustainability, CSR aspects of the Company and the  Sri Lanka Wilderness Foundation - Our non - for - profit for Nature Conservation, the moment I got the good news of funds arriving I got to work. 

With our CEO Anuruddha’s advice, Yasantha - Assistant Manager of Business Development, Nishanthi - our Manager for Ex Journeys and myself started gathering data and analyzing them to find the perfect area where we could start this as a pilot project.


We were able to narrow down our area of interest, to Buttala considering a few logistical factors but as soon as we started looking at the data we were shocked, literally. The number of human deaths, elephant death, and property /crop damage was just alarming. The most astonishing factor was the sheer amount of money that is being spent on the matter either as fencing/thunder crackers or as compensation for farmers via DWC which stacks up to almost 4750 Million Rupees annually. This is without counting the private sector expenditure on the matter.

This is the moment when we realized that this is not an easy task to do and also we should not be thinking the same way as everyone else has done in the past. We went back to the drawing board and looked at a different approach. We started contacting local government agents and DWC officers of the Buttala and gathering our own data.

 The major finding was that the traditional fencing methods along with 6 other methods were not proving effective at keeping the rogue elephants at bay when it comes to a large area of land. The elephant, being one of the smartest animals on the planet, knew how to overcome these to get to what they wanted, and while doing so caused horrendous damages usually concluding in either party’s death in a most unfortunate manner. After much discussion with the local Government Agent for the Buttala area, he introduced us to a very interesting character Mr Chaminda Attanayaka, a ranger assistant at the Gonaganara DWC office. After sitting down with him we understood that he had some quite interesting ideas and insights as to how to save both camps. Based on that we did our primary research visit around the area and gathered information.

We did not want to just go and do something on our own. We needed some scientific backing to see if what we were planning was something that would be effective. We met with two prominent biologists and conservationists in the country, Dr. Devaka Weerakoon, and Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando, who both pointed out that a proper Population Count of elephants was never done in the area to gauge the problem. We took their advice and now we are getting ready for the population count to be conducted, which will be the 1st one in the history done in the area.


Just a fraction of devastation caused by the elephants at the project area

We are a culture that revered the elephant and It’s so amazing to see, even after so much trouble that they have gone through, none of the villagers wanted to harm the elephants. They just said, “make them stop from raiding our farmlands - that’s all we need. We know they are part of the area too, we want them to live as well”. 

The ranger assistant Mr Attanayaka had a few ideas as to how we should start our project. 

Interestingly enough, the two main (most Used - They managed to bring down the fence in these points in the most tactful ways imaginable) points of entry to the village from the Yala National Park Side by elephants were like 800m apart. And this was well inside the abandoned tank made by King Walagamaba in around 89 BC.

And, at this point, we had a few initial points we wanted to address.

4We wanted to test the structural integrity of the proposed Z-D canal Inspired elephant trench, and we also wanted to give the elephant and other animals permanent water plus a food source during the dry season also we wanted the villagers to have a water source to carry out their agriculture since this was solely dependent on rainwater, which now cant be predicted thanks to El Nino - The Global Warming Phenomenon. And above all, we wanted to block the two entry points of elephants.

And renovating this tank and filling it while testing the concrete structure in the bunt wall was like “ getting 3 -4 birds from one stone”.

And that’s exactly what we did…

We set about panning the whole project with the help from the GA, the DWC office, Irrigation department of the area and the result so far is amazing. 

We have built a bunt wall almost 20 feet high, where the water will be filled to the park side so that all the animals in the park will benefit. The excess water will be sent out on a renovated canal where that will be held on by another functioning tank about 7 km away from the main one. 


5The outlet door was installed to issue water to the villagers to be used for their agriculture. This tank, when filled fully will support more than 130 acres of land in total. And the two entry points are now blocked by a tank also. With a 20 feet wall protecting the village. The tank in the dry season when the water is receding will create a grassland where all the herbivores including the elephants can use it. We are hoping that this will stop them from raiding the village during the dry season where the incidents are most abundant. 

Additionally, we have added 2500 juvenile fish from the Oreochromis mossambicus and Cirrhinus mrigala varieties to be used as a sustainable protein source for the 400 families of the village or to be used as an additional income source from selling the harvested fish.

The experience of this whole project was simply amazing. From meeting the villagers and watching how everything falling into place has been great. 

Anxiously waiting to see the final results after the rainy season, so wish us to rain…!!

Photo Credits: Mr. Chaminda Atthanayake - Ranger Assistant - GonaganAra DWC