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Joyce’s travel diary Sri Lanka (2)

Hi all,

Manori and I arrived in the Minneriya area on evening of 16th. I have been bowled over at the generosity of people here. A friend of Manori's owns the Hotel Sigiriya which is about a 30 minute drive through the forest to Minneriya and he very kindly invited us to stay free of charge until we have set up our own base here. So we are very fortunate to have access to a swimming pool (except we have been too busy to use it), great food and incredible service - not to mention internet and electricity for charging all of our gadgets. We are so grateful. It's also good to know that many are showing interest in the project - including funding bodies. World renown Dilmah Tea, through Dilmah Tea Conservation, have already come on board, which gives us lots of energy in this early phase.

This morning we departed early to meet with the Warden of Minneriya National Park - we had very good discussions about the various threats to elephant conservation. Manori had arranged for me to give a lecture on African elephant behavior to a group of 20 or so of the park staff. The park has recently built a beautiful visitor center and auditorium designed by an award winning Sri Lankan architect. The auditorium was open on the sides and really stunning. The talk went well and Manori followed up by giving a presentation on the characteristics used to indentify Asian elephants. We had already gone over all of this material together since the three of us (with Petter) have been working to build a searchable online database - so I was busy taking photographs of Manori speaking. I should have paid more attention. Identifying Asian elephants has required me to reprogram my brain - and it isn't working too well yet!

Then into the park and out with the elephants. They appeared from the forest, as if by clockwork, at 14:00. More and more groups appeared but we focused on four - a bull we named Suddha because of his white tail hairs, two cow-calf groups and one larger mixed (adult males with the cows and calves) - these included 7, 9 and 45 elephants, respectively. I got to work right away - trying to photograph, age, sex and make sense of who was who, and who was with whom. I got befuddled pretty quickly and it wasn't just jet lag. I am used to looking at tusks which give an overall appearance to an elephant, as well as being a good indicator of age and sex. Well, these elephants don't have them - among all the elephants we saw only one male had tusks. So imagine trying to make sense of scores of tuskless elephants. I really felt I had lost my touch.

Meanwhile Manori worked away quite happily - which was a little demoralizing! Hopefully I will slowly catch up...

Trumpet, Joyce