Beginning with next month’s full moon, the Southeast Asian island nation of Sri Lanka will be conducting the first elephant census in nearly a century. On August 13 and 14, 2011, Sri Lanka plans to count its elephants as they arrive to drink water from water holes, reservoirs and lakes in forests throughout the country.
The head of Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Department, Chandrawansa Pathiraja, told the Associated Press:
The census we do can be used for many years for the policymakers and government authorities in order to prepare policies and projects aimed at conservation of elephants.
He said details about the elephants that will be sought include but are not limited to: the total number of elephants, where elephant herds cluster, and the sex and age ratios within each herd.
Elephants play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s culture; they’re revered as sacred animals. In the past, elephants were also used as modes of transport. Human encroachment into their territory, as well as poaching, has reduced their numbers greatly.
Experts believe the population of Sri Lanka’s elephants has been nearly halved over the past century; it’s estimated to hover between 5,000 and 6,000. One hundred years ago, when the last full-island elephant census was conducted, their population was estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. The AP notes:
Previous head counts by the Wildlife Department were confined only to certain regions and in 1993, one such census found 1,967 elephants but it excluded the island’s north and east where a civil war was raging at the time.
Numbers like the ones Sri Lanka is seeking can help serve as the basis for creating workable conservation strategies. When EarthSky spoke to wildlife conservationist John Seidensticker last year about working to save endangered wildlife – he works on tigers – he said that international cooperation is often needed, and that strategies that address law enforcement against poaching and setting aside protected areas and/or corridors for endangered wildlife can and do make a big impact.
Bottom line: The Southeast Asian island nation of Sri Lanka will be conducting the first elephant census in nearly a century. On August 13 and 14, Sri Lanka plans to count its elephants as they arrive to drink water from water holes, reservoirs and lakes in forests throughout the country.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.