D. G Ashoka Ranjeewa
Ecology of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka
My family was one of the first to settle in Udawalawe area in early 1960s under the Sri Lankan government’s new resettlement programme. The human settlements were made by clearing prime elephant lands, and consequently, growing up we faced dire consequences in the form of human elephant conflict. I grew up in this very remote but gorgeous area of Sri Lanka surrounded by forests and wild life.
After the university entrance exam, I worked as a research assistant on a project on Asian elephants in UWNP till one fateful day. One beautiful morning the research team and I had just turned down a small side road of UWNP when a massive bull elephant in peak musth came charging towards us. It slammed its head into the side of the Jeep, which flipped into the air and tumbled across the road. I remember flying—both physically and emotionally; I was sure it was the last few minutes of my life. Three of us were thrown off the jeep and lay on the ground behind the jeep. The elephant crushed the bumper and stepped on some pipe ringing always scrutinizing us like little pests who got in his way. There was no denying what he meant to do. Driven by a surge of adrenaline and as a last ditch at survival we stood on the jeep faced the elephant and shouted at it waving our hats. The elephant eyed us furiously but unbelievably turned and walked away abruptly. On shaking legs we ran to a nearby Banyan tree and waited till help arrived. We only found out later that the same elephant had killed a man few minutes before it attacked us.
I had had enough of elephant and Udawalawe. I went to University to study sociology and Journalism and got a job as a feature writer in a news paper. As part of the job, I got to travel all over the county to write about various environmental and tourist attractions. Writing about treasures so far from home left me with a sense of longing for the natural wander I left. I finally saw Udawalawe in a whole new perspective appreciating its beauty tranquility and even its harshness. I had to go back. I gave up my carrier in journalism and went back to Udawalwe.
I worked about ten years as a research assistant in several elephant research projects studying social behaviour, associations and demography of Asian elephants. Spending most of my adult life with wild elephants, I developed a passion for them. Finally I decided how I should spend the rest of my life. I was determined to become a field biologist and a conservationist.
I took some courses in Biology, conservation and ecology, and completed my Masters in environmental science. I took an advance field course in ecology and conservation in Xishuanbana Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG), Chinese academy of science in China.
Visiting the Amboseli elephant research project in Kenya and the Jane Godale research institute in Tanzania were eye opening experiences in my research carrier.
I registered for a MPhil/PhD programme in the University of Colombo to study social behavior of Asian male elephants and human elephant conflict. I am very much interested to know social associations and association networks of the crop raiding elephants in the villages bordering the Udawalawe National Park. On one blessed day of my life, I met Professor Robbie Wilson during his visit to Sri Lanka and ended up being a member of his performance lab.
My determination is to make a change for the betterment of elephants, their habitats and my fellow villagers. I feel that it is my calling and it is the reason that a killer bull elephant decided to spare my life on one fateful day so long ago.
I enjoy travelling and I like to explore different cultural norms and food. I like making new friends. I enjoy cooking especially when I am disoriented from my regular work or in stressful situations. I am a bird watcher and enjoy bird watching when there are no elephants.
Ranjeewa A. D. G., Pastorini J., Isler K., Weerakoon D. K., Kottage H. D., Fernando P.; Decreasing reservoir water levels improve habitat quality for Asian elephants. (Preparing the manuscript)
Ranjeewa A. D. G., Tharanga Y. J. S., Sandanayake G. H. N. A., Perera B. V., & Fernando P. (2015) Camera traps unveil the enigmatic crop raiders in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. Gajah 42, 7-14.
Ranaweera E., Ranjeewa A. D. G., Koun Sugimoto (2015). Tourism induced disturbance on wildlife in protected areas; A case study of free ranging elephants in Sri Lanka. Global Ecology and Conservation, 4, 625–631.
de Silva S., Ranjeewa A. D. G., Weerakon D. K. (2011) Demography of Asian elephants (Elephasmaximus) at Udawalawe national park, Sri Lanka, based on identified individuals. Biological conservation, 144, 1742-1752.
de Silva S., Ranjeewa A. D. G., & Kryazhimskiy S. (2011) The dynamics of social networks among female Asian elephants. BMC Ecology, 11, 17.