Say hello to our newest wildlife blogger! Kylie Butler

I’ve followed the invaluable conservation endeavours of Animal Works since its beginning and I have to say what a wonderful opportunity to be able to contribute to the conversation and education regarding the protection of our magical natural world through blogging on this website.

My name is Kylie Butler and I am a PhD student with the University of Newcastle, Australia researching what I consider to be one of the most globally important issues – human-elephant conflict. To briefly introduce myself, I have previously worked as an intern and Master of Environment research student with Save the Elephants in Kenya, and on an elephant ‘voluntourism’ project with Global Vision International in Thailand. Everything about elephants fascinates me – from their intricate individual behaviours, their family and social structures, their cultural and religious value and how this helps or hinders their conservation and welfare, and their tricky relationship with human beings.

A family of elephants emerging from the forest cover to use a water tank shared with people on the outskirts of a village

A family of elephants emerging from the forest cover to use a water tank shared with people on the outskirts of a village

This co-existence with humans forms the basis of my PhD study, and I imagine will be the focus of the vast majority of my blogs, as it is this topic that is consuming my life right now. At present, I am sitting in the open-walled research/field house of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS), competing with a myriad of insects that are attacking my computer screen, and planning just how I can contribute to human-elephant conflict mitigation here in Sri Lanka, where the unfortunately not uncommon scenario of rising human populations and reduced elephant habitat, is contributing to escalating levels of human-elephant conflict.

I am working under the supervision of Dr. Lucy King (Save the Elephants) and in collaboration with SLWCS to investigate the behaviour and social dynamics of elephants in a heavily crop-raided area of Central Sri Lanka. What I will do over the next two years, is to examine characteristics of crop-raiding elephants, their personality, their relatedness to one another and to identify how these factors may influence an elephants propensity to crop-raid. Simultaneously, I will be introducing beehive fencing as an elephant crop-raiding deterrent.

Beehive fencing was designed by my supervisor Dr. King and is showing tremendous success in Africa, where farmers are benefiting considerably from reduced crop-raiding events and an alternative income source through honey sales. A beehive fence is, put quite simply, a series of beehives hung from posts and surrounding an area to be protected from elephants. The beehives are connected by wire, and should an elephant attempt to move between the hives to access the crops inside, it will hit the wire causing the beehives to swing, and the bees to swarm out and sting the elephants. Understandably, elephants do not appreciate bee stings and avoid the fences!

This concept is new to Asia and working with a different species of elephant and a different species of bees could of course, produce different results. This is why it is so important to test this idea in Asia and evaluate the potential here. Like so many other human-elephant conflict areas, my research site in Dewagiriya Village, Sri Lanka is a low socio-economic community where farmers rely on crops to support themselves and their families. This village is in close proximity to Wasgamuwa National Park so it is possible elephants are leaving park boundaries to crop raid. However, many elephant also reside primarily outside of National Park boundaries here. Elephants are tempted by the tasty treats of paddy fields, maize, fruit trees and vegetables, even breaking into houses to access crops stored inside. One farmer even told me of an elephant breaking down their kitchen wall and taking his salt. Here, I see both the devastation an elephant can cause to the farmer, and the devastation the farmer can cause to the elephants. Many elephants are suffering from bullet wounds and are obviously aggressive and nervous around people.

I am currently setting up a trial beehive fencing site of 8 fenced farms, looking at protecting people’s homes and home gardens to evaluate the initial potential of this low-cost, low-maintenance technique to help keep both elephants and people safe.

Myself, my field assistant Supun Herath, and the Somathilaka family, standing beside the first beehive fence to be built in Sri Lanka

Myself, my field assistant Supun Herath, and the Somathilaka family, standing beside the first beehive fence to be built in Sri Lanka

Stay tuned over the coming months, as I discuss further the issues facing Dewagiriya village, which I believe are representative of many human-elephant conflict areas, how the beehive fences are progressing, and other human-elephant conflict related issues.   

*A big thank you to Save the Elephants and the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society for their collaboration on this project, and to the Rufford Small Grants for Nature Foundation, Chester Zoo, Elephant Action League and Phoenix Zoo for their financial assistance.  

Say hello to our new wildlife blogger! Liesa Leddick

When I was given the opportunity to write a blog for Animal Works, I was delighted. After all, with a passion for wildlife and conservation, what better way to share my thoughts and knowledge than through a well known organisation’s website, such as Animal Works, who are dedicated to conservation through education? But before I leap in head first, throwing knowledge and opinions around cyberspace, I think I should give you a snapshot of my background, without sending you to sleep.

Like most children, I grew up loving animals and the great outdoors. Numerous furry, feathered, scaly and hooved creatures accompanied me throughout my childhood, and still do. I loved to climb trees (and occasionally fall out of them, much to my mother’s horror), lie still for hours on the grass, absorbed in the busy microcosm of the insect world, and save drowning ladybirds from swimming pools. I used to cry when I saw baby seals getting clubbed on television, lions getting shot, and even clear-felling of trees. I felt an innate connection to the natural world, even as a child, and as a young woman, I considered myself a ‘greenie’, minus the dreadlocks.

I watched the environmental movement grow throughout the 80s and 90s. I observed other greenies (often with dreadlocks) protest against the Franklin Dam in Tasmania; uranium mining at Roxby Downs; nuclear testing in Mururoa Atoll; and the Jabiluka Uranium mine site. I witnessed a younger Greenpeace become more and more influential. And I saw a fledgling Sea Shepherd become more and more popular. I admired their gumption and their bravery. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to defend our planet. What humankind were doing to our fragile planet was (and still are) is intrinsically wrong and incredibly detrimental. How could (and can) people not see that?

However, one thing that struck me the most, back in the day, was the general public’s perception of these ‘greenies’ trying to ‘save the world’. It wasn’t positive. Most of the general public dismissed the protesters as, ‘dole bludging hippies with nothing better to do’, ‘dope-smoking do-gooders’, and ‘no-hopers that need a good bath’. I’ve lost count of the times that I tried to defend those very protesters, pointing out that what they are doing is altruistic; they are thinking of our future generations; and they are not thinking of their own hip pocket, unlike most other people in the world. I ended up remaining silent, as I discovered that people would argue vehemently against those ‘useless greenies’ and would never back down. There was no point in arguing with them. They wouldn’t listen. Oddly, it seemed to be a very touchy subject for many people.

But I decided what people needed was a different ‘type’ of ‘greenie’. A well-groomed, educated professional greenie, whom people would take seriously, whom people would listen to, and respect. Someone who could potentially change policies on environmental issues in government or be able to educate future generations. Because I believe that education is the key to saving the planet, future generations are the only ones who can remedy the damage we have already done to the planet. Of course, there are many ‘greenies’ out there like that now, thank goodness, and I believe that has helped change the perception of the environmental movement, and has encouraged the general public to take environmental issues far more seriously.

So I completed my Bachelor of Applied Science in Ecotourism in 2003, which further fanned my flames of passion for wildlife and conservation, and then completed my Master of International Relations and National Security in 2012 with my thesis based on Transnational Organised Crime Networks and the Illegal Wildlife Trade.

Now, I am ashamed to say that with all of my interest over the years in wildlife and conservation, I knew nothing about the illegal wildlife trade. I literally stumbled across the topic whilst on holiday in Thailand reading a paper on a local bus. It was a tiny snippet of news somewhere in the middle of the paper, only about five sentences long, about some poacher who had been caught and convicted of poaching some poor innocent endangered animals, then let off with little more than a smack on the hand. My interest was piqued. On my return home, I looked into the topic further and discovered that is a cruel, multi-billion dollar global industry, and decided to do my Master’s thesis on it. For nearly a year whilst researching, I spent each and every day crying over my laptop, horrified and despairing at the barbarity and heartlessness of human beings.

Currently I teach International Relations at university as a Sessional Lecturer, and try to educate the students about conservation and environment where I can within the curriculum. This year, I hope to start my PhD based on the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on the environment, with the objective to open as many doors as I can, change as many minds as I can, and influence as many people as I can regarding the illegal wildlife trade and conservation and wildlife in general.

Nature conservation is a massive field, encompassing an endless array of issues and challenges such as: ecosystems; biodiversity; climate; forests; oceans; wildlife; poaching; the illegal wildlife trade; environmental crime; and habitat loss, just to name a few. Animal Works focuses on conservation through education; something I plan to write regularly about on their blog, on issues and current projects such as habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and solutions, orphaned wildlife care, and poaching. I look forward to writing interesting and educational blogs for you, the reader, and I hope you enjoy my upcoming pieces.

Liesa Leddick