The world’s first EleFriendly bus celebrated its first birthday on September 9th, 2017 in the Wasgamuwa area. I was lucky to be able to attend the event. The EleFriendly bus is an innovative project developed by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) to reduce human-elephant conflict.
SLWCS statistics show that human – elephant conflict has been reduced by 80% since the bus started running. In the first seven months, the number of conflicts fell from 83 to 21.
The bus runs daily to provide safe transportation for the children to and from school, the bus is also used by adults to get to work. The average number of people who use the bus on a daily bases is 191. Out of this, about 72 are children. The school children travel for free, while others have to pay a reasonable fare. The villages that are on the bus route include Himbiliyakada, Iriyagasulpotha and Weheragalagama.
Many of the children I spoke with stated that the bus helped them not only with safety from the elephants, but also with their education. According to Harshini who is 13-years-old and lives in Pussellayaya, the bus has changed her life dramatically for the better. She no longer has to walk to and from her school which is 5 km away. She used to be absent from school a lot because of the heavy rains and the danger from elephants, but now rarely misses a day because she feels safe traveling on the bus. Menaka, aged 8 and Chathurika, aged 11, both from Himbiliykada, are also frequent riders of the bus. Both mentioned how they love riding the bus and have lots of fun on it.
An art and essay competition was held as part of the celebration, most of the pictures showed the elephants and the villagers living in harmony because of the bus. The seriousness of human – elephant conflict was also captured in many of the paintings. For example, one painting showed a man being trampled by an elephant and another showed a farmer being chased by one. It is clear that many of the children are scared of the elephants and see them as dangerous. According to Mr Corea, the SLWCS is hoping to change this view by educating the children on the importance of their environment and of the need to protect all its precious inhabitants.
The bus was sponsored by several private donors, including Colombo Jewelry Stores. I spoke to Sharmila Cassim, the owner of this company, who explained that the company was happy to support the Elefriendly Bus because “the bus allows children to attend school more regularly, while at the same time keeping the elephants safe”.
Ravi Corea, the President of the SLWCS explained the EleFriendly bus belongs to the community. According to him, his organisation has minimal involvement with the bus. Mr Corea said, “we own the bus but it is operated by a driver and conductor from the village. Also, the money collected from tickets is used by the community to take care of the bus.” Judging by the perfect condition of the bright green EleFriendly bus, the villagers take great care of it and are very proud if it.
The success of the bus can be seen in the villagers’ more positive attitudes towards the elephants in the area. It has also benefitted the elephants by making it possible for them to roam more freely in the corridor where they can forrage and socialize, as they they have done for centuries.
The SLWCS would like to add another bus in Wasgamuwa and introduce EleFriendly busses to other areas in Sri Lanka where human-elephant conflict is a problem.