THE ELEPHANTS OF TRINCOMALEE
25 May 2018 | TRINCOMALEE, SRI LANKA
Tom and Lilly
THE TRINCO ELEPHANT MAN
TIGER LILLY GOES IN
It was a Jurassic Park kind of experience; Lilly was ducking under the 400 volt elephant barrier, while Tom-Tom the Sailor Man was holding the back packs containing cruiser survival supplies; water bottles, granola bars, the waterproof camera, snake bite kit, and of course our trusty iPad. As SOP for most any Yachtie expedition, we had done our due diligence. The day before we made a short reconnaissance of the general area in a three-wheeled Tuck-Tuck driven by a man who lived in the area. We waited by the roadside adjacent to a game trail, and were taken aback when two elephants emerged from the bush on a full head-down run, and were across the road in a flash - right in front of an oncoming dump truck! We had actually tried coming in through the front gate of the land-fill, but we were turned away by a very expressive little fellow with a lot of arm waving and lateral neck-bobbling to punctuate his rising staccato of Sinhalese - "FORBIDDEN!" was the only word he used which we understood. We had Googled "defense against charging elephants" but the results were pretty sketchy, and a bit conflicting. (But of course, the whole Wiki experience is based on the qualifications of the author, and one never knows their practical experience with the topic at hand). We had laid out an ingress / egress plan on the Google Earth eye in the sky. The lacings on our hiking boots were cinched in tight - just in case we had to make an elephant evasion dash, and now we were going in...
SNAKES? WHAT SNAKES?
We were in the tropical scrub-brush countryside, about 5 miles northwest of the town of Trincomalee, on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Just 7 years ago this area was very much in contention between the revolutionary forces of the Tamil Tigers, and the defending Sri Lankan Army. Both sides had used land mines and booby traps in the area, and the locals reported that the jungle surrounding the land-fill we were about to sneak into still had unmarked abandoned explosives. We reasoned that the heavy pachyderms would make great minesweepers, if we just stuck to the elephant trails all would be well, unless of course we encountered an elephant on the elephant trails - and that could be problematic... An additional upside of traveling the elephant trails, or so we reasoned, is that the elephants would likely keep them clear of the resident spectacle cobras, saw scaled vipers, and the Russell's vipers with which yesterday's Tuck-Tuck driver seemed overly concerned. Besides, Wikipedia claimed those guys were night stalkers, and were usually sleeping during the day. We certainly hoped that a knowledgeable herpetologist drafted that one...
This was likely not going to be a David Attenborough National Geographic experience. The local people HATED and FEARED the elephants, and the elephants returned the favor by regularly trampling the farmers' fields and terrorizing their families; QED the Government supplied electric elephant barriers - which just nipped and aggravated these huge intelligent creatures who apparently felt that they had been pushed just about far enough. They were mad as hell, and weren't going to take it anymore. When we think about it, the aggressive behavior of the Trincomalee elephants is really a very necessary survival behavior. We reasoned that since we looked different from the local folks, and since we smelled of sailboat winch grease and mildew instead of hot curry spice, we reasoned that the elephants would recognize us as friends and probably not hate us. We were two yachties walking around white in Southern Asia - what could possibly go wrong?
E OVER I
As is more often then not the case with unease generated through trepidation of the unknown, our emotions can in fact over-rule our intellect; and the 150 meter walk down the elephant trail to the landfill was uneventful but guarded. The vegetation was thick scrub bush with occasional large second-growth hardwood trees, and the trail was easy to follow. About half way in we began to see elephant dung, mixed with the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags they had ingested and expelled. (Later we found out each of the elephants had a resident mass of knotted plastic in their gut which did not pass. This could partially account for their unpredictable disposition and discontent with the local population, as nearly everyone walked with one of these bags in their hand - it was part of the national identity in Sri Lanka.) The landfill was located in a basin surrounded by low rolling hills and jungle; as the trail came down off a ridge and opened into the dumping area, we used the larger trees to screen our approach. Since antiquity the elephants of the China Bay region had called this shallow valley home. And then Man - in his arrogance - chose to usurp this elephant hideaway for his dump.
It was mid-afternoon and a busy time at the landfill. There were three or four tractor-pulled trailers with their attendant crews offloading trash. By the time trash gets to the dump in the Developing Countries of the world, it is pretty well picked through and of little value. However, the US Navy Hospital Ship Mercy was anchored in China Bay on a Medical Outreach Mission to Trincomalee, and their trash was noticeably clean and brightly colored - and being scavenged by some of the local villagers.
AND THERE THEY WERE
We could see out across the landfill to the far side of the clearing - and there they were, well away from the people, the elephants of Trincomalee. There had been an apparent effort made to separate out the natural trash from the man-made refuse, and a family of a half-dozen or so elephants were browsing on this purpose-made Green Pile. We would later learn that about 50 to 60 elephants live in the surrounding countryside and consider this basin to be their home; with matriarchal-ruled families of about 6 to 10 elephants coming and going from the dump throughout the day.
DRUNKS AND FOOLS...
We had not yet made our presence known, and we decided to try to work our way off the trail through the jungle to gain a better vantage point to view the elephants which were perhaps 200 meters away on a diagonal. (Apparently, once again our emotions over-ruled our intellect; and our joy at the initial sighting of these grand creatures caused us to ignore our pre-mission snake and land mine research.) For about 15 minutes we pushed our way along the hillside, using the head-high thick vegetation as cover - moving as quietly as two beached sailors, unskilled in cross country orienteering, possibly could. That is when we noticed that immediately below us, and no more than two boat lengths away, the tops of the smaller trees were gently swaying - yet there was absolutely no breeze. When the monkeys moved through the tree tops they usually were chattering, and the tree limbs whipped back and forth as they sprang from branch to branch, but this slow gentle sway was unsettlingly different... Unlike its larger cousin the African Elephant, the Asian Elephant is very much at home in the forest, and we wondered if a family of elephants were sharing our (actually their) little corner of the bush as they sought refuge from the harsh afternoon sun... Using standard US Marine Corps Field Hand Signals, augmented with the universal sign to "button that lip - NO FLIPPIN WHISPERING!" we retraced our steps back through the thick brush from whence we came. Lucky, it wasn't until we were doing the after-action recap and lessons-learned session in the comfort and safety of TIGER LILLY's cockpit the next day, when one of us raised the issue of getting snake bit in that thick brush. We classified our survival under the heading of God protecting drunks and fools, and since neither of us drink...
WALKING AROUND WHITE
We now had a decision to make. It was mid-afternoon and we could just wait in the bush until the dump closed at 1700, and then have the entire basin and the elephants of Trincomalee to ourselves; but that window of opportunity was pretty short - in the tropics it gets dark fast, and neither of us relished the thought of walking back out on the elephant trail in the dark. (Notwithstanding the fact that at this point we were still not aware that jaguar and wild boar owned the night in this area - along with the snakes.) Or hey - here's an idea - we could just get our intellect in charge of our emotions and just call it a day, and walk back out; but the Woman of Action - the Tough Chick - was having none of that. It was then that we remembered our status - we were walking around white, and we could go anywhere we dared, and do anything we wanted, with little or no consequence. So we simply walked out from the bush into the landfill, and were immediately surrounded by yelling staff members, and a stern looking fellow in cammies with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder...
IT IS FORBIDDEN!
They were all singing the same song as the little fellow at the gate, yelling that it was FORBIDDEN for us to be at the dump. That is, except for the fellow with the AK-47, he just stared at us. The lead man whipped out his cell phone and told us in understandable English that we were not to move, and he was calling the Big Boss. For the next ten minutes Lilly was surreptitiously (or so she thought) trying to nonchalantly point the camera at the distant elephants (who no doubt were curious as to all the man-made commotion on the other side of their refuge), while one of the guards was doing a two-step dance to block her view, and another held up his hands to shield her camera. In about ten minutes we saw a large white shiny late-model passenger van making its way through the muddy potholes towards us. It pulled up, the electrically operate-door silently slid back, and out stepped the Big Boss - Mr. Ketheeswaran Hoffman.
THE ELEPHANT MAN
The TRINCO Elephant Man was bigger than life - almost as tall as Tom-Tom the Sailor Man, broad shouldered, with big hair, big chest, plenty of genuine gold bling on his neck and fingers, wearing an expensive pink silk shirt unbuttoned half-way to his naval, carrying the regal presence and the confident bearing of a man in authority, and he had a wonderfully engaging smile. He looked every bit the part of the Sri Lankan version of that 70's heart-throb Tom Jones; and we would not have been at all surprised to hear him burst into a Tamil version of Delilah! Here was somebody we could work with! Within just a few minutes Tom-Tom and Kethees were friends, Lilly was in the van reviewing family pictures with the Elephant Man's lovely wife Surgee, and we were both learning that there was much more to this situation than two westerners armed with a Wikipedia description of Sri Lanka and a couple of granola bars could even imagine. Over the next two weeks, after multiple guided tours at the landfill, brainstorming sessions back in Trincomalee in Kethees' CGL Office (Ceylon German Logistics Eco International), and the wonderful warm hospitality and spicy Tamil meals shared in Kethees and Surgee's home, here are some of the insights and information we gained about Kethees & Surgee, the Trincomalee Landfill, and the plight of the Sri Lankan elephants of China Bay:
- Nearly 35 years ago, when the Tamil Tigers ruled Jaffna (the capital of the Northeast Province and Kethees' hometown) in the ferocious grip of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Kethees father had him and his four other brothers and sisters declared refugees under the United Nations program to protect children in war zones. The family was split up by the administrators of the UN program, and the then teenage Kethees and his younger brother Georghie were put aboard an Aeroflot evacuation flight for Moscow. His other siblings were sent to Canada and Switzerland. After a brief time in Moscow, Kethees and Georghie flew to Berlin, East Germany - which was then still behind the Iron Curtain. In East Germany they were interviewed and selected for transfer to an orphanage in the free section of West Germany. Kethees well remembers his little brother and himself passing through the Berlin Wall to the border check-point and boarding a bus to a new life, a new school, a new language (they only spoke Tamil), and a new culture.
- As part of the UN resettlement program, the two Tamil brothers were granted dual Sri Lankan and German citizenship, and once they were old enough to leave the orphanage, they ventured forth into the German economy to make their own way in life. Typical of hardworking immigrants and refugees all over the world, Kethees worked as a janitor and restaurant cook in West Germany. While filling-in as a bartender, this big friendly gregarious man found he had a natural talent for the hospitality business - and he and Georghie started their own party catering service. Today, that business is the go-to catering service in Germany. If a Fortune 500 company wants a Caribbean-themed cocktail party thrown for their jet set European clientele, or a sit-down dinner for 3000 people at a convention, the flamboyant "Big Hair" brothers Georgie and Kethees are the guys they call.
- Kethees is the oldest son in his family, and the Tamil culture takes that station of birth-right very seriously. Although viewed with a general lack of understanding in the eyes of the Western World, throughout the Developing World of the Far East, nepotism is the fundamental strategy for economic survival, and the preservation of wealth. If you are lucky enough to be the first-born of a prominent family, the system certainly beats the rate of return on mutual funds; and if you are not the first-born, then the patriarch will make a special place for his siblings and extended family. Keethees had lived and thrived in Germany for over 30 years, and he was an up by the boot straps self-made kind of man. As a dark-skinned Hindu, He has known discrimination in predominately Christian white Germany, and as a Tamil minority in Sri Lanka he knew it there as well. But hard dirty work for small wages had softened his heart - he is a people-person and he never forgets the less advantaged. He was a widower in his 40's - but before breast cancer took his blonde German wife, she gave him two German sons. Keathees was German in everything but appearance and heritage, and he speaks the German language as his own. He was Tamil more by birth than life experience; but when his aging father called him to come back to Jaffna, to prepare to become the next leader of their clan, the dutiful son came home to a land and a substantial family business he really did not know.
- Subsequent to his return to Sri Lanka, his father passed away, and Kethees shouldered the mantle of responsibility as the head of his Tamil clan and the manager of the family businesses. Although his father had amassed his wealth through the cigar business, his eldest son was an innovative thinker with a vision for the future, and a drive tempered by hard work. Kethees bought the leases on all eleven landfills in Sri Lanka's Northeast Province with an eye towards recycling, and converting organic waste to electrical power. He aligned himself with CGL (Ceylon German Logistics), a leading German recycling company currently operating three similar recycling power plants in Germany (http://www.cgl-logistic-international.com). Along with his colleague Doctor Beate Breitwieser (a German engineering professor lecturing in Ecology and Recycling at the national university in Columbo) they developed a plan to centralize the collection and recycling of waste in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Beate and Kethees are the Odd Couple of Asian recycling - she is a no-nonsense engineer with an eye towards the technical aspects of the business, while Kethees is the people-person, steady-strain businessman juggling the political balls, managing finance, and networking his way though the formidable Sri Lankan bureaucracy. When we met in June of 2018 Kethees was in the final stages of acquiring the permits to construct a $500 million USD ten-megawatt power plant at the Trincomalee land fill which would convert organic burnable waste to electrical power. The landfill had been cleaned-up and organized, and the power plant site had been graded and was prepped and ready to start construction; the equipment will be built in Germany, transported aboard a ship to Trincomalee Harbour, set in place on purpose-built concrete foundations at the landfill, and then enclosed in steel buildings.
- Like all complex business start-ups, Keathees had a bushel basket filled with problems: First and foremost he is a member of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The majority of the country is Sinhalese (about three-quarters of the population), and these folks rule the majority political party, and hence the administration of the Federal bureaucracy; as with most governments in the world - to the victor goes the spoils... His project was experiencing the general bureaucratic inefficiency of the government, and as the months of multi-level ministerial approval drug on (with endless reports and studies required) the associated expenses continued to build. The violent Sri Lankan Civil War was resolved only seven years ago (the Tamil Tigers were defeated), and there is still plenty of discrimination in Sri Lanka against the Tamil people. Sri Lanka - like both the USA and the European Community - has an active element of organized crime, and the Sri Lankan Mafia would rather that they be running the waste disposal business. (Americans will remember Blockbuster Video's Wayne Huizenga who got his start with a shady background in waste disposal...) Then there are the Chinese - they are EVERYWHERE in Asia with an overwhelming presence. If there is money to be made, then they think that they should be the one's calling the shots and reaping the profits - and they are generally more efficient than are the locals they displace. The Chinese have a strong presence in the Sri Lankan parliament, and like their counterpart American lobbyists, they know just how to get the most for their money when buying a politician...
- With Kethees being quite German in his cultural attitude and work ethnic, his more laid back Sri Lankan relatives with which he staffed his business are another source of frustration - he needs First World performance from Third World workers whose lack of forehandedness and motivation was so much different than his work ethic. This guy gets out of bed in the morning on a dead run!
That first afternoon when we met Kethees at the Trincomalee landfill, he had just spent over twenty hours on a red-eye return flight from meetings with his business partners in Germany. On the flight back to Sri Lanka he had watched the Steve Jobs Apple Miracle movie not once but twice. His mind was running at full speed as he winged his way across Asia at 10,000 meters, wondering how the business principals Steve Jobs used to overcome his World Blocks, could be applied to the Trincomalee landfill recycling power plant project. In his mind's eye he was wrestling with the intricacies of motivating his staff, overcoming Government inefficiency, making a work-around on the Mafia and Chinamen problem, dealing with the well-meaning western tree huggers, solving the logistic issues of implementing a First World technology in the Third World country he now lived in, tracking down equipment and supplies delivered during his absence but not inventoried, and just keeping his project moving FORWARD.
And then Kethees gets the call that two damn-fool white people have just come down the elephant trail into the dump to photograph the elephants! Didn't they have any idea of the life-threatening situation they have put themselves in? Those wild elephants were a dangerous, unpredictable, and unwanted complication of holding the lease on the Trincomalee landfill; and two dead tourists on his facility certainly would not help him move his project forward. But foremost was his concern - as with most of the gentle Sri Lankan people we met - for the welfare of visitors to his country. Although the location of the dump had been established years before Kethees acquired the lease to this previously poorly managed facility, he had to figure out a way to minimize this elephant complication with no help from the local government - whose previous administrations caused the problem by siting their landfill in the elephant's home territory. The Federal Government was involved because the national identity of Sri Lanka suffered in the court of international opinion when pictures of their elephants eating plastic strewn garbage were circulated on the Internet. These images made the western tree-huggers crazy, and although he did not create the situation, it was Kethees who owned the problem. The Government chose the easiest and cheapest course of action by simply making visiting the dump by Westerners, and ANY photographing of the elephants at the dump strictly FORBIDDEN!
We believe that it is fair to say that most managers faced with the misguided wandering American yachties who were not only criminally trespassing on his property, but were forcefully arguing that they STILL expected to observe and photograph the elephants, would have simply removed the pests from the premises forthwith - and made the problem go away. He had every right to do so. But not Mr. Ketheeswaran Hoffman, he may be a Big Guy, but he is truly a gentle-man. It became quickly apparent to us that his foremost concern was our well-being as visitors to his country. He explained the aggressive unpredictable nature of these particular wild elephants. He told us of the leopards, and venomous snakes and wild boar which inhabited the hills and jungle surrounding the landfill. He recounted how the local villagers sneak into the dump in the evening and kill the wild boars foraging on the garbage by throwing them chunks of meat wrapped around fused explosive charges. Although this usually results in the side of the pig's head being blown off, occasionally the boars choose to charge the pig bombers - or anyone in the vicinity - with a lit bomb in their mouth... (With the mining of limestone prevalent in the area, there is plenty of unaccounted dynamite available on the Black Market - it is also handy for fishing on coral reefs...) Some of the villagers cross the landfill fence to burn the industrial waste in order to salvage metals. The resulting toxic fumes are quite dangerous, and not always visible. Well, all that practical reality took some of the wind out of our sails; we truly did not have a clue...
A FRIENDSHIP IS FORGED
When Kethees asked how we were getting back to town, first we apologized to him and his staff, and then said that we would walk back out on the trail we came in on, hike out to the highway, and catch the bus back to town. But Kethees would not hear of it - we were now his honored guests and friends of his family. He put us in his nice clean air conditioned van and gave us a personal tour of the entire landfill. We saw peacocks, mongoose, eagles, and storks. (If you have rats, you have snakes; if you have snakes, then Rikki Tikki Tavi the mongoose is bound to be around...) He had his driver stop as close to the elephants browsing on the Green Pile as was safely possible so that Lilly could take her pictures. When the bull of the heard challenged her, Kethees immediately scooped Lilly into the van, and the driver quickly backed away... We drove to the well-groomed entrance of the landfill and spent time studying the display of engineering diagrams explaining the intricacies of just how electricity is made from garbage. (Well, Tom-Tom studied the engineering diagrams; Lilly was busy socializing with the staff and learning about the people and their families - and of course swapping email addresses and pledging Facebook friendships.) We saw the large stalls where plastic bottles and cardboard were removed from the trash (by hand sorting), and packaged to be trucked across the country to Columbo for recycling. We met Kethees friend and ecology consultant, a young German man named Johannes. Johannes came up with the idea of creating a Green Pile out of the natural refuse which was safe for the elephants to eat, and kept well away from the trash pile. The daily challenge was to get the landfill staff to be vigilant when customers came to the landfill with mixed loads. That very afternoon the Sri Lankan Navy had dumped a mixed load on the trash pile, and of course the elephants immediately gravitated to the area which was full of plastic trash and bush cuttings...
Johannes and Kethees described for us the future ELEPHANT SANCTUARY that they envisioned establishing once the power plant was up and running. Since all the trash would be received and sorted inside an enclosed building (surrounded by an electric elephant fence), there would no longer be a need for acres and acres of landfill area. The CGL Operations Plan called for separating and burning the existing trash in the landfill (8 years of fuel was stock-piled), there were funds earmarked in their Business Plan for rehabilitating the environment, and their plan anticipated returning the majority of the basin back to the elephants for their natural habitat within ten years. It was all very inspiring, and not at all what we expected to find on our visit to the Trincomalee dump.
THERE IS A SOLUTION
When we returned to town with our new friends, we stopped at the CGL office in Trincomalee for some refreshments. As we sipped our fragrant Sri Lankan spiced tea, it was apparent that the President of CGL - like most executives - was wrestling with multiple problems. Kethees was still tired from the red-eye flight back from Europe, and the combination of his frustration with the permit approval process through the government bureaucracy, his staff which did not have the same drive or intensity as he had for the project, and his new-found American friends lack of understanding for the danger they had put themselves in, was palpable. Keathees knew he had a First World technical solution to the inter-related problems of waste disposal and recycling, wild life habitat degradation, and clean energy production; but Sri Lanka was not America, and his staff were not Apple engineers, and he was frustrated because he was not Steve Jobs... That is when Tom-Tom the Sailor Man described to him the process of "book ending" a problem - that is working it from both ends.
THE POWER OF CHILDREN
Kethees had a full-court press on his project from the top down, but it did not seem to be enough. Tom offered Kethees the possibility that perhaps the elephants and children of Trincomalee could team up to become advocates to help move his waste recycling and power generation project forward. Tom related the situation he found himself in during the late 1970's when he smoked cigars and did not wear a seat belt. It seems that at the same time, the children's TV program Sesame Street was telling his pre-school daughters that their fathers should not smoke, and they should wear seat belts when driving. These two little blond ragamuffins started double-teaming the Old Man; and reluctantly, over time, they wore him down and he succumbed to THEIR good judgement. Today Tom feels naked without a seat belt while riding in a car, and has not smoked for over 35 years; all because his young daughters got behind a good idea for the right reasons. We pointed out to Kethees that most all of the Sri Lankan bureaucrats who held his project's fate in their hands had kids. Kids love animals, they understood good ideas, and their innocent minds can clear away all the world blocks and why nots. Why not enlist the school children of Trincomalee to save THEIR elephants by recycling THEIR trash into energy for THEIR homes? If life deals you lemons, then make lemon-aid; if you find yourself with a heard of wild elephants between you and your project - then put those rascals to work changing the hearts and minds of your opposition...
We are happy to report that it is now the policy of CGL to conduct safe organized weekly tours of the Trincomalee Landfill. (However, the Government picture taking restrictions are yet to be sorted out...) Just before we left Sri Lanka, Johannes, the CGL ecological consultant, conducted the very first CGL Elephant Tour - to rave reviews. Western visitors don't have to sneak-in to see the elephants anymore - just present yourself at the CGL Office at #13A Main Street in Trincomalee and ask when the next elephant tour is scheduled at the landfill. Johannes also has set up a children's learning curriculum to teach the children of Trincomalee about recycling; and importantly, to learn by doing, right out at the dump. After categorizing and sorting the various types of trash, the kids actually pick through dried elephant dung to see what these interesting pachyderms eat (and what they shouldn't), create charcoal from brush waste and study methods of low tech carbon banking; then the highlight of their day at the dump comes when Johannes takes them on a tractor ride to see THEIR elephants. Once the electrical generating plant is up and running it will be the focus of the CGL Energy Tour. It is a good start, and a step in the right direction, and we hope it helps to bring these Sri Lankan kids - and their kids - a brighter future...
THIS IS NOT A DRILL
For us, our seminal elephant moment came when we were touring the dump one afternoon in the safety and comfort of the CGL company van. The largest heard of Trincomalee elephants we had seen thus far - over twenty - were feeding on the trash pile because someone had dumped brush cuttings in the wrong place. The elephants were congregated in the corner of the dump close to where we had initially emerged from the jungle. Kethees was upset with his staff and was discussing the matter, while Lilly was taking pictures of the herd. For no apparent reason (not apparent to us anyhow), the biggest bull suddenly trumpeted loudly, raised his trunk, and made a partial charge in our direction. Then he wheeled around and lead the herd in a STAMPEDE. HOLY SMOKE! We had never seen such a large and powerful mass movement of these huge creatures, triggered in just a split second, and they charged out of the landfill and RIGHT UP THE VERY PATH WE CAME IN ON! That is the moment when we fully realized the danger that the local people and Kethees were trying to make us understand. If we had met elephants on the path as we hiked in, we would have had a very slim chance of surviving that encounter...
What else did we learn through our elephant dump experience? After meeting and socializing with Tamil people we learned that reading Wikipedia, and thinking that one understands a topic may lead to serious misconceptions. The violent Sri Lankan Civil War absolutely shattered and scarred this lovely country; not only were the people of Sri Lanka traumatized (Sinhalese and Tamil alike), but so were the wild animals as the war raged across the countryside. The Tamil Tigers were the first paramilitary organization to use terror tactics in modern times (including suicide attacks), and they were as quick to use abject violence against their OWN people as they were to attack the Sinhalese majority. Many of the innocent refugees created by the Civil War were in fact non-combatant Tamil people. In touring the countryside around Trincomalee we saw first-hand how man and wild animals must compete for space to live. Much of the world looks neatly arranged in game reserves and villages on the Animal Channel or at Disney World; but the actual world isn't nearly so organized - the Animal Kingdom and People Land are not separated by an artificial river and connected by a magnetically levitated monorail... In the Developing Countries poor PEOPLE struggle for their daily co-existence with wild animals, often competing for space and for food. The reality is that in much of the world government resources for the management of wildlife are scarce to nonexistent.
CAN IT REALLY HAPPEN?
As their habitat is taken from them for agriculture in the surrounding countryside, the plight of the Asian elephants living around the Trincomalee Landfill is becoming more serious each day. To our knowledge, it is only the landfill operator - Kethees and CGL - who offer any sort of hope for the future of these majestic creatures. Our preconception was that the dump was the problem, when in fact it is an important part of the solution - IF the CGL ELEPHANT SANCTUARY can be made a reality. The CGL Landfill could become the only safe refuge in the region for the elephants of Trincomalee... Unlike the local, provincial, or federal levels of government, Kethees has a workable financed plan in place which will actually improve the plight of these wonderful animals, and benefit the entire community - if the bureaucracy doesn't bilge him out. Unfortunately, success is not a foregone conclusion...
Once again the crew of TIGER LILLY has been adopted by a loving local family in a strange land. In spite of an arrogant attitude that we are smart and privileged, and the world is our oyster, these gentle people took the time to educate us. Through the universal attributes of kindness, generosity, and love, we were taught by our Sri Lankan hosts that in fact we are all created very much equal - but some of us are just born luckier than others...
ANOTHER OCEAN WESTWARD
Next up: Lilly is almost trampled by a charging African elephant in Tanzania's Mikumi National Park while Tom-Tom the Sailor Man is describing (in excruciating detail as only one who is irresistibly drawn by the esoteric science of cartography would) the fascinating factoid that both the Asian and African elephant carry charts of their respective continents on their person wherever they go!
LILLY SEZ: Remember, elephants are people too!
If you click on the PHOTO GALLERY button and then open the ELEPHANTS OF TRINCOMALEE album we have several annotated pictures to go with this story. See you there!
You may have already heard about the elephants at the Trincomalee landfill - but now you know the rest of the story. The extraordinary people we meet, the wonderful sights we see, and the interesting world we explore while cruising under sail aboard TIGER LILLY...
Tom & Lilly
S/V Tiger Lilly
Tanga, Tanzania, East Africa
Many of you have asked, "What can we do?"
We think that this story would be a great case-study project for American students from third to twelth grade to study and lend support for these poor creatures. Perhaps you could pass on a link to the appropriate resource person at your local school system? Wouldn't it be great if school kids from across America could convince the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka with their emails of support that recycling garbage and trash into electricity is a win-win-win for the Asian elephants, the Sri Lankan environment, and the people of Trincomalee! Anyone reading this post with kids or grandkids in school may want to consider forwarding a link to this story to their teacher. The recycling of garbage into electrical energy - with a non-governmental finance plan in place - is, in our view, a no-brainer; and likely the only practical solution to the plight of these wonderful creatures... Unfortunately, because of bureaucracy, greed, and parochial interests, it is not yet a done-deal. As we said in the post - school kids could make an important difference on this issue; and also learn about the technical and political issues of the real-world of recycling in the Developing Countries around the Blue Planet. It would be a great student Hands Across The Sea project.
Who to contact:
President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena email email@example.com
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe email firstname.lastname@example.org
TEACHERS AND PARENTS: We pulled these terms and ideas out of our TRINCO ELEPHANT story for use in furthering the understanding of the issues presented. By studying this one situation, an understanding of many different topics and disciplines can be explored...
STUDENT VOCABULARY DRILL (select based on age/grade)
saw scaled vipers
Fortune 500 Company
Riki Tikki Tavi
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION (enlightening dinner table talk for children)
Sri Lanka Civil War
Emotions Over Intellect (E over I)
Walking Around White (WAW)
Ingestion of plastic in animals
Generation of electricity from waste
Court of International Opinion
Rehabilitating the Environment
Book-ending a problem
Carbon Banking (low tech - high tech)
The world is our oyster
Some folks are born luckier than others
Hands Across the Sea
LILLY sez: After reading what Tom-Tom the Sailor Man thinks is "enlightening dinner table talk for children" you will probably feel sorry for his grown daughters Jennifer and Dawn - and rightly so...