The UWERP was conceived in 2005 by Dr. Shermin de Silva (at that time a graduate student), and conducted continuously since 2006, following the lives of the Asian elephants found in Udawalawe National Park. Elephants are individually recognizable, and the project has now accumulated close to 600 identified individuals, past and present. It is the only long-term research program of its kind anywhere in Asia. The aim of the project is to understand all aspects of wild elephant social behavior, communication, and demography. The dedicated team of U.S. Weerathunga & T.V. Kumara works year- round at keeping on top of new births, deaths, and everything that goes on in-between in the lives of these elephants. The project also work closely with wildlife authorities to facilitate protecting both the elephants and the park itself. By opening a window into this species which is typically extremely difficult to observe in its natural environment, the project seeks to provide biological data useful for managing Asian elephants, raise awareness about this species locally and internationally, and draw attention to conservation concerns. It provides resources particularly to engage rural students in understanding why it is important to safeguard wildlife such as elephants, and the ecosystems in which they are an integral part – for their own sake, as well as ours.
Shermin obtained her Ph.D in Biology University of Pennsylvania 2010, studying the Asian elephants of Uda Walawe National Park. She is currently an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Colorado State University, in the Department of Fish Wildlife and Conservation Biology and also a trustee of EFECT, Sri Lanka. She started the Udawalawe Elephant Research Project for her graduate research in 2005, and it has become the longest-running continuous study of wild Asian elephants anywhere in the world. EFECT (The Elephant Forest and Environement Conservation Trust) was created in order to facilitate the conservation of both elephants and their habitat through science and educational outreach. Dr. de Silva holds a dual citizenship in Sri Lanka and America, and currently resides in the United States while maintaining the ongoing research and outreach efforts based in Udawalawe.