Wash. woman saving Asian elephants with oranges


CAMAS, Wash. (KOIN 6) — One Washington woman is on a crusade to save Asia’s elephants — and she believes oranges may be the key.

The Asian elephant is a symbol of status among Sri Lanka’s monks. But while they are cherished, Sundari Sitaram said the animals are suffering.

“She’s still just rocking there,” Sitaram said as she watched a video of an elephant chained to a cement block. “There’s just really nothing else for her to do.”

After seeing the videos, Sitaram sold her longtime yoga studio to start Heart of Ganesh — a local nonprofit working to “educate and empower people to make the compassionate choice for wild, endangered, and captive elephants around the world.”

“The thing that has committed me to this project the most was not how horrific the abuse was I saw, but how much hatred I felt in my heart for the abusers,” Sitaram explained.

In 2013, Sitaram flew to central Sri Lanka to study Asian elephants — and she learned it isn’t greed that drives people to kill the animals.

“Elephants are dying because people are dying, too,” she said.

Sitaram explained that farmers often shoot elephants because they trample their rice fields, and in turn, their families’ futures. Through Heart of Ganesh, she helps raise money to plant orange trees around the Sri Lankan farms.

“At this point, we’re able to supply 10 trees a family,” Sitaram said.

Elephants, who can’t stand the smell of oranges, will stay out of the farmers’ way once they are planted — and families love the food, income and security the fruit brings with it.

“Let’s do the best we can to let them have the best life they can,” Sitaram said.

Currently, the Oregon Zoo is working on its biggest project in history, Elephant Lands. Although zoo visitors won’t be able to see the new habitat until the fall, newly released aerial photos show a preview of what the elephants’ new home will look like.

A zoo press release described the habitat as, “a sweeping expanse that extends around the eastern edge of the zoo.”

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