Mahaweli River Waterkeeper Project

Mahaweli River Waterkeeper Project

Project Animal(s) : Elephants and other wildlife
Project Category : Birds, Insects, Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Amphibians, Arthropods, Mollusks, Annelids
Project Region : Asia
Project Type : Conservation
Project URL :
Project is timebound? : No

The Mahaweli River basin is the largest basin in Sri Lanka accounting for almost one fifth of the country’s total area. The river flows into the Bay of Bengal. Threats to the watershed include agricultural pollution, sand mining, hydro power dams, deforestation, poorly planned land use, and water shortage that have collectively resulted in the degradation of watershed conditions, a decline in water quality, a loss of wildlife habitat and populations, and an escalation in human-elephant conflicts.It is an honor for SLWCS to have been designated the official “Mahaweli River Waterkeeper” by the Waterkeeper Alliance, which works to strengthen and grow a global network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water. This is the first time in Sri Lanka that a river, or for that matter any surface water body on the island, has a designated Waterkeeper.  This means SLWCS will have the added challenge of ensuring this pioneering and innovative initiative succeeds. We are using our elephant conservation as an entry point to protect the Mahaweli River watershed, an important water source for both humans and elephants.

There are fewer than 5,000 Asian elephants left in Sri Lanka; they are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘Endangered’ and by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as a species threatened with extinction.  The increasing negative impacts from unsustainable water resource use by rural communities are taking a toll on wildlife—especially the elephants in the Wasgamuwa region in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. An adult elephant requires from 100 to 300 liters of water per day.  During the dry season water becomes a finite resource.  As the available surface water sources are depleted and dry out, both people and wildlife—especially elephants—compete for whatever water is available.  When elephants’ access to water is blocked they turn to raiding village wells and storage tanks and often break into homes to steal stored water during this period. Water (and crop) raiding by elephants and the harsh retaliatory measures subsequently taken by people whose lives and livelihoods depend on a source of fresh water feeds a vicious cycle of violence.

 Each year, between 50 and 80 humans and between 150 and 200 elephants are killed due to human-elephant conflictsAs the Mahaweli River Waterkeeper, SLWCS will play a critical role in developing a long-term, sustainable, community-based conservation and management program for the river.  We will be an ambassador, spokesperson, and voice for the Mahaweli River, promoting the urgent need to protect and manage the river for future generations.We will educate people and create awareness in the communities that are dependent on the river, and will mobilize community support and participation for its protection, empowering people to take action on their own behalf.Considering the Mahaweli River is one of the most utilized rivers in Sri Lanka, SLWCS will conduct a comprehensive and systematic study to assess the impacts of the anthropogenic activities on the river as well as on the river’s ecosystems and its fauna and flora. We will use the results of this study to advocate for improved management and protection of the Mahaweli River watershed, and will implement a wide variety of action-oriented strategies that will conserve its natural fauna and flora and ensure the river’s waters are managed in a sustainable manner.

Project Agency : Wildlife Conservation Society,Sri Lanka

Project Agency Contact :

Project Researcher : Ravi Corea

Project Researcher Contact :

Additional Information :

If you'd like to support our Waterkeeper work by participating in its implementation, please contact Ravi Corea at