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Elephants are one threatened species affected by the pandemic.© Elephant Listening Project/Melissa Groo

These past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, devastating many lives. Amidst the human chaos, wild animals who normally keep to the shadows have been spotted walking in the now-empty streets of many cities. Because people are staying at home, species like coyotes and goats are no longer frightened away by human traffic and can venture outside in broad daylight¹. But it would be a mistake to assume that nature is thriving in this pandemic. …


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Bonga (© Anahita Verahrami, Elephant Listening Project)

In the rainforests of central Africa, people and wildlife have co-existed for millennia. The Ba’aka (or Bayaka) are a tribe of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who live in the southwestern Central African Republic and northern Republic of the Congo, where the Elephant Listening Project (ELP) works¹. The tribe has an intimate knowledge of their forest home and of the wildlife that lives there, like the African forest elephant.

Our own Elephant Listening Project (ELP) has relied on the wisdom of the Ba’aka since the beginning. Andrea Turkalo, one of the founding members of ELP, worked for 27 years alongside Ba’aka tracker Sessely Bernard. Together they observed the daily lives of generations of elephants visiting Dzanga Bai, a forest clearing and popular gathering place for wildlife. …


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Frelcia Bambi deploys an acoustic recorder up in a tree. ​© Sebastien Assoignons

Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park is one of the last strongholds of the rapidly vanishing African forest elephant. Since the end of 2016, the Elephant Listening Project (ELP), in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Congo, has been managing a grid of 50 acoustic monitoring units covering 1,250 square kilometers of the park and surrounding areas¹. These units record the low-frequency rumbles of forest elephants as well as their roars and vocalizations, and — more disturbingly — the sounds of gunshots from poachers. …


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An older female stands near a calf. © Elephant Listening Project

Although patriarchy is often considered the default mode for human or animal societies, for some species of the animal kingdom, female leadership is the norm. One of the most fascinating qualities of elephants’ complex social structure is their matriarchal society, where older and more dominant females are the leaders who guide the herds. Matriarchs are the “social glue” that holds together intricate social networks. The matriarch and her female offspring are at the center of a dynamic, fission-fusion society. A fission-fusion society is a complex network of interconnected groups which come together (fusion) and separate (fission) at different times of the year, often based on the availability of water and food¹. …

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