Imagine anxious parents away on a vacation, eager for updates at what is happening at home (constantly needing to ask: are the kids following rules or are they sneaking out at night? Is the babysitter crazy?) Conservationists are not much different from cossetting parents, varying only slightly in their worries: are any animals missing from the herd? Are they behaving abnormally? What is the human-animal interaction in the area? Updates are often necessary to make sure that the health and well-being of animals are maintained in the field, but this can be difficult when researchers are miles away from the field. Especially with wildlife, it is important to keep a distance to allow the most natural state for animals. …


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Joyce Poole and her team studying tuskless elephants at Gorongosa National Park. © Gorongosa National Park, Sofala, Mozambique, http://www.gorongosa.org/explorepark/wildlife/gorongosaselephants/studyingelephants.

Lions, bushbucks, warthogs, hippos, crocs, and elephants all run freely in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique¹. Built on the aspirations of Nelson Mandala, the park is now an oasis for many endangered animals and is hailed as a “restoration story”; recently, declared as “one of the most “biodiverse habitats on Earth”¹. Though a modern-day refuge, some of these animals have faced extreme hardships. Dominique Demille, Research Fellow at the Gorongosa Restoration Project, stated in an interview about the elephant population: “The older ones still remember what happened in the past, the war, the soldiers that hunted elephants for their ivory.”² The Mozambique Civil War from 1992–1997 affected not only civilians and soldiers, but wildlife as well; elephants were poached and their ivory sold in order to pay for ammunition and arms. …


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Daniela Hedwig posing on a tree trunk on her way to the Bai, 2019, along with fellow researchers Saphira Mbala (a Masters student from the University of Bangui), Colin Swider (PhD student at Syracuse University), Azobe (Bayaka tracker), and Mbwuanga (or as she calls them, “Team Cool”) pictured below. Daniela’s research this year has been generously supported by a National Geographic Explorers grant.

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Ruhlmann, É. (1922). “État” Cabinet. [Macassar ebony, amaranth, ivory, oak, lumbercore plywood, poplar, chestnut, mahogany, silvered brass]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.

You scoot as close to the “do not pass” sign as possible, tempting the museum sensors and creating a very angry security guard behind you. Breathing in lightly, you take in the smooth, carved surface of Emile-Jacque Ruhlmann’s “État” Cabinet (1922)¹. White flower engravings disrupt the deep ebony and as you glance at the information card you read “medium: Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory.” The white of the flowers you appreciated only seconds ago is now not only a contrast in color, but a contrast in perception: should something so beautiful be created if its materials were stolen from another beautiful thing? Is it right to use ivory in art and for commercial purposes? Where is the line drawn? …


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A thermal image taken in a clearing at Dzanga Bai, Africa by ELP’s cameras. This image helped researchers better understand the elephant behavior of ‘mating pandemonium.’

Since the Cold War in the ’60s, infrared (IR) technology has evolved from a high-tech military gadget to a commercial product. Previously used in goggles for night detection during wartime, infrared technology is now utilized in many different sectors including archaeology, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medicine¹. IR allows observation that the human eye cannot, and has allowed advancement by giving a new perspective. One fascinating use of IR is in the thermal imaging of animals, especially those that are endangered or difficult to observe during the day (perhaps due to a nocturnal nature or shy behavior). …


Elephants have a hard time getting privacy after mating. The events following mating are anything but silent and instead are referred to as “mating pandemonium”¹. After an elephant couple has mated, nearby elephants become curious. They surround the mating site and emit bursts of vocalizations². Large-frequency roars, rumbles, and trumpets decorate the air and invite other elephants to join in. These loud and contagious vocalizations are followed by olfactory searching as nearby elephants sniff the mating site with their trunks. On a podcast about mating pandemonium for PRI, the event was described by the director of ELP, researcher Peter Wrege as an “elephant party”². In a typical “mating pandemonium event”, elephants — young and old, familial or unrelated, male or female — all crowd together, ears flapping and heads raising. …


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An elephant in Dzanga Bai with only one tusk ©Ana Verahrami

Public protests against the ivory trade have flared across the United States, from Denver’s 2013 “Ivory Crush” to the more recent animal-welfare event in Central Park, 2017. The United States placed a ban on the ivory trade in 2016 and punishments for poachers have become more severe¹. Yet, the ivory trade is still a major global concern — and it is on the rise. This industry is lucrative, as it makes about 4 billion dollars a year² and if poachers are caught, they are oftentimes only convicted for the crime at the moment; without forensics, it is very difficult to provide evidence that a poacher was involved in a string of previous trafficking incidents. …


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A male forest elephant in Dzanga Bai, Central African Republic. The dark streak mid-way between the eye and ear is due due to temporal gland secretions during musth. ©Ana Verahrami

Being able to call one’s bluff is a useful survival tool in the wild, with the stakes being better mates and hierarchical positions. A male elephant will signal aggressive behavior by walking towards another male — head held high and ears flaring outwards. This aggressive behavior may be ritualized or true, that is the elephant may have true intentions to fight or this can merely be an intimidation tactic. Depending on the opponent’s interpretation, a fight may escalate or dissipate. …


Written by: Rebecca Ebiana

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A picture of Alpha I from the left. This is the kind of photograph that would be entered into the database or the facial recognition program.

In the previous article, entitled “Evolution of Elephant Identification”, I recounted how retired ELP scientist Andrea Turkalo named and came to know the forest elephants of Dzanga Bai in her 27 years of studying them. The only way we know vital demographic statistics about forest elephants is through the decades of work she did. Because understanding a population is vital to preserving it, forest elephants and the forest ecosystem of Dzanga Ndoki National Park is better off because of her work.

Before digital technology, it was more of a task to keep track of identified elephants. After digital technology, pictures were automatically saved and dated. Digital technology increased the volume of information across disciplines and worldwide, and animal behavior research is no exception. Now that this is the standard, what does it look like for scientists in Dzanga, seeking to ID elephants now? …


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The African forest elephant is one of three recognized elephant species alive today, along with the African savannah and Asian elephants. Though part of the same family, each species has adapted distinctive traits. The obvious habitat discrepancy aside, forest elephants have many unique physical and physiological characteristics that help differentiate them from their more well-known cousins.

At first glance, the African forest elephant is notably smaller than its savannah-dwelling relatives. African elephants average about a meter shorter¹ due to a younger maturity age, typically growing until about 10 to 12 years of age. On the end of this species’ spectrum is the pygmy African elephants of the Congo Basin. Originally considered their own species, these pygmy elephants were reclassified as smaller-sized forest elephants — weighing as little as 900kg as adults!¹ …

Stephanie Anne Carmody

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