EARS ID Database released


We are pleased to release EARS (Elephant Attribute Recording System), designed by intern Ilja Van Braeckel. EARS is an MS Access database that permits quick searching of elephant ID photos. Users enter new ID features using a simple Excel worksheet which can be copied directly into Access. They can then query the database with a set of check-boxes for prominent natural features of individuals, which returns matching IDs and photos.  This should narrow the search substantially and cut down search time.  We recommend that a separate set of high-resolution ID photo files are maintained in parallel at another location and that once the search is narrowed final identifications are confirmed using these external files. The idea is for the database to aid, not replace, more detailed photos and human memory.

We share this tool freely hoping it will help others conduct individual-based studies of Asian elephants, and modifications may be made as required. Variations of it may also be useful for other species and contexts.

The database, excel sheet and a user manual can be found at:


de Silva S, Webber CE, Weerathunga US, Pushpakumara TV, Weerakoon DK, et al. (2013) Demographic Variables for Wild Asian Elephants Using Longitudinal Observations. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82788. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082788

An Evening With Elephants

Being A Better Scientist

I am trying out something new this month: I am hosting a fundraising event!

The event will take place on December 21st in San Francisco in the Randall Museum. We’ll show a BBC movie about elephants in Sri Lanka (trailer) and my friend Shermin de Silva will give a talk about her work with these same elephants.

Shermin de Silva

Shermin is an inspiring woman. She runs a field station in Sri Lanka, works in the United States (she is a postdoc in Fort Collins) and manages to raise enough money to keep her research going. This, as you can imagine, is not easy!

Her research is interesting, because she is one of few people who follows individual elephants in a wild Asian elephant population over time. Because she and her field crew know the individual elephants, they can see when elephant friendships form and break. It…

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Morning walk

By Ilja Van Braeckel

The island that is not an island.

The island that is not an island.

On a beautiful Sunday morning, I left for the Uda Walawe reservoir. I had traveled this way before, and I knew what to expect. This man-made reservoir is located within the national park’s boundaries, and is separated from the road by the electric fence. Being approximately 3400ha in size, it is a significant source of hydroelectricity, and I had high hopes for spotting wildlife. A good hour and my morning King coconut later, the first specks of reflected sunlight started to appear on the horizon between the trees. The sky was particularly clear and there wasn’t a sigh of wind. I quickened my steps, and, non-compliant to popular advice, kept walking towards the light in a steady pace. A few specks made way for hundreds, and then thousands, and with every step I gained, the view became more spectacular, as if the reservoir invited you kindly to acknowledge its splendor. Continue reading

2 upcoming talks by Shermin de Silva

“Elephant Social Dynamics and Conservation”
National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore
Friday Nov. 16th, 4pm

“The Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Social Affiliations Among Asian Elephants”
Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Jakkur
Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit
Saturday Nov. 17th, 11:30am

The Dharmaloka School Nature Society takes a field trip

The school nature society and its teachers.

It’s 6:30 am when we pull up to the school, to be greeted by a gaggle of anxious students and parents.  Today we’re taking four jeeps, five teachers, the four of us, and a little over thirty kids who are part in the schools new ‘Nature Society,’ into the park on a field trip.  The youngest is just 11 years old, while most are 16 or 17. Continue reading

On what NOT to do when exploring a backyard in Sri Lanka.

– By Lauren Snyder

Kumari, Tharanga, Sameera and Me.

Kumari, Tharanga, Sameera and Me.

For the past month I have been visiting rural villages around Uda Walawe National Park conducting a survey on home gardens, farming habits and elephant crop raiding events. The survey team consists of Sameera, Tharanga, myself and occasionally Kumari, Ashoka’s sister. Ideally, Sameera and Kumari administer the questionnaire to the heads of household and Tharanga and I scout out the property, taking GPS points of property boundaries and gardens, and pictures of important things such as tap lines and toilets. Tharanga and I also compile a list of the crops that are cultivated on the properties. At first my identification skills were quite limited: coconut, mango, papaya, spinach, rice, and banana. Thanks to Sameera and Tharanga, I am now familiar with manioc, sweet potato, jack fruit, pomegranate, lime, orange, tamarind, drumstick, jasmine, anoda (custard apple), wood apple, ugurassa , and bread fruit. Continue reading