By Lena Coker
These farmers in Sri Lanka are at the interface of forest and agriculture, where most incursions by elephants occur.
In Sherpur, rural Bangladesh, as the human population increases, so does the demand for the land and natural resources that the elephants need to survive. This is a story of human-animal conflict that is repeated around the globe with many species and rural communities as they struggle to find the balance for coexistence. Continue reading
The living elephants – Asian elephant, African forest elephant and African savannah elephant.
Guest post by Michael Pardo
Ask most people what sound an elephant makes and they are likely to think of a trumpet. In reality though, elephants produce an incredible variety of different vocalizations. The most common call is a deep, pulsating rumble, so low-pitched that human observers sometimes feel it more than hear it. Elephants also roar—powerful, bellowing sounds that carry across the landscape. And sometimes, they give combination calls, in which one or two rumbles and roars are stitched together with no pause for breath.
I visited Udawalawe in 2014 to work with the Udawalawe Elephant Research Project, and was especially fascinated by these combination calls. Combining meaningful units into sequences with an additional meaning is a key component of human language, but there are relatively few examples of this phenomenon in other species. Listening to the Udawalawe elephants, I was struck by the fact that they nearly always produced combination calls in the same order: a single roar followed by a single rumble. Why was this? Could it be analogous to grammatical rules in human language? Or could it be as simple as an anatomical constraint that made it difficult for the elephants to produce a rumble before a roar? Continue reading
Guest post by Yogi & Nikita Patel
We traveled to Sri Lanka to work with Trunks & Leaves in support of schools surrounding the Udawalawe National Park. We first arrived in Negombo, Sri Lanka where we were met by Deepani, who works with Trunks & Leaves, and her friend Jocelyn. We traveled by car to Udawalawe where we were joined by Sameera, the project coordinator. We visited the first Montessori preschool, operated by Sameera’s sister, Chathurika. She was gracious in showing us the school, which was closed for the holidays. She had been hard at work painting furniture and cleaning the classroom and play area for her 18 students. Her school, which is attached to her home, is surrounded by many fruit trees. Her family members supported her passion for educating children in her town.
Our next stop was school teacher Shiromi’s home. We met with Shiromi who greeted us with her family and offered the most amazing homecooked treats. We chatted about her work in the village and her school, Dimuthu preschool. We met with Shiromi again the following day, where we observed the children in her classroom. The parents were very supportive of Shiromi and came to the school with their children even though they were supposed to be on holiday. We got to sing and dance the “hokey pokey”.
Deepani, Yogi and Sameera with the first cohort of preschool teachers whose schools received support from Trunks & Leaves’ sponsors (photo courtesy of Yogi Patel).
Guest post by Nandini Shetty
A group of elephants visit the grasslands surrounding the Kabini Reservoir in Southern India. Photo: Kabini Elephant Project
India includes some of the largest populations of Asian elephants in the world: an estimated ~26 000 to 28 000 elephants distributed across four regions. Of the four regions, southern India includes the single largest population of Asian elephants in the world (~14 000) and elephants are distributed across the Western and Eastern Ghats.
I studied the ecology and behaviour of Asian elephants as part of an ongoing long-term project on elephants, the Kabini Elephant Project, which was started in March 2009 to study the social life of elephants. Continue reading
Guest post by Jessie Panazzolo
A camera trap photo shows Sumatran elephants trekking through lush regenerating forest.
I had always been told the same thing over and over again from my schooling, the scientific papers I read, and people I met growing up. This was that once primary rainforest was gone and removed from the Earth, it could not grow again. I was told that the forest needed a constant cycling of nutrients to flourish. That without the trees blanketing the ground in leaf litter the soil would be devoid of any nutrients needed to create such rich life again.
I had also been told that important forest dwellers such as the Sumatran Orangutan would only find a home in thick established forests. I had read in many different papers that Sumatran Orangutans, unlike their Bornean cousins, never spent any time walking on the forest floor in fear of the predatory Sumatran Tiger.
Considering all this, you could imagine my surprise and awe when I found myself in the middle of a brand new Sumatran rainforest, barely five years old, seeing orangutans walk the ground in front of my very eyes. It was then that I knew that anything was possible. Continue reading
By Mickey Pardo, Cornell University & Open University of Sri Lanka
Down the Old Mau Ara Road we drove, my head swiveling left and right as I scanned for elephants on the grassy strips to either side. Then we rounded a bend, and Lucy slowed to a stop in front of the herd standing thirty meters away. It was a rather large group: , , , and , along with a number of sub-adults and juveniles.  and a sub-adult female approached slowly to within a few meters of our jeep.
RAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! With no warning, they bellowed in our faces in deafening unison! Continue reading
By Michael Pardo, Cornell University
Monday, February 10:
I gazed out on Uda Walawe National Park for the first time in over a year as our jeep trundled through the entrance gate. I welcomed the cool morning air that I knew would swiftly turn hot as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Dark clouds loomed threateningly overhead, but they were all bluff. Uda Walawe is experiencing something of a drought this year—while we were driving to the park I noticed that the roaring river I remembered from last December had been replaced by a wide strip of boulders and trees.
Drought does have its advantages though. The ponds and reservoirs in the park had receded, baring flat, open areas that stood out in stark contrast to the dense shrubs and trees blanketing most of the habitat. I knew that if we were lucky enough to encounter elephants at any of these waterholes, I would have a clear line of sight for behavioral observations. Continue reading
By Lizzie Webber, University of Stirling
2013: Sub-adults trunk wrestling with [t458] and [c458_12] nearby.
After studying the elephants in Uda Walawe National Park (UWNP) for three field seasons, many of their IDs and personalities are now firmly rooted in my memory. This has allowed me to continue unravelling some identity puzzles in my study while bridging together my field seasons from 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In 2013, [c458_12] (the calf of , born in 2012) was one of the most playful characters of the season. A male calf, he was often off with the older crew of juveniles and sub-adults (possibly cousins) who hung out with his family unit. Continue reading
Topsy the circus elephant, electrocuted in 1903 by Thomas Edison’s technicians in carrying out her death sentence while demonstrating the dangers of AC current. Photo: Chicago Tribune
By Ilja Van Braeckel
New York, anno 1903. The city stirs as dawn breaks. Woken up by the distant rumble in the neighboring tenement, you might join the breakfast table. You might appreciate your morning cup of chicory root coffee and nibble on some hard-earned buttered toast. You might scratch your head and raise an eyebrow or two as you open the newspaper and read how none other than Thomas Edison electrocuted Topsy, the 28 year female Asian elephant. You might learn how the murderous ‘beast died without a trumpet or a groan’, in Edison’s slanderous attempt to discredit his rival’s discovery of alternating current, per demonstration of its potential hazard.
Uda Walawe today, some 14 000 km and 110 years away. Neither Topsy nor Edison outwitted the tusk of time and all that remains of the unfortunate elephalectric turn of events is the original video footage and the alternating current that proved innovative. In fact, electricity is now commonly used to separate humans from other animals and this is no different in Uda Walawe, where the national park is delimited by an electric fence line. In reality, however, frequent power cuts make its efficiency questionable to say the least and the elephants, keen creatures that they are, seem to have learned to jostle over the fence poles. Continue reading