Jackals and Turtles and Elephants, Oh My!

By Michael Pardo, Cornell University 

Monday, March 3, 2014

mpardoblog2ele

[174], [036] and their calves spotted at Teak Reservoir

Sometimes it’s easy to become so focused on elephants that I forget about the other fascinating creatures that share their habitat.  This afternoon, we were watching [174], [036], and their calves at the edge of the Teak Reservoir when a large gaggle of tourist jeeps frightened them off.

We decided to stay put for a few minutes after the tourists left, in the hope that the elephants might return.  No such luck, but our patience was rewarded with something else. Continue reading

How to study social networks in elephants

Another nice summary of our work by Pleuni Pennings. Don’t forget to join us on December 21st at the Randall Museum if you are in San Francisco!

Being A Better Scientist

Elephants are smart and social, and sometimes they seem very much like humans, for example when they mourn their dead. Long term research by Shermin de Silva and colleagues (BMC Ecology, 2011) showed that their friendships are also very much like ours.

Who is she hanging out with?

Shermin and her colleagues observed 286 female elephants over 20 months in Uda Walawe National Park in Sri Lanka. Every time the field crew saw one of the elephants, they noted who she was with. The data could later be analyzed using tools from network analysis.

How to recognize 286 elephants?

But wait a second, 286 elephants … that’s a lot of elephants to remember. You may wonder how recognizing so many individual elephants is even possible for Shermin and her crew. Well, the answer is twofold. First of all, all elephants have different ears. Second, Shermin and her colleagues…

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First day

Guest post by Michael Pardo, Cornell University

Wild boar

Curious boar.

December 18, 2012

A breathtaking expanse of bushes peppered with trees.   That is my first impression of Uda Walawe National Park as we pass through the entrance gate in the early hours of the morning.  The shrubs grow densely packed on either side of the ochre-colored road, like a vertically challenged forest.  They are interspersed with teak saplings, a reminder of the days when this park was a timber plantation.  Towering banyan trees soar above the surrounding vegetation, peacocks perched in their uppermost branches.  In the distance, I can see the blue mountains and waterfalls of Nuwara Eliya, and above them, a steely sky striated with rain-laden clouds.  A grey mongoose crosses the road ahead of us, stopping briefly to stare at our jeep before disappearing into the wall of greenery.  Flocks of Common Mynas and Spotted Doves spring into the air as we rumble past.

Continue reading

Trackways freeze time to reveal ancient elephant sociality

An artist’s reconstruction of what the ancient herd may have looked like, here showing Stegotetrabelodon

The evolution of behavior is tricky to study for one very simple reason: behaviors usually don’t fossilize.  While anatomy can be reconstructed based on skeletal remains and imprints, how might one glimpse how a living, breathing organism behaved millions of years ago? Continue reading

If you’ve seen one elephant, have you seen them all?

“A horse is a horse” – but is any elephant just another elephant?

A cladogram showing the relationships between the African elephants (genus Loxodonta), Asian elephants (genus Elephas) and pleistocene woolly mammoths (genus Mammuthus) based on the hyoid bone, which is located in the neck. Figure from Shoshani & Tassy 2004.

Few people realize that Asian and African elephants are about as different from one another as we are from chimpanzees.  That’s not an exaggeration – the estimated time that they diverged from a common ancestor is about six million years ago [1], whereas humans and chimpanzees are estimated to have diverged between five to six million years ago [2].  Some have even suggested that Asian elephants may be more closely related to woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius).

It’s ok if this surprises you – the elephants may appear to resemble one another more closely in appearance and sound than humans and chimpanzees.

But what about their behavior?   Continue reading

10 Days Left To Help Elephants & Us!

Haven’t gotten around visiting our RocketHub fundraiser page yet?  There’s still time!  But hurry – we’ve only got till December 15th!

Many thanks to Marion Bricaud all the way from France for donating this lovely artwork (check out more of her art at http://polymorphicgirl.deviantart.com/)!

That’s what you’ll get if you donate at the $150 level (without the watermark, of course).  I’ve also added another reward at $250 – an original ink elephant drawing by yours truly!  There are lots of rewards at levels above and below this, so check them out & help us help elephants:

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/3707-helping-elephants-and-people-coexist

We’re part of the #SciFund challenge!

There are at least two kinds of science today – a) the kind that requires millions of dollars, a small army of techs and postdocs, and many fancy doo-dats or whatsits and b)everything else. The latter doesn’t do too well in today’s funding climate, which is geared toward funding BIG EXPENSIVE science. A small group of scientists – mostly students – are trying to change all that by appealing directly to the public to fund small, very cool, science projects and earn a nifty little reward of thanks. The projects are diverse – everything from zombie fish to next-generation algae technology.  The result: The #SciFund Challenge! Help us help elephants – and help science along the way!

WANT TO HELP?

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/3707-help-us-help-elephants-people-in-sri-lanka

Please share the link above to help us reach our goal!

Check out all the other projects here:

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/scifund

The Mystery Orphan Part 4 – The Mother Appears

By Ashoka Ranjeewa

— January 31st, 2011 —

From left to right: the teenaged ‘babysitter’ from the previous week, the newborn (no longer a mystery) and Raka.

Three days later we entered the park determined to find Fat-tail. I was overcome with curiosity to know what had happened, and the team went in prepared to stay the whole day and comb through every inch of the park if necessary.

Fortunately, we managed to find the group toward mid-day. This time, it contained several more of its members – Fat-tail, Right-hole, Rani, Ramani, Rita, and five other adults. I searched for the newborn anxiously.

Continue reading