Recording elephants

Guest post by Michael Pardo, Cornell University

Monday, December 31, 2012


Batik and her calf

Last Monday, Sameera and I underwent a grueling six-hour bus ride (each way) to the capital city of Colombo.  Dr. Padmalal, UWERP’s collaborator for this project from the Open University of Sri Lanka, had managed to secure the approval of my research permit, and we went to pick up the document.  The long hours of sweltering heat devoid of any bathroom breaks and punctuated by the blaring of obnoxiously loud horns were worth it.  The permit allows me to record elephant vocalizations, which is, after all, why I came here.  There is only one problem:  the elephants have barely been vocalizing at all.  In fact, they seem to be doing precious little besides eating and walking.  I know that patience is key of course, but it is hard not to become a little discouraged as I wonder whether I will eventually be able to get enough sound recordings to complete my Ph.D. Continue reading

Endangered Asian elephants: masked crusader to the rescue!

By Lizzie Webber

Baretail's casual appearance.

Baretail’s casual appearance.

My favourite elephant has a deceptive disguise. By day, covered in mud, a pretty-looking elephant with a hairless tail, she goes (regrettably) by the name of Baretail – be careful what you nickname an elephant when you first meet, for it will stick! But by night, or after a good bath, Bare-tail’s gorgeous depigmentation is revealed, turning her into a super hero – a masked crusader!


The depigmentation around Baretai's eyes make her look like she's wearing a mask.

Baretail’s mask is revealed after a bath.

And that she is. Yesterday, the beautiful Baretail came to the rescue of the endangered Asian elephant. With extremely rough estimates of only 38,000 to 52,000 wild Asian elephants left globally, Bare-tail went through a 22 month pregnancy to give birth to a teeny little boy.  The B-unit, and the elephant population, has grown by one!

Continue reading

Blanche’s baby

July 28th 2006 – – –

It’s the height of the dry season, and this year the reservoir is full of elephants.  Last year, they didn’t come down at all – on my very last day in August, I saw just one group crossing it in a hurry.  This year, around every corner there is a large group of elephants.  There must have been several hundred animals altogether, including calves.It’s almost like what I’ve read of African elephants – these large aggregations are very distinctly separated.  The individuals in them don’t seem to be there by chance.  Instead, there are certain elephants who seem to be found ‘together’ a lot of the time, though not always.  Were they families?  Extended families?  Who knew.

Blanche was one of the ‘B’s.  The others were Bianca – she seemed to be the oldest, and if so maybe she qualified as a matriarch – Bitsy, Bashi, Baretail, Bali (who had a crooked tail), and Batik along with a gaggle of calves.  Blanche was so-named because most of her tail hairs were white.  She must have already been pregnant when the study began.  We saw Bitsy nearly always with Bianca, but Blanche and Bashi were sometimes off on their own.

We had spent most of the afternoon further afield, surrounded by an enormous group.  They grazed close to the water; some individuals came down to drink as many as six times in as many hours.   Now the sun is setting and it’s time to leave.

At the very last bend, just on the edge of where the short grass of the reservoir basin ended, there’s a group of up to fifty elephants.  We know nearly all the adults.  But two are standing off to a side, over what looks like a rock.  They’re Blanche and Baretail.  Through binoculars we see that this rock appears pale pink…In fact, Blanche has some wet marks behind her hind legs.  It’s a newborn!

1752h – Gets up

1753h – Tries to nurse.

1754h – Stands between Blanche (left) and Baretail (right)

1753h – Nursing while he tries to walk

June 11 2009 – Nearly 3 years old

August 22 2010 – Blanche’s calf at just over 4 years old

Continue reading