October brings welcome rain for the people and the wildlife. This year the monsoon started as early as August, so by now everything is a luxurious green. The elephants are having an easier time because it has been wetter than usual. Perhaps for this reason, there have been a lot of babies born this year.
The rains follow a typical pattern over the course of the day – sunny and hot in the morning, showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Udawalawe sits at the intersection of two climate zones, which makes for strange and beautiful cloud formations with at times surreal atmospheric conditions. In the park we play games of cat and mouse with the rain clouds, trying to dodge the hyper-local downpours that are visibly framed against the brilliant sunlight. Pro tip – elephant viewing is best when there is a little bit of drizzle to cool us all off. Continue reading →
Picture taken in 2011 shows scattered trees and grass species in between
If your garden is left unattended it grows wild after several seasons. Eventually, there will be a mini-forest of a few species carefully chosen by a natural process. This is an ecological succession. The same takes place in the wild. Once a habitat is disturbed but then left undisturbed by humans, it goes through a series of structural changes in the vegetation with time. Continue reading →
Rob Nelson of Untamed Science helped us realize this long-time goal to create little animated eco-messages about elephants. Here’s the first installment!
Or: Why do we need large wild animals?
Teachers, students and would-be conservationists: you can download this video and translate it into your own language! Be sure to let us know so we can upload it to Trunks & Leaves’ channel on YouTube. Get the animation and script here. You’ll also find links to the scientific papers that inspired this video.
Guest post & graphics by Nitin Sekar, Princeton University
A seedling germinates from elephant dung.
All around the planet, the world’s largest animal species are becoming very rare. Whether we speak of giant tortoises, large wild cows like gaur, rhinoceroses, hippos, tigers, or whales, local extinction or extreme reductions in range size and population are the norm for species that are too big or too slow-reproducing to withstand human conflict or the human hunter. Most people would probably agree that it is a shame to lose these species. But what about functionally? Are the largest animals critical to any ecological processes? When there are declines in honey bee populations, human agriculture suffers; if nitrogen fixing plants are absent from a forest, other plant species may be affected. When the largest animal species go missing, do any other species miss them? Aside from a few cases, we don’t know! This is an active area of research.
We decided to explore the role of Asia’s largest land mammal—the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)—in seed dispersal, which helps maintain the diversity of tropical forests. Continue reading →
,  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 , , 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 →