Facing The Threat Together

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:  [472], [873], [075], and [151], along with a number of sub-adults and juveniles.  [151] and a sub-adult female approached slowly to within a few meters of our jeep.

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RAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!  With no warning, they bellowed in our faces in deafening unison! Continue reading

Dwarf elephant battles musth male!

16 June 2014 – S. de Silva

Battle1A clear sunny day, Lucy and Mickey are off in the park with Sameera while Kumara and I stay behind to catch up on office work. It’s mid-morning when Sameera calls to tell us Walawe Kota is back!  Walawe Kota is the nickname we’ve given the dwarf elephant of Uda Walawe.  This would be at least the third year now. What’s more, he’s in musth and reportedly fighting another male.  At first, the news is a bit confusing – there’s mention of a possible injury.

I’ve never seen him in the flesh though Kumara and Sameera have. I’ve only seen pictures and video clips, so I’m eager to try our luck. The park office reports he’s been spotted not far from the entrance, so we hop in our Jeep and dash off in hopes he’s still out in the open. Continue reading

My first playback trial!

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By Mickey Pardo – Cornell University & Open University of Sri Lanka

Friday, May 23, 2014

Doing playback experiments with Asian elephants is harder than it would seem.  The basic idea is straightforward:  I want to know whether Asian elephants can distinguish between the calls of familiar and unfamiliar individuals, so I will play back recordings of familiar and unfamiliar elephants and see if the subjects react differently to them.  But in order to do a playback, so many factors must align at the same time.  The right subject must be present, the original caller must not be present, the group can’t have been exposed to a playback for at least a week, the elephants have to be stationary, they have to be clearly visible and within 50 meters of the road, there can’t be any tourists nearby, and all of these requirements must hold true for at least 15 minutes straight.  Sometimes, it seems about as likely as having your winning lottery ticket reduced to cinders by a lightning bolt.

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Where Are You? I’m Here!

 By Michael Pardo, Cornell University & Open University of Sri Lanka

From left to right: [802], [802]’s four-year old calf, and a sub-adult female resting (this was before they moved to join Tulita under the maila tree)

Tulita, [802], [802]’s calf, and a sub-adult female stood nearly motionless under the low-hanging canopy of the maila tree.  Their heads drooped low and their trunks rested on the ground as they huddled together in the shade, seeking respite from the blazing noonday sun.  The only movement was the occasional swish of a tail, in an attempt to swat away some pesky insect.  A group of jabbering tourists pulled up in a small caravan of jeeps, but the elephants paid them no heed. Suddenly, two low growls echoed across the road over the noise of the human onlookers—deep, rumbling sounds like the purring of a truck-sized cat.  They were followed by two roar-rumbles, more urgent-sounding vocalizations where a loud bellow precedes the softer rumbling component.  One more call emanated from the tall undergrowth before the sub-adult female finally answered it.  Her response was immediately answered in turn, initiating a brief exchange of vocalizations between the unseen elephant and the sub-adult under the maila tree.  As I scanned the shrubs expectantly, they soon parted, revealing the dust-covered forehead of a small female elephant.  The newcomer stepped fully out of the thorny vegetation, displaying ears with a noticeable flap in front and a long, narrow lobe.  It was Continue reading

Jackals and Turtles and Elephants, Oh My!

By Michael Pardo, Cornell University 

Monday, March 3, 2014

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[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

The Mystery Orphan, Part 1

By Ashoka Ranjeewa

– January 28 2011, 3:00 PM –

The newborn calf stayed close to a subadult female, who was very attentive to her.

It was a rainy afternoon. I met Fat-tail with a group at the crest of the Teak waterhole. Amidst the heavy downpour, they were grazing and moving towards Old Mau-Ara Road which is located on the North-east side of the park. When we neared them, Fat-tail came over and stood right next to the jeep.  She was watching us, but it was a friendly look. Fat-tail and Right-hole were part of one of the largest social units we had documented in the past five years – the Rs, named after the oldest female among them, Ragged Ear.  This unit had quite a few adults in it, but the split up during wet seasons.  Fat-tail and Right-hole were a pair that were nearly always seen together and that day was no exception, they were both together along with the calves.

Fat-tail with her juvenile calf.

After few minutes I saw a newborn female calf who was being nursed by a subadult female. Lacking milk, the teenager was unable to actually feed calf. The calf was very tiny, still having the red skin and eyes characteristic of newborns, though covered by lots of hair. It was very active and always moved under the belly of the subadult, though she was definitely too young to be the mother of the calf. I wondered who the mother was. Neither Right-hole nor Fat-tail could be the mother – Right-hole had her own small calf with her.  Fat-tail had had a newborn calf, but sadly, it had died a few months ago though she still had her older calf. She couldn’t give birth to a new calf yet since its takes 22 moths for a pregnancy so the interval between calves is usually at least four to five years. I got  very curious about who the newborn could belong to.
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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

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