The Intelligence of Elephants
Compared to chimps, elephants have more civilized behavior.
Probably because their herds are led by older, wiser females.
7-1-20 Hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana
Mystery surrounds the "completely unprecedented" deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana over the last two months. Dr Niall McCann said colleagues in the southern African country had spotted more than 350 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta since the start of May. No one knows why the animals are dying, with lab results on samples still weeks away, according to the government. Botswana is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population. Back in May, Botswana's government ruled out poaching as a reason - noting the tusks had not been removed, according to Phys.org. There are other things which point to something other than poaching. "It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else," Dr McCann said. "If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths." Dr McCann has also tentatively ruled out natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Bostwana last year. But they have been unable to rule out either poisoning or disease. The way the animals appear to be dying - many dropping on their faces - and sightings of other elephants walking in circles points to something potentially attacking their neurological systems, Dr McCann said. Either way, without knowing the source, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a disease crossing into the human population - especially if the cause is in either the water sources or the soil. Dr McCann points to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in animals. "Yes, it is a conservation disaster - but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis," he said. Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian they had so far confirmed at least 280 elephants had died, and were in the process of confirming the rest. However, they did not know what was causing the animals' deaths. "We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so," he said.
2-7-20 Botswana to hold elephant hunting auctions
Botswana is to hold its first auctions for the right to hunt elephants since lifting a ban last year. The country has some 130,000 elephants, the world's largest population. Authorities will issue seven hunting "packages" of 10 elephants each, confined to "controlled hunting areas", a spokeswoman said. The government revoked a 2014 ban in May, saying human-elephant conflict and the negative impact on livelihoods was increasing. The lifting of the ban has been popular with many in local communities but criticised by conservationists. Seven packages of 10 elephants each are on offer and the auction will take place in the capital Gaborone on Friday afternoon, the BBC's Southern Africa correspondent Nomsa Maseko reports. The bidders - who must be companies registered in Botswana - are expected to put down a refundable deposit of 200,000 pula ($18,000; £14,000). The government has issued a quota for the killing of 272 elephants in 2020. The hunting would help areas most impacted by "human wildlife conflict", wildlife spokeswoman Alice Mmolawa told the AFP news agency. Many rural communities believe a return to commercial hunting will help keep the elephant population away from their villages, and also bring in much-needed income in places not suitable for high-end tourism. But critics fear it could also drive away luxury-safari goers opposed to hunting. Audrey Delsink, Africa's wildlife director for the global conservation lobby charity Humane Society International, called the auctions "deeply concerning and questionable". "Hunting is not an effective long-term human-elephant mitigation tool or population control method," she told AFP. President Mokgweetsi Masisi's predecessor Ian Khama introduced the ban in 2014 to reverse a decline in the population of wild animals.
11-1-19 Apple TV+’s ‘The Elephant Queen’ shies away from hard truths
The documentary captures life in an elephant herd but largely avoids threats the animals face. A stirring scene in The Elephant Queen shows a herd of African elephants encountering an elephant’s remains on the barren savanna. Slowly, the elephants extend their trunks to gently touch the skull, lingering on its grooves as though they remember, and mourn, the elephant that was. It’s one of the film’s many intimate glimpses into the lives of elephants. The family-friendly documentary debuts November 1 on the new streaming service Apple TV+. The Elephant Queen shies away from the larger forces — climate change, habitat loss and poaching — that threaten the subjects it beautifully portrays. But if you can look past that, and the sometimes-cheesy soundtrack and over-the-top narration, you’re left with an enjoyable film that generates compassion for these gentle giants. The film, narrated by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, centers on Athena, a 50-year-old matriarch, as she leads her herd across the Kenyan savanna. The local focus of the documentary is refreshing compared with the sweeping purview of series like Planet Earth. We meet the clan during good times, while the elephants play at a verdant water hole among the frogs, birds, insects and fish that also live there. The film benefits from this wider perspective. One memorable scene provides up-close detail of a totally bizarre behavior. On a slim branch overhanging the water hole, a dozen male foam-nest tree frogs clamor around a single female, whipping up a large, white foam mass into which the female lays eggs. Four days later, tadpoles drop from the foam into the water, only to get gobbled up by terrapins.
10-31-19 Female Asian elephants mysteriously stop reproducing later in life
Female Asian elephants stop reproducing towards the end of their lives, putting them among a very small number of species that experience something akin to the menopause. Only humans, orcas, narwhals, beluga whales and short-finned pilot whales are known to exhibit what biologists call extended post-reproductive lifespan. The existence of such a stage is an evolutionary riddle: why should individuals give up trying to leave more descendants? Simon Chapman at the University of Turku, Finland, and his colleagues studied records of 3802 female Asian elephants that worked in timber camps in Myanmar between 1940 and 2018. This population is considered semi-captive as humans don’t intervene in their reproduction and their mortality and fertility patterns are similar those of to wild elephants. The oldest elephants in this group live into their 70s, but most have had their last calf by age 55. The researchers calculate that the proportion of years lived by females in a post-reproductive phase is 16 per cent: some way short of humans’ 43 per cent but considerably more than African elephants’ 4 per cent. Although their fertility declines in the later stages of life, there is no cut-off point at which reproduction becomes impossible, as it does in humans. In elephants, the cessation of reproduction may be determined by behaviour, rather than physiology, says Chapman. “We think it’s more of a social thing.” It could be that this behavioural trait is a first step towards evolving a true menopause. One prominent idea to explain why females might stop having offspring some time before the end of their lives is known as the grandmother hypothesis. If older females help care for their grandchildren, the theory says, they end up leaving more descendants than if they have more children of their own. There is some supporting evidence from studies of human populations before people had access to modern medicine.
10-16-19 Inside Sri Lanka's deadly struggle to live peacefully with elephants
Sri Lanka has the world's highest rate of human-elephant conflict – last year alone, it killed 70 people and 300 elephants. A simple solution can make all the difference, if people are willing to try it. LIKE many young bull elephants, Brigadier had a strategy. Spending his days in a small patch of forest in north-west Sri Lanka, he would emerge under cover of darkness to feast on crops. One evening, he bundled into an army brigadier’s property, earning him his name and sealing his fate. Government officials captured Brigadier and trucked him to Maduru Oya National Park. But he immediately took off, probably intending to find his way home, got lost and wound up 120 kilometres north at Sampur beach. Incredibly, a navy boat discovered him swimming 5 kilometres offshore and towed him to safety. After his big adventure, Brigadier settled down again, returning to his nocturnal crop-raiding routine. Six months later, he was found dead at the bottom of a well. Apart from the swimming bit, stories like this are common in Sri Lanka, where habitat loss is forcing elephants into an increasingly bloody conflict with humans. When I visited the country to report on efforts to stem the bloodshed, I found that the government’s favoured solution of moving problem elephants into fenced-off national parks isn’t working. Some experts believe it will even backfire, pushing the species to the brink in the country. The only way to secure the future of Sri Lanka’s elephants, they argue, is to find ways to peacefully coexist with them. That is no mean feat. And yet, as I saw for myself in several villages, there is a simple solution. The question is, will it be implemented across the island? And will people accept that the elephants must live among us or not at all? Asian elephants are under pressure. Their numbers have declined by an estimated 50 per cent in the last 75 years, leaving just 40,000 to 50,000 in the wild. Although they aren’t poached anywhere near as much as their African cousins, their forest homes are being rapidly fragmented. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Sri Lanka. It accounts for just 2 per cent of their total habitat, yet is home to over 5000 Asian elephants – more than 10 per cent of the remaining global population.
10-13-19 Thai elephant deaths: Do elephants risk their lives to save each other?
Last week, Thailand suffered one of its biggest ever single elephant tragedies, when 11 animals in one family died in a swollen river. At first only six elephants were thought to have died - days later another five were spotted downstream. The initial theory from park rangers in Khao Yai National Park was that they died in a rescue mission. As they crossed the treacherous 150m-tall Haew Narok - or Hell's Falls - a baby slipped and the others fell trying to save it. Though the loss of 11 elephants isn't catastrophic to the species, there is something about them that draws us in, and this apparent self-sacrifice struck a chord around the world - millions of you read our story alone. But emotions aside, how plausible is it that elephants would have both the empathy and skill to risk their lives for a baby? And perhaps more importantly now, what does this mean for the survivors? Dr Joshua Plotnik, assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College City University of New York, has been studying elephants in Thailand for more than a decade. He told the BBC that with no witnesses, we can't assume what happened. But he says it's "certainly reasonable to suspect that when an elephant in a family group is in danger the other elephants might do everything they can to go help". There is well documented evidence of elephants recognising danger and co-ordinating their actions to stage a rescue. But Dr Plotnik says it seems unlikely that they would "actively all go over a waterfall in a dangerous situation like that". It was more likely a terrible accident. Dr Rachel Dale, an elephant behaviour specialist at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, agrees that elephants will unquestionably help an elephant in danger, "even if it's at a cost to themselves". But they're also "smart animals, really smart", she says, so probably have the ability to carry out a kind of perfunctory risk assessment before rushing in.
10-5-19 Six elephants die trying to save each other at Thai waterfall
Six elephants have fallen to their deaths in Thailand while trying to save each other from a notorious waterfall. Officials said the incident occurred after a baby elephant slipped over the waterfall in southern Thailand's Khao Yai National Park. Two other elephants have been spotted on a cliff edge nearby, and Thai authorities are trying to move them. There have been similar incidents previously at the same waterfall, known locally as Haew Narok (Hell's Fall). A herd of eight elephants died after falling in 1992. Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) said officials were called to the scene on Saturday at 03:00 local time (20:00 GMT on Friday) when a group of elephants was blocking a road by the waterfall. Three hours later, the body of a three-year-old elephant was spotted near the base of Haew Narok, and five others were discovered nearby. Edwin Wiek, the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, said any elephants left in the herd would have difficulty surviving as the animals rely on each other for protection and finding food. The incident could also take an emotional toll. Elephants have been known to display signs of grief. "It's like losing half your family," Mr Wiek told the BBC. (Webmaster's comment: All the good traits of human beings are expressed in this incident. Animals have the same drive to help others of their kind as humans do.)
7-15-19 Elephants help forests store more carbon by destroying smaller plants
Elephants do a lot of damage to plants as they stomp around the jungle, but, counterintuitively, this activity increases the biomass of the forest, letting it store more carbon. If elephants were to go extinct, the amount of carbon stored in central African rainforests could ultimately fall by 7 per cent, according to a new analysis. There are thought to have been around a million elephants in these forests in the early 19th century, but there are now only about 100,000. These animals graze and trample on trees smaller than 30 centimetres in diameter – plants that are subject to a lot of competition for light, water and space. Fabio Berzaghi at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, and his colleagues wondered if elephants’ destructive habits might allow surviving trees to grow larger by eliminating their competition. They built a mathematical model of plant diversity and simulated the impact of elephants by increasing the mortality of smaller plants. The model showed that elephants reduce the density of stems in the forest, but increase the average tree diameter and the total biomass. Overall, they favour slow-growing trees that live longer and store more carbon in their trunks. “If elephants promote these kinds of trees, in the long run you will store more atmospheric carbon in trees,” says Berzaghi. The model results fit with data from sites in the Congo basin where elephants live and comparable areas that are undisturbed by elephants. These effects may also account for the differences between African and Amazonian rainforest. In the Amazon, where there are no large herbivores, the number of trees per hectare is higher, but they tend to be smaller and hold less biomass in total. “We think that large herbivores have contributed to these differences,” says Berzaghi.
6-3-19 Elephants can judge the quantity of hidden food just by using smell
When it comes to quantities, an elephant’s nose knows. Elephants can use their sense of smell to detect the largest amount of food among two samples, even when the food is hidden from sight. “For some reason every elephant I’ve ever worked with in Thailand loves sunflower seeds,” says Joshua Plotnik at the City University of New York. He and his colleagues worked with six Asian elephants in Thailand, testing their ability to discern between different amounts of seeds. Two buckets with locked lids were set on a long table, each with different quantities of seeds ranging from 4 to 24 grams. Each trial used one of 11 ratios of seeds in the buckets – for example 1 to 2, or 3 to 5 – and each elephant completed 10 trials. Once the elephants sniffed the buckets, they were unlocked and the animals chose one to eat from. The elephants chose the greater quantity 69 per cent of the time overall. As the difference between the seed quantities increased, the elephants selected the larger amount more often. There was no difference in their success rate when the ratios were the same but the amounts changed – say, they were given either 4 grams versus 8 grams, or 12 grams versus 24 grams. To eliminate the chance that the elephants were using cues from humans, the team ran a double-blind test where the experimenters didn’t know which bucket had the most seeds. They also accounted for residual odour in the buckets from previous tests and used a metal bucket to account for any smells that may be better transmitted by plastic. In all cases, the elephants were still able to discern the larger quantity. “After that, I thought maybe they are just smelling the larger quantity better because the seeds reach higher in the bucket,” says Plotnik. “But we raised the seeds up in the bucket so they were at the same level, and the elephants could still tell the difference.”
12-1-18 TEDWomen: Vibrations offer new way to track elephants
Researchers have come up with a new way of tracking elephants, via the vibrations that the animals make. Scientists Dr Beth Mortimer and Prof Tarje Nissen-Meyer discovered that elephants generate vibrations through their normal movements and through vocalisations, known as "rumbles". These can be measured by techniques usually used for studying earthquakes. The Oxford academics spoke about their research at the TEDWomen conference currently under way in California. They explained how they measured the seismic waves that could travel nearly four miles through the ground. They recorded the vibrations generated by wild elephants in Kenya while walking and calling, using instruments known as geophones. Seismological modelling software that incorporates the local geological information was combined with computer algorithms to produce accurate estimates of the seismic waves produced by elephants. They filmed the animals during recordings and later synchronised the two to allow them to visually confirm that the vibrations originated from elephants. They found that other noise and soil type affected their ability to distinguish the patterns over long distances. Vibrations travel farther through sand than through hard rock and also when little other noise is present to interfere. Finding out what elephants are doing, even when they are some distance away, could help fight poaching in real time as well as offering insights into their behaviour, they said. Their findings were published in a paper for journal Current Biology earlier this year. Save The Elephants' chief executive, Frank Pope said of the research: "Legends and folklore have long spoken about the way elephants cannot only communicate across long distances, but also detect other events that shake the ground like far-off thunder.
11-21-18 Why elephants are losing their tusks
In response to the ivory poaching that’s decimating their populations, female elephants are evolving to lose their tusks, reports National Geographic. During the 1977–92 civil war in Mozambique, poachers killed about 90 percent of the elephants in Gorongosa National Park. Today, only about 200 adult females remain—and of those born since the end of the war, 32 percent are tuskless. Usually, only about 4 percent of female African elephants have no tusks. But since tuskless elephants are more likely to survive in an era of heavy poaching, they’re growing in numbers and passing on their genes to tuskless offspring. Among males, tusklessness is extremely rare, but there is evidence that male tusk size is shrinking in response to the ivory trade. In the wake of mass poaching in Kenya during the late 1970s and early 1980s, tusk size in Kenya fell by a fifth in males and a third in females. Elephants that lack tusks—which are essentially overgrown teeth typically used to fell trees, dig holes for water, and do other everyday activities—appear to be adapting and surviving. But they are likely doing so by traveling more to find recoverable food, or by piggybacking off the hard work done by their tusked peers. So it’s unknown how this evolutionary change will affect elephant populations over time, says behavorial ecologist Ryan Long. “[The] consequences of such dramatic changes in elephant populations are only just beginning to be explored.”
1-23-18 The human-elephant conflict in India's tea state Assam
Growers of world-famous Assam tea are encroaching into forests, fuelling a conflict between elephants and humans, locals and authorities in the Indian state have said. Officials blame small-scale plantations for most of the encroachment but local leaders told the BBC there was no up-to-date land survey of bigger tea "estates" either. A major association of tea companies has rejected the accusation, arguing that forest coverage is in its members' interest. However, a study by the Indian government has found that tea gardens are contributing to Assam's deforestation. "The decrease in forest cover of the state is mainly due to encroachment in forest land, biotic pressure, rotational felling in tea gardens and shifting cultivation," the environment ministry's State of the Forest report said in 2015. Official figures show nearly 800 people were killed by wild elephants in Assam between 2006 and 2016. One person dies every day in India after coming into contact with an elephant or tiger, according to the most recent figures made public by the government last year. Between 2014 and 2015, casualties related to elephant attacks were the highest in West Bengal state followed by Assam, which recorded 54 deaths in that period.
1-1-18 China's ban on ivory trade comes into force
China has long been one of the world's biggest markets for ivory, but as of 2018 all trade in ivory and ivory products in the country is illegal. The move is being hailed as a major development in efforts to protect the world's elephant population. Wildlife campaigners believe 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year. State media said there had already been a 65% decline in the price of raw ivory over the past year. There had also been an 80% decline in seizures of ivory entering China, said Xinhua. The ban was announced last year and came into effect on Sunday, the last day of 2017. Sixty-seven official factories and shops dealing in ivory had already been closed by March 2017, said Xinhua, and the remaining 105 were to have shut down by Sunday. "From now on, if a merchant tells you 'this is a state-approved ivory dealer'... he is duping you and knowingly violating the law," the forestry ministry said on its Weibo microblog. Xinhua said "one of the largest ever public awareness campaigns" had been carried out in the run-up to the ban, with support from celebrities including superstar basketball player Yao Ming. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said it was "delighted to see the doors of the world's largest ivory market close". "This is a significant step that should prove to be a huge boost to elephant protection efforts in Africa," said WWF's Africa director Fred Kumah in a blog post.
12-28-17 The country that brought its elephants back from the brink
Prince Harry is the new president of a conservation group called African Parks, which takes over national parks and gives rangers military-style training to take on poachers and protect wildlife. The BBC visited one of the parks it manages, at Zakouma in Chad. A distant, guttural growl of elephants, and the occasional trumpet, drifted over the thick screen of lush trees and dry-scrub grass. The nearest calls were nearby, the furthest a mile or more away: this was the large herd we had been looking for. Tracking collars had pinpointed them at dawn, but these elephants move quickly, and after centuries of hunting, run if they see, or even smell, humans. The well armed rangers from the Mamba Two fast-response team fanned out ahead to the left and the right, not wanting to surprise, or be surprised by, a lone animal. They excitedly beckoned us to follow them slowly and carefully into a thicker section of trees. It had been a three-hour flight in a small plane, from Chad's capital, N'Djamena, to Zakouma National Park, and a three-hour drive to this section in search of the herd, the last of the park's elephants. Tens of thousands once lived in this reserve covering 3,800 sq km (1,470 sq miles), but for centuries it was the nearest place Sudanese horsemen could find ivory, much coveted by Arab traders along the Nile. Originally they hunted with spears and swords, but modern AK47 assault rifles allowed killing on an industrial scale. Janjaweed mercenaries from Dafur, in western Sudan, continue to be the biggest poaching threat, with heavily armed, military-trained raiding parties on horseback targeting the elephant herds for their tusks. Zakouma has lost 90% of the 22,000 elephants it had in the mid-1970s.
11-7-17 India award for burning elephant photo
An image of two elephants fleeing a mob that set them on fire has won top entry in a wildlife photography competition. Biplab Hazra's picture shows a calf on fire as it and an adult elephant run for their lives in eastern India. Announcing the award, Sanctuary magazine said "this sort of humiliation... is routine". The photo was taken in West Bengal, where human-elephant conflict is rife. It's unclear what eventually happened to the two elephants in the award-winning picture, which was taken in Bankura district. The district has often been in the news for human deaths caused by encounters with elephants. (Webmaster's comment: The most primitive, savage nation on earth continues to earn its reputation! Gang rapes and murders, burning wives alive after their husband's natural deaths, drinking out of the sewer of a river, the Ganges, only half the population has toilets, the list is endless.)
8-17-17 Freeze-dried dung gives clue to Asian elephant stress
Freeze-dried dung gives clue to Asian elephant stress
"Collecting fresh faecal samples is not as easy as it may sound," says researcher Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel. But her efforts have helped scientists in India devise a unique, non-invasive way to monitor the physiological health of wild elephants. The key has been freeze-drying dung in the field to preserve the elephant's hormones. As a result, scientists found stress levels in females were more conspicuous than in male elephants. Over five years, Sanjeeta and her colleagues collected more than 300 samples from 261 elephants in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats area. She explained her technique: "I used to hide and observe till the elephant defecated and moved away." She told the BBC: "These samples mean a lot to me." The aim of the research was to evaluate the influence of the elephants' body condition on glucocorticoid metabolites. Animals such as elephants are subjected to various stressors in their lives, with factors including threats from predators, food shortages, drought and illness. Whenever any animal faces stressful events, their body secretes hormones known as glucocorticoids. These hormones are released into the circulatory system which eventually breaks them down into metabolites that are excreted through urine or faeces. The researchers say that collecting blood samples to assess stress levels is neither ethical nor feasible, since immobilising the animals will cause additional stress, thus biasing the study. "So glucocorticoid was measured using faecal or dung samples," said Sanjeeta.
7-6-17 Elephant tourism is 'fuelling cruelty'
Elephant tourism is 'fuelling cruelty'
Millions of people want selfies riding elephants, or washing them, or patting their trunks. But according to a study carried out by World Animal Protection (WAP) across Asia this is helping to fuel a rise in elephants captured from the wild and kept for entertainment. The number in Thailand has increased by almost a third over the last five years. WAP researchers assessed almost 3,000 elephants and found that more than three quarters were living in "severely cruel" conditions. Many were bound with chains less than 3m long and were forced to stand on concrete floors close to loud roads, crowds and music. Some 160 travel companies have already committed to stop selling tickets to or promoting venues offering elephant rides and shows. In 2016, TripAdvisor announced that it would end the sale of tickets for wildlife experiences where tourists come in to direct contact with wild animals, including elephant riding. Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection (WAP), said: "The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing - we want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life. "There is an urgent need for tourist education and regulation of wildlife tourist attractions worldwide. Venues that offer tourists a chance to watch elephants in genuine sanctuaries are beacons of hope that can encourage the urgently-needed shift in the captive elephant tourism industry." (Webmaster's comment: BY WHAT RIGHT! This is part of the EVIL Christian teaching that man has dominion over animals!)
5-15-17 The tragic price of ivory
The tragic price of ivory
Poachers are now slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. A single male elephant's two tusks can weigh more than 250 pounds, with a pound of ivory fetching as much as $1,500 on the black market. The ivory is so valuable because all across Asia — particularly in China — ivory figurines are given as traditional gifts, and ivory chopsticks, hair ornaments, and jewelry are highly prized luxuries. "China regards ivory as a cultural heritage; they are not going to ban it," said Grace Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Many Chinese consumers don't realize that elephants must be killed for their ivory; in one survey, more than two thirds of Chinese respondents said they thought tusks grew back like fingernails. Elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures that live in matriarchal groups, and poaching has ravaged much of their social structure. The biggest tusks are found on the largest breeding males and on the oldest females, who lead the elephant troops. Where these animals are targeted and killed, elephant populations are reduced to leaderless groups of traumatized orphans huddling together. In the past year, even they are being wiped out, as some poachers have started dumping cyanide into watering holes, killing every animal that drinks there. Last year, poachers killed an estimated 300 elephants in Zimbabwe's largest park, Hwange, by lacing watering holes and salt licks with cyanide.
- How extensive is the poaching?
- What impact has the slaughter had on the elephants?
- Who are the poachers?
- Why is the price so high?
- What steps are being taken to stop poaching?
- Is China cooperating?
- Why is the ban so hard to enforce?
- Endangered Asian elephants
3-29-17 Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Bright animals from chimps to crows know what they know and what others are thinking. But when it comes to abstract knowledge, the picture is more mixed. WORKERS at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, claim that elephants know they will be looked after at its rescue centre, even if the animals have never been there. Elephants that have had no contact with the centre, but know others who have, often turn up with injuries that need attention. That suggests not only abstract knowledge, but relatively sophisticated communication of that knowledge. Either that, or wishful thinking on our part. The extent to which non-human animals “know” things is difficult to assess. The attribute known as “theory of mind” – the ability to know what others are aware of – has been demonstrated, although not always conclusively, in elephants, chimps, parrots, dolphins and ravens, for example. Dolphins are even aware of lacking knowledge. Train a dolphin to answer a question such as “was that a high or low-frequency tone you just heard?” and they give sensible answers, even giving a “don’t know” when the right response isn’t clear. Some primates spontaneously seek further information when posed a question that they can’t answer, suggesting they know both that they don’t know and that they can change that. Things look more mixed when we consider abstract knowledge: the ability we have to understand abstract properties such as weight or force, and squirrel away knowledge gained in one situation to be applied in some future, different context. Great apes instinctively know that, of two identical cups on a seesaw, the lower one is more likely to contain food. “They have a spontaneous preference, from the first time, for the lower cup,” says Christoph Voelter, who researches animal cognition at the University of St Andrews, UK. “They seem to have certain physical knowledge about the world.” New Caledonian crows, on the other hand, don’t have this know-how and make “mistakes” when assessing which stones will exert the most force on a lever to release food. “Crows aren’t using knowledge of force when initially solving the problem,” says Alex Taylor of the University of Auckland, New Zealand – rather, they seem to use trial and error.
1-9-17 The trunk trick that lets elephants pick up almost anything
The trunk trick that lets elephants pick up almost anything
Kelly the elephant has shown how trunks can grip and lift anything from fine granules to 350-kilogram logs – it’s all in the kink. A captive African elephant called Kelly has helped to shed light on one of nature’s great mysteries: how elephant trunks that can grip and carry heavy logs a metre across can also handle tiny, fragile objects. Jianing Wu at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his colleagues, offered Kelly items of food in four different sizes – powdered bran, cubed bran, cubed swede and largest of all, cubed celery. “We wanted to know how she would grab food items of different size,” says Wu. They offered the food on a table that measured the downward force her trunk generated during gripping, and took detailed measurements of Kelly’s trunk manoeuvres to find out how she varied the shape of her trunk and the forces it applied to grip each target. Kelly’s secret, it turns out, was her ability to create a kink at any point along her 2-metre-long trunk that would provide exactly the right downward force to grip each size of food item. The kink acted like a joint that subdivided her trunk into two sections: a long section that supported the weight of the trunk and a short tip pointing vertically downwards for dexterous gripping.
11-7-16 Most illegal ivory is less than three years old
Most illegal ivory is less than three years old
Around 90 percent of ivory seized by law enforcement came from African elephants that died shy of three years before being collected, a study of ivory samples finds. The results confirm what many conservationists have suspected: Long-term stockpiles don’t contribute much ivory to illegal trade, and recent poaching is pushing regional elephant populations into a nose-dive. Last year, DNA evidence linked tusks to poaching hotspots in Africa. Now researchers have used radiocarbon dating on some of the same tusks to pinpoint the time of death of the elephants to which they once belonged. The team sampled 231 specimens seized in 14 large-scale raids from 2002 to 2014.
10-10-16 African elephants walk on their tippy-toes
African elephants walk on their tippy-toes
African elephants may develop foot problems when they tiptoe across hard surfaces in captivity. Elephants don’t wear high heels, but they certainly walk like they do. Foot problems plague pachyderm conservation efforts. But it’s not clear if being in captivity causes changes in walking gait that drive these foot problems or whether the environment messes with their natural walking style. Regardless of species or setting, a trend emerged: Elephants put the most pressure on the outside toes of their front feet and the least pressure on their heels, scientists report October 5 in Royal Society Open Science. Thus, elephants naturally walk on their tiptoes, and harder surfaces of captive environments must cramp their walking style. As a potential monitoring system, the pressure plates used in the study could aid conservationists and elephant podiatrists.
10-3-16 Efforts to boost elephant protection fails at Cites
Efforts to boost elephant protection fails at Cites
Attempts to give the maximum level of international protection to all African elephants have foundered at a key species conference in Johannesburg. A proposal put forward by Kenya was strongly supported but failed to gain the two-thirds majority required. The opposition of the EU, which voted as a block, was pivotal in the defeat. Other proposals that would have opened up new ivory markets were also rejected. Proponents of the increased protection say it is a missed opportunity to safeguard the future of the species and end the current poaching crisis.
10-2-16 Call to close ivory markets agreed at Cites conference
Call to close ivory markets agreed at Cites conference
Delegates at a UN wildlife conference have endorsed calls for the closure of all domestic ivory markets. The non-binding proposal was approved at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in South Africa. Conservationists hailed it as a significant step towards ending the current elephant poaching crisis. However Japan, which has a large domestic ivory trade, said the proposal did not apply there. While the international market in ivory has been closed since 1989, legal domestic markets have continued in many countries around the world. There has been growing concern that domestic trading has encouraged the poaching of elephants. A surge in killing over the past seven years has seen populations across Africa shrink by a third, according to the recently published Great Elephant Census. What is driving the slaughter is the value of ivory, which can sell for around $1,100 (£850) per kilo in China. Countries including the US and China have announced plans to close their markets. The UK recently did the same, banning all trade in ivory dated from 1947 until the present day. Trade in materials from before 1947 will continue.
9-27-16 CITES species body rejects process for ivory sales
CITES species body rejects process for ivory sales
Delegates at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg have defeated an attempt to set up a process to resume sales of ivory. Under discussion for eight years, the so-called Decision Making Mechanism was supported by a number of southern African states. It was intended to work out a way for legitimate ivory sales to resume at some point in the future. But the Conference of the Parties (COP) heavily rejected the proposal.
9-26-16 Zambia's front line between elephants and humans
Zambia's front line between elephants and humans
As the Cites conference on endangered species meets in Johannesburg, the BBC's Matt McGrath travelled to Zambia to hear the voices of people with first-hand experience of conflicts between humans and wildlife. Humphrey Mubita farms near the Kafue National Park. Kafue is often said to be the green jewel of Zambia, being its oldest and biggest protected area covering over 22,000 sq km. When the national park system in Zambia was set up, the authorities decided to designate buffer zones around them, areas in which people live and farm, but also areas in which the animals from the park move freely. This has had tragic consequences for Humphrey. "My daughter was going to the clinic in Chunga, on the way she met this elephant. There were five people, but the other four knew where to hide. My daughter was a visitor to the area so she didn't know how to divert…" Humphrey's daughter was 29 years old and left three children behind. Her case is not an isolated one. Humphrey knows of two other people who have been killed by elephants in the past three years. The main complaint that Humphrey and others in his area have about the elephants is the lack of compensation from the government - The destruction of crops or people is just a "loss to be borne", as another villager said.
The mirror test is an experiment developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. to determine whether an animal possesses the ability to recognize itself in a mirror. It is the primary indicator of self-awareness in non-human animals and marks entrance to the mirror stage by human children in developmental psychology. Animals that pass the mirror test are: Humans older than 18 mo, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas (Killer Whales), Elephants, and European Magpies. Others showing signs of self-awareness are Pigs, some Gibbons, Rhesus Macaques, Capuchin Monkeys, some Corvids (Crows & Ravens) and Pigeons w/training.
9-25-16 New report confirms grim outlook for elephants
New report confirms grim outlook for elephants
Elephant populations in Africa have declined by around 111,000 over the past 10 years according to a new study. The African Elephant Status report says that poaching is the main driver of the fall, the worst losses in 25 years. However the authors say that long-term issues such as the loss of habitat also pose a significant threat. The report has been presented at the Cites meeting which is considering new proposals on elephant protection. Every year in Africa between 30,000 and 40,000 elephants are poached for their ivory, and it's thought there are only 400,000 left. Even accounting for the newborns, this rate of killing calls into question whether these amazing creatures will still be around in a generation, especially as Africa's ever-increasing population is reducing the space for them. Organised crime runs the ivory industry.
9-24-16 Deep divisions over elephants to dominate key species meeting
Deep divisions over elephants to dominate key species meeting
The illegal trade in ivory has seen elephant numbers plummet. The world's biggest conference on species protection has opened in South Africa amid concern and division over the survival of elephants. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will address proposals impacting more than 500 plants and animals. But elephants are likely to top the bill with countries bitterly divided over the best way to protect the ponderous pachyderms. Billed as the largest gathering in the 43-year history of the convention, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) will see more than 2,500 delegates from more than 180 countries come together in Johannesburg. While there are proposals affecting lions, sharks, rhinos, pangolins and dozens of other species, the main focus will be on elephants. There have been growing international concerns about the surge in poaching for ivory that has seen elephant numbers plummet by 30% in the past seven years.
9-9-16 As IUCN votes on ivory trade, elephants’ future looks bleak
As IUCN votes on ivory trade, elephants’ future looks bleak
Forest elephants are a species distinct from their savannah cousins. New research finds that populations of both elephant species are in trouble. The fate of Africa’s elephants may be decided before the weekend is out. Members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, happening this week in Honolulu, will decide on Motion 7, which would call on the IUCN to encourage governments to shut down the ivory trade — and provide help in doing so. The hope is that ending the demand for ivory — and with it, hopefully, the large-scale elephant poaching that has been going on for more than a decade — would allow both savannah and forest elephants to recover. But two new studies show that the species have declined so much that, even after poaching ends, their populations will take decades to recover.
8-31-16 Slow birth rate found in African forest elephants
Slow birth rate found in African forest elephants
African forest elephants have an extremely slow birth rate, putting them under greater pressure from poaching, research suggests. Scientists have found that the animals start to breed at a later age and with longer intervals between calves than other elephant species. The researchers say it means it could take decades for this species to recover from recent dramatic declines.
8-31-16 Slow-to-breed elephant hurtles towards extinction
Slow-to-breed elephant hurtles towards extinction
The African forest elephant doesn’t begin having offspring until its mid-20s – which makes population recovery a mammoth problem, even if poaching can be halted. African forest elephants could be wiped out in the next 10 years. Numbers of this small elephant species that inhabits tropical forests fell by about 65 per cent across the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2013, according to a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society. They are being poached for their ivory. “In 2013 the estimated remaining population was 100,000,” says study co-author Peter Wrege at the Elephant Listening Project, part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Ithaca, New York. “But poaching rates suggest that 12,000 to 15,000 forest elephants are being killed every year. At this rate, forest elephants will be essentially extinct in one decade – by 2023. This should worry everybody.” The elephants’ bleak future is partly because of their slow reproduction rate. Unlike the bigger, more abundant savannah elephants – which start breeding from the age of 12 – female forest elephants begin breeding only at 23. They then only give birth only once every five to six years. “Overall, this makes forest elephants the slowest reproducing mammals known,” says Wrege. Orangutans are probably the closest mammal in terms of rate of reproduction – they give birth about every six to seven years. But orangutans begin reproducing in their teens rather than their twenties.
8-31-16 Why elephants are seeking refuge in Botswana
Why elephants are seeking refuge in Botswana
Elephants are everywhere - under the shade of trees, drinking by the river or playing at the few remaining waterholes in the drought-parched landscape. Botswana has more elephants than any other country in Africa - 130,451 to be precise. At least that's the estimate given by the Great Elephant Census. Sadly, hundreds of them have now probably been killed since the survey was done. Botswana may be their last place of refuge on the continent, but poachers are already breaching its vast borders in their pursuit of ivory. In seven years, 30% of Africa's elephants have disappeared. At the current rate of decline, half the continent's remaining pachyderms will be gone in just nine years.
12-18-15 Seismology of elephants investigated
Seismology of elephants investigated
Could putting vibrations into the ground be a way to keep elephants from coming into conflict with humans? Already, attempts have been made to scare the animals away from villages using their own very low-frequency alarm calls - with partial success. Now scientists are studying whether even better results could be obtained if this sound in the air is accompanied also by a seismic signal underfoot. The work is being led by Prof Sue Webb from Wits University in Johannesburg. Sue Webb: "Elephants are incredibly smart; they soon figure out when things are fake"
10-1-15 The birds that fear death
The birds that fear death
Crows will gather around their dead. And the reasons why are intriguing. Crows are now the latest in the small group of animals that are known to recognise, or perhaps even mourn their dead. Elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees and several other corvid species are also known to loiter near recently deceased mates.
9-18-15 The inner lives of animals
The inner lives of animals
The evidence shows that elephants and apes mourn their dead, becoming listless and depressed. Dolphins can recognize their own reflections, have intricate social structures, and appear to call each other by individual names. Apes and chimps make tools, plan for the future, and display empathy and inferential reasoning. Primatologist Frans de Waal, writing in The New York Times about the recent discovery of a hominin ancestor with both human and ape characteristics, blames human vanity for the belief we are separate and distinct from the "extended family" of creatures on the great continuum of evolution. "The wall between human and animal cognition," de Waal says, "is like a Swiss cheese." If you doubt our kinship with the animal kingdom, I refer you to the daily news coverage of our species' Darwinian struggles for dominance and survival. Evolution is a work in progress: We are still closer to the beasts than to the gods.
4-4-15 Postmenopausal Orcas guide hunts
Postmenopausal Orcas guide hunts
By finding fish, older females improve survival of kin. Same as with elephants, the older females are the leaders. They are the custodians of Orca knowledge
4-19-14 Elephants pick out worrisome voices
Elephants pick out worrisome voices
Herds react to speech that they may recognize as dangerous
3-10-14 Elephants recognise human voices
Elephants recognise human voices
Elephants are able to differentiate between ethnicities and genders, and can tell an adult from a child - all from the sound of a human voice.
1-14-14 Pachyderm politics: In Elephant Society, Matriarchs Lead
Pachyderm politics: In Elephant Society, Matriarchs Lead
It takes wisdom, experience and two X chromosomes to successfully lead a herd of elephants, finds Lesley Evans Ogden
10-31-13 Elephant society 'still disrupted decades after cull'
Elephant society 'still disrupted decades after cull'
African elephants' decision-making abilities are left impaired by culling operations that ended decades ago, University of Sussex research suggests.
10-10-13 Elephants 'understand human gesture'
Elephants 'understand human gesture'
African elephants have demonstrated what appears to be an instinctive understanding of human gestures, according to UK scientists.
10-31-06 Elephants' jumbo mirror ability
Elephants' jumbo mirror ability
Elephants can recognize their own reflection, showing self-awareness seen before only in humans, great apes and bottlenose dolphins, scientists say.
Echo - An Elephant to Remember
Echo and Other Elephants - Enchanting Stories of an Elephant Family
Soul of the Elephant - Wild Elephant Lives
Naledi - One Little Elephant
Inside Animal Minds - Article in National Geographic: Asian Elephant: Retains long memories and social ties; possesses a sense of self.
When Elephants Weep - The Emotional Lives of Animals
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The Intelligence of Elephants
Compared to Chimps have more civilized behavior.
Probably because their herds are led by older females.