Category Archives: Elephant Photos

Wherever they are – elephants need our support

TheTeach has inspired me to post a few reflections based on our post Elephant welfare – how much do we care?, and her comments afterwards. What each and one of us have to do is to decide what we believe in – which values we want to stand and fight for – which attitudes we want to show towards other creatures like elephants.  But we in the industrialized world can afford to think like this. In many poor countries millions of people have a different reality in their everyday life – they’re struggling to survive. Human-elephant conflicts and destruction of habitat often symbolizes  that we’re not able to accept certain limitations in terms of resources and land – and that local politicians and the global community not have been able to find the balance between the needs of people and other animals. Bad governance, corruption and lack of land use planning and/or it’s implementation are often strongly contributing factors, but let me not go into that. It’s “unpolitical” to talk about the lack of political drive worldwide to discuss and deal with the human population growth, but from my perspective this topic will have to come higher on the agenda if we want to keep elephants (and other wildlife) for future generations. Poverty reduction is another key, closely connected to population growth. Elephants are certainly also about tourism and revenue, and thereby work places and economical growth, so in principle we would all gain on conserving them.

Photo from Joyce and Petter visit to Thailand February 2006
OK – let me stay out of more politics for now – and go back to some of TheTeach’s comments. Since Thailand introduced anti-logging laws in 1988/89 many elephants have ended up on the streets with their mahouts. I do agree that many mahouts have a close and compassionate relationship with their elephants, but it is also a fact that the methods used to “break” the elephant to get them to do what’s expected in the first place is brutal and unacceptable from an elephant welfare perspective. Some projects are working on getting street-elephants or abused elephants back to semi wild conditions – we visited one of these projects a couple of years ago. One very interesting aspect with this particular project is that they employ and retrain the mahouts as field staff, to secure them a job and also make the transition for the elephants more easy. Another remark: Thailand probably have around 3,000 captive (so called domesticated) elephants today, and less than 2,000 wild, compared to respectively 11,000 and 30,000 fifty years ago. But such figures and percentages are symbolic for the destiny of the elephant also elsewhere.

Hairy Asian elephant
Asian elephant with hair style like me…

We do agree with TheTeach that there should be more efforts going into elephant protection and conservation in Asia, which is one reason why we are in the process of expanding our scope to include both African and Asian elephants. And we will for sure expand our WD blog to include our new project – so TheTeach and others can follow it.
Male flirting with females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Male elephant flirting with several females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka.

Keep up your efforts TheTeach and others fighting for elephants – they need our help!

Best wishes, Petter

Elephants mobbing a predator and calling for reinforcements

Hi all,

I am back for another installment of elephant sounds 101 and we are still working our way through how elephants respond to predators. Since humans are the most dangerous predator an elephant has to face, I have been on the sharp end of some of these reactions, though these frightening assaults have almost all been in places other than Amboseli. If you visit the visual tactile database on our website, and search under the word “bunching”, you can read in more detail how after freezing and perhaps “commenting”, the first response to potential danger by members of a family group is to gather together or “bunch”. Once elephants have bunched together, older individuals at the fore and calves occupying the center, one or more larger individuals may charge the predator while emitting the trumpet blasts or roars that I have already described. Throughout a confrontation with a dangerous predator the bunched elephants may continue to vocalize with noisy, throaty, rolling rumbles, their heads raised, ears extended, temporal glands streaming and trunks reaching out to touch one another. These rumbles have a roaring quality and appear to have the effect of both intimidating the predator and calling in support from any more distant family members. I refer to the powerful noisy rumbles given in this context as roaring-rumbles.

I recorded a lovely example of roaring rumbles in Amboseli one day when I happened to witness a lion pounce upon a year old elephant calf. The calf screamed, which prompted an immediate response from its mother and other allies, who rushed to the calves side, and confronted the lion with a series of roaring-rumbles. The calls attracted the attention of other family members who responded by calling and arriving at the scene minutes later.
Bunched elephants confront a predator.

Elephant soundscapes and culture

For those of you who just happen to be in Paris this summer you may want to stop by the Musee du Jeu de Paume to listen to elephants recorded in Amboseli. On 1 July artists Virginie Yassef and her colleague Julien Bismuth open an exhibition of their work, this time revolving around a sculpture of an elephant. ElephantVoices has contributed a 33 minute elephant soundscape to accompany the exhibition.

The artwork of Virginie and her colleagues starts from a concrete situation or problem, be it political or environmental. The result may be more abstract, poetic, or quiet, but seeks to work back towards the issue or concern. For Virginie and Julien elephants are animals that continue to exert a sense of wonder, the same sort of wonder you feel as a child when you first see such an otherworldy creature. The elephant sculpture and its accompaniments are meant as an hommage to elephants – to sensitize the audience to both their marvellous qualities, and of the natural world in general, and of their increasingly fragile and threatened state.

Although collaborating with a Parisan sculptor may seem a long way from elephant conservation – we believe that protecting elephants is as dependent on public awareness as it is on anti-poaching. In Paris the voices of Ella and her family will help to secure a future for elephants by inspiring wonder in the intelligence, complexity and voices of their kind.

The following description accompanies the elephant soundscape:In the late afternoon of 3 April 1999, surrounded by her large family, Ella gave birth to a male calf. Dr. Joyce Poole photographed the birth and recorded the cacophony of excited calls made by Ella’s family in first few hours and days of the calf’s life. The sounds presented here were recorded in the first two hours following the calf’s birth, while Ella and her eldest daughter, Emma, stood just meters from the research vehicle. The majority of calls are low rumbling sounds made to reassure the newborn. But there are also more excited rumbles as other members of the family return from feeding and playing to greet Ella and her new calf. Interspersed with the rumbles are more distant trumpets of playing elephants and the short sequence of trumpets by an alarmed calf who suddenly finds himself alone and comes running to his mother’s side. A newborn attracts intense interest from everyone in an elephant family, especially from juvenile females, who want to practice their care taking skills. Ella gently pushes them away, causing screams of protest followed by rumbles of reconciliation between Ella and the youngsters’ mothers. The bonds between members of this elephant family and the intense emotions felt are expressed in the tone and tempo of their calling.

As Ella gives birth the entire family gathers around in a cacophony of elephant sound.

Erin helps Ella to assist the newborn to its feet.

The Floppy-Run is a signal of elephant fun!

Some of our contacts were very enthusiastic at the possibility of learning more about elephant behavior via our blog, so I am going to continue to share some elephant behavior with you.

As I mentioned, our new photo database means that we can easily search on a specific behavior and find all the images that we have of that behavior. This new system is essential for updating our visual and tactile database on

The other day a colleague sent me a photograph of elephants engaged in Floppy-Running. I knew that we had even better images in our database and found them with a quick entry of the behavior. The pictures taken in January this year are so lovely that I thought I would share them with you and take the opportunity to write a bit about Floppy-Running.

The term was originally coined by Cynthia Moss to describe the loose, floppy running gait of a playful elephant. In Amboseli Floppy-Running is most often observed when elephants have had plenty to eat and are leaving the swamps at the end of the day. Playful behavior is often contagious, and though juveniles and calves are the most likely Floppy-Runners, adult females sometimes lose all sense of decorum and join in. I have laughed aloud as I watched several families Floppy-Run across the plains to the tune of a cacophony of pulsated play trumpets. The elephants go all loose and floppy, shaking their lowered heads from side-to-side, allowing their trunk to flop about, their ears to flap wildly against their necks and curling their tails up high.

Have a look at the sequence of beautiful images taken by Petter as a family Floppy-Run across the open plain. A wonderful, funny sight…


It always feels great to make progress!

Petter and I have been making real progress on a project that we have wanted to accomplish for a long time. Inspired by recent WildlifeDirect donations we bought ACDC Pro 2 – a photograph manager and database. For years we have struggled to locate particular photographs among the tens of thousands of images we have in our collection. Now we are going through all of them, putting them into categories and giving them key words so that we can easily search for an image and locate it later. This is especially important for updating our online database on elephant displays and behaviors, but also for putting together lectures and even for bringing you a specific image to illustrate an event, behavior or individual.

Furthermore, we have recently completed a searchable elephant ID database for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. Just now I was struggling to remember the names of two elephants in a photograph taken at some distance. I could just make out that one had a flap-cut on her right ear. So, I keyed in “female, flap-cut middle right ear” and searched through the 15 or so individuals who came up and, presto: the two females were Kaliope and Keely of the KB family! I do love it when things work!

We will continue to upload photos to WildlifeDirect – hopefully for you to enjoy.

Thank you Muriel T for your 50$ donation!

About Tulip – a message from a friend

Our post about the death of Tulip led friend, supporter and wildlife (especially elephants) sculptor, Doug Aja, to send us an e-mail with a few photos. Doug has visited our home in Kenya and Amboseli many times, and he met Tulip during visits in 1998 and in 2004, just after she was speared. The first two photographs were taken in 1998 when Doug was out watching elephants with Joyce. Tulip was over 100 meters away when Joyce disgarded a fingernail-sized piece of overripe banana out the window. Tulip lifted her head, turned and sniffed. “Yummy, I know that smell from the good old days raiding tents with my mum,” she must have thought. She did a swift 3-point turn and made her way rapidly toward us.

You can see the concern on Joyce’s face in the mirror of the car as she realizes her mistake! After that experience Joyce learned never to underestimate the ability of an elephant to detect a scent of interest.Tulip came right up, stretched her trunk to full length, snatched the smush of banana and popped it into her mouth.

Doug writes:
“I’m really saddened to hear about Tulip. The TAs have been my favorite family and she had become my favorite elephant. Probably because they have had such a struggle over the past decades. I tend to pull for the underdog. Along with the EBs and any large bull, they are always the elephants I most want to see while in Amboseli. One of my fondest memories was the late afternoon, while out with you ten years ago, spent with them. There had been good rains and the park was green with plenty of food. It seemed like such a relaxed and peaceful time. Attached are some photos of her.”


People like Doug and the many other people reading our blog give us the inspiration to continue our work, despite the discouragement we sometimes feel living in a world where elephants and other species struggle for survival against such odds.

The photos are all taken by Doug. The two first ones in 1998, the close-up of her face and trunk is taken after she was speared in January 2004.

The sad death of a gentle elephant

On 30 January we posted a message entitled “Troubled times for people and wildlife” in which we worried about the cost to wildlife from the fallout of political unrest in Kenya. Well, trouble may already be brewing for the elephants of Amboseli. The number of elephants speared in the last month has soared. It is hard to say what the specific causes are, but it is tempting to speculate that the increase is related to the general climate of political unrest and lawlessness.

Over the years increases in spearing have been related to dry conditions and it has been extremely dry in Amboseli. During droughts elephants and people compete for the same resources – food in the vicinity of water and shade during the heat of the day – and therefore come into closer contact, sometimes with negative consequences. The long rains last March and April failed as did the short rains in November and December, and so there is reason to blame the dry conditions, but rarely have we seen such a spate of spearing. Soila sent a message yesterday saying that spearing in the last month alone has resulted in the death or injury of 11 elephants: affecting 3 adult females, five calves and three adult males. In addition, two more adult males were speared in December.

One of my very favourite elephants, Tulip, is among the elephants killed and her youngest calf has died as a consequence of her death, and another of her calves is injured. This family has already experienced so much suffering as a result of human intervention Tuskless, Tulips’ mother and previous matriarch of the TA’s, was killed in 1997. Tulip, herself, was speared in her trunk in January 2004; treatment by KWS veterinarians saved her life. With all of the suffering one would have expected Tulip to be aggressive. Instead she was extraordinarily gentle. She often came to camp and wandered in between the tents. We will all miss her tremendously.
Tulip visiting campTulip and calf visiting camp

Tulip behind tentTulip bleeding from spear wound

Tulip being darted and treated in January 2004

Captions, from top:

  • Petter works in camp while Tulip and calf feed in the swamp beyond.
  • Tulip and her calf in camp.
  • An always peaceful Tulip feeding between our tent and research vehicle.
  • Tulip bleeds profusely from a new spear wound in her trunk in January 2004.
  • Tulip is treated by Kenya Wildlife Service Veterinarians for the spear wound.
  • Tulip (far left), Tonie and their calves respond to a playback of hyenas squabbling over a kill.

Edo’s origins

The comment we received from Anna in response to Meeting Mr. Nick prompts me to write this post. She mentions a male named Edo, who originally came from Amboseli’s EB family, and is now living in Tsavo National Park. Back in September 1989 Emily, one of the adult female members of the EB family, died after feeding on garbage at Amboseli Lodge.
Emily dead
After days of searching we found Emily’s carcass lying by Amboseli Lodge rubbish heap.
Amboseli garbage
Amboseli National Park Warden discusses a clean up with the managers of Amboseli Lodge.

The incident provoked an outcry, and we published a story in the Daily Nation exposing all of the items we found in her stomach (though this prompted a clean up by the lodge then, Amboseli Lodge and its surrounds are still a disgrace 18 years later). Emily died leaving her adult daughter, Eudora, and a six-month-old son. Her infant was too young to survive without his mother’s milk and we decided to ask the The Sheldrick Orphanage to take him in.

At the time of Emily’s death I was working with a Japanese film crew (remember elephants and the ivory trade were a big issue for the Japanese) and the capture of her male calf became an integral part of the story. The crew gave him a Japanese name, Edo, which is the term for the ancient city of Tokyo. Capturing Edo was no simple task and I made the mistaken judgment that a six month old elephant could fit into the back of an Izuzu Trooper. Well, when he tried to escape over the front seats he popped out one of the back windows, dented the roof of the car and pushed me onto the gear shift and I had pain sitting for the next 18 months!

When I worked in Tsavo in 1998 I had a chance to see and even record him. He was a big boy then and not permitted to stay with Malaika and the younger calves at night. He obviously missed their companionship though, because as he walked off for his night alone, he repeatedly called out to them with “Let’s go”rumbles, some of which were answered by Malaika, Ewaso and the others.

It is lovely to see his photo on the link that Anna sent because he looks so like his mother, Emily, and sister, Eudora! Note that his tusks are what we call “asymmetrical left higher” – and so were his mother’s and his sister, Eudora.

Put on your headphones to hear (low frequency sounds, difficult to hear through lousy computer speakers…)
– Edo calling “Let’s go” to his companions:Put on your headphones to hear Edo calling “Let’s go” to his companions.
– a distant Edo calling (barely audible) and Malaika (louder) answering:Edo calling, Malaika answering

Spectrogram Edo callingEdo calling, Malaika answering

Spectrograms that show time/frequency of the calls mentioned above. (Click to see larger)

Eudora, Amboseli elephant from the EB family
Eudora strolls by; note her asymmetrical tusks with the left tusk higher.
Edo (from Sheldrick trust website)
Edo (photo from the Sheldrick Trust website) looks like his mother and older sister; note his higher left tusk.

Meeting Mr. Nick

Mr. Nick listening - 52 year old Amboseli maleMr. Nick, or M86 (Male 86), was so-named for the enormous number of nicks and tears in his ears. He has what we call ”ragged” ears. In fact, his ears are just about as ragged as they get. I named Mr Nick back in 1976, when he and I were both 20 years old – young, for both of us. I was fully grown, still in college, and just starting to study musth in male elephants. He had left his family a few years earlier and though bigger than all of the adult females, he was a pipsqueak compared to the oldest males. We have grown older together, though Mr. Nick, at age 52, could still be said to be in his reproductive prime, while I cannot.

Amboseli is one of the few places where you can still see old males and Mr. Nick has been fortunate to live as long as he has. Male elephants reach their reproductive prime between 45 and 50 years old, but few males live long enough to reproduce, let along to reach their prime. Life expectancy for male elephants in Amboseli is only 24 years. If you discount death inflicted by people, life expectancy increases to 39 years. You may be surprised to learn that in safe Amboseli people have such an influence on the survival of elephants.

Mr. Nick, musth rumbleElsewhere the impact on elephant mortality is even greater, especially in areas where human-elephant conflict is intense, where there is poaching for ivory, or where trophy hunting is permitted. The tusks of a 50-year old male are seven times as heavy as those of a female of the same age, so sport hunters and poachers, alike, target older males. Trophy hunters used to argue that older males were”reproductively senile,” and, therefore, expendable, but my early work on musth and male mating success debunked that argument. And in a recent genetic paternity study we showed that fully 80% of calves are fathered by older musth males.

Long-term scientific work, like that carried out in Amboseli, is important because it provides essential arguments for conserving and properly managing elephants. Older males are vital to the survival and healthy functioning of elephant populations and trophy hunting and ivory poaching can inflict harm lasting decades.

Joyce, photos Petter

Communication and the interests of elephants

We invite you to visit the elephant elephant welfare section of ElephantVoices, which has been reorganized and improved over the last couple of weeks; new expansions will be uploaded over the course of the next few months.

Some may wonder what our elephant welfare work has to do with elephant communication or with elephant conservation, for that matter. We see this part of our work as an important application of our many years of study of elephant behavior. Decades of knowledge is useful for the advancement of science, yes, but we also want to ensure a better future for elephants, as individuals and as a species. To do that we need to educate people, to translate all the reams of data into something that the public can digest, be moved by and put into action. As acknowledged experts in the field we feel a need to speak out on their behalf.
Amboseli elephants on clear course
Joyce returned from a five day trip to California on Tuesday, where she was meeting with donors and discussing a range of captive and wild elephant welfare issues. Over the next few days she will be finalising her expert witness testimony for a legal case against Ringling Brothers for the mistreatment of elephants.

Further analysis of the material collected during our playback experiments in Amboseli in December/January is also high on our to-do list.

Cheers, Petter and Joyce