One of the few bright spots in this uncommonly dry February that we find ourselves in, has been being able to observe a certain young elephant by the name of Cathy. Although only ten years old, Cathy has consistently displayed the characteristics of a future matriarch. Every time we come across the CB family, which she belongs to, she immediately catches our attention with her antics. She is exceptionally loquacious and has especially taken an interest in being an allomother to all of the calves in the family.
Any time there is a skirmish amongst the calves, Cathy is sure to be found pacifying both parties until all is calm again. Aside from her innate motherly qualities that she regularly displays, it is her assertiveness that truly defines her. She is the first to greet arriving family members, she already gives “Let’s Go” rumbles to move the family along, and she can often be seen giving “Contact Calls” to get in touch with distant family members. This may not seem too significant, but let me remind you that she’s 10! This family has many older, dominant females and yet this young, precocious female has shown matriarchal attributes that far exceed her years.
Until next time!
Cheers, Blake (Murray)
Cathy with three calves from the CB family. She is the largest one, second from the right. (Photo: Blake Murray)
Amboseli elephants dusting (Photo: P. Granli)
Thank you Anna M., Matt G., Janet G. Bill F. and Michelle P. – your donations and interest in elephants and our work is very much appreciated! We hope to “see you around” also in 2009, which we think will be an exciting year for ElephantVoices. Be assured that your donations will be used in a good way for elephants. You will find a greeting and a few lines about our plans for 2009 here on WD shortly – we’re packing for Amboseli!
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.
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.
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 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
Learning through watching the behavior of others, or social learning, is an important component of the acquisition of behavior in elephants. For instance, young elephants learn what to eat by reaching up and sampling what is in the mouths of their mothers. And young females learn how to successfully raise their calves by watching adult females and through their own experience as allomothers.
I have often wondered how young males make the transition from their female dominated natal families to becoming an independent adult male. The two worlds are so very different. Are the changes necessary just programmed in, or do young males learn how to be a properly functioning adult by watching the behavior of older males?
From watching elephants, I believe that, just like us, it’s a little of both, but having access to role models is very important for the acquisition of normal adult male (or female) behavior. Many of you will have heard of the case where young male orphans from a cull were released into Pilanesberg National Park. Without older male role models they adopted aggressive and anti-social behavior, even making a habit of killing rhinos. Likewise, captive male elephants in zoos and circuses have no possibility of learning from normal adult males. Males are routinely separated from other elephants, so there simply aren’t any socialized males to learn from.
I have often watched the behavior of young males in the company of an older musth male, with a feeling of tenderness in my heart. These newly independent youngsters watch the older males so closely, doing their best to follow everything that the older males do, without drawing too much attention to their presence. For instance, when an older musth male moves through a group of females testing a series of urine spots on the ground, a young male can often be seen standing nearby paying close attention but trying to appear as unimposing as possible (his head low and facing slightly away). Once the older male moves on the younger male follows behind sniffing at all the same places.
In December we watched a very sweet interaction between two males, which shows just how early a young male can begin to learn social roles in the wild. In the series of photographs taken by Petter, a calf of less than a year watches as a teenage male tests some recently deposited urine. The teenager approaches the urine spot, and stops to sniff carefully, placing his trunk tip over the urine, and blowing warm air out (so as to release volatile substances) and then breathing in. An infant male approaches him, and using his trunk and his eyes he follows closely what the older individual is doing. He reaches toward the tip of the older male’s trunk as he exhales and up toward the older male’s mouth as the male puts a sample of urine in his mouth against his vomeronasal organ for testing (Flehmen). The little male then tests the urine for himself. Having satisfied his curiosity, the infant male wanders back to his mother’s side.
Many of you have seen or heard that the South African Government has taken some major decisions regarding the future management of the country’s elephants. These are detailed in a document entitled the Norms and Standards for Elephant Management in South Africa. The good news is that from 1st May 2008 the capture of wild elephants for commercial exhibition purposes, such as elephant back safari industries or circuses, will be prohibited.
In his speech on TV the Environment Minister unequivocally stated that they were “putting the lid” on the elephant back safari industry and that although no existing operation would be shut down, all operators would have to abide by standards for the care of elephants. The Minister has included a provision for an appendix to be developed in 12 months for “Minimum Standards” for the existing 112 or so captive elephants. Furthermore, the Norms and Standards will also prohibit the import and export of elephants destined for captivity, and will prevent artificial breeding of elephants in captivity.
Joyce and ElephantVoices have been involved in the discussions surrounding culling and capture/training of elephants in South Africa over many years. In 2006 Joyce and Petter were among signatories on a statement on culling by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Joyce has also been closely involved in the debate surrounding the capture and training of wild calves – first in the Tuli case, for which Joyce appeared in court in 1998 on behalf of the elephants, then in the Selati case in 2006. Most recently, Joyce was invited as an expert to attend a workshop in November 2007 held by the Environment Ministry to discuss the development of the Norms and Standards. She followed up with an open letter to the Minister.
The Ministry of Environment has agreed to many of the recommendations made. That they have prohibited the capture of wild elephants for the captive market, have prohibited the import and export of wild elephants destined for captivity, and have prohibited the artificial breeding of elephants in captivity is certainly a positive step for elephants. Furthermore, the Ministry has said that culling will be a management tool of last resort. Although the media is focused on the reopening of culling, we believe that South Africa’s approach to elephants has come a very long way from the early 1990s. The open process of discussion and the genuine change in outlook and opinions is a positive development, despite the fact that some conclusions of the document go against our wishes.
The bottom line, in our view, is that until we, human beings, accept to draw real limits on our own population expansion and consequent resource requirements (and emissions), we will be forced into unethical practices. The culling of elephants is only one of many.
Are we ever going to accept any limits on our behavior and use of resources?
Rumblings, Petter and Joyce
Mr. 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.
Elsewhere 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
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.
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
In a posting on 1st January I mentioned that we had seen in the central part of the park many of the families that live in the western corner of the park and in Tanzania. As Amboseli’s elephant population has grown, and as protection for them has increased, elephants have been moving further afield. The National Park is only 390 sq km and yet Amboseli’s population roams over some 5,000 sq km. One of “our” males has been radio tracked by Alfred Kikoti over near Lake Natron, Tanzania and another one was seen near Mtito Andei (both more than 150 km away). Several Amboseli family groups have moved to Tanzania and now live near the village of Tinga-Tinga 20 km south of the border. It is always exciting to see these individuals “on safari” in the center of the park.
Over the years, one or two families have been able to move from the drier west into the more productive central part of the park – in elephant terms this is equvalent to moving into a better neighbourhood, moving up in society. This is because elephants in the central part of the park are more successful in reproductive terms than are those in the west. One family (once two families in a bond group) is the HBBC group. The HB family was once led by the beautiful and elderly Horatia. Horatia’s daughter, Hazel, is now matriarch, a beauty in her own right. We met her several times during our stay. Her long straight tusks are exquisite and almost as thick and long as her mother’s once were.
Hazel and family in front of Kilimanjaro
Hazel’s beautiful tusks.
While the political temperature seems to be cooling down a bit, Amboseli is getting hotter and drier. Both the short and long rains failed last year, and with only a few millimeters of rainfall since we arrived on 16th December, Amboseli is quickly becoming very dusty. We can see it on the elephants, as well as on our equipment and we can certainly feel it on our bodies! The burning sun bakes our old Landcruiser and our skin is beginning to look like a lizard’s! The temperature in the car is over 35 *C, and in our tent well over 30 *C despite the makuti roof.
Elephant calves are always ready for a game and climbing on top of one another is a favorite sport. And older calf lies down inviting younger calves to clamber on top.
Our playback experiments are moving forward and we have now completed 55 of the 60 we had planned for.New shocks and some preliminary repairs on our field vehicle have kept it going without causing us additional problems, but substantial rattling and squeaks remind us about the long list of repairs needed when we are back in Nairobi. We are grateful for any contributions toward the USD 2,000 we expect will be required to get our field vehicle back into acceptable shape.
You may enjoy watching a short video clip of a young musth male approaching our car, shot by Petter. The camera used is just a small pocket type Casio Exilim, but you can see how big male elephants look even from the roof of a 4-wheel drive. Musth males can be unpredictable (or predictably aggressive!) but generally if you don’t disturb them they won’t vent their pent up testosterone on you either…….
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Greetings, Petter and Joyce
Back in the tent last night we heard rain – and we fell asleep hoping for plenty. When Petter drove to the ATE office in Ol Tukai this morning to check on e-mail and upload news pieces to WildlifeDirect he learned we received – 4 mm. “Better than nothing”, was Josephat’s dry comment. With rain the elephant movement patterns often change, fewer may go into the Park to access the water in the swamps. But, 4 mm does not make much of a difference after almost a year of drought, so we continue to cross our fingers for a few days of real downpour.
Early in the morning Joyce had a meeting in camp while Petter sat online. Then we spent a couple of hours out with Ulla’s and Philomena’s families. After a typical Elephant Camp lunch of cabbage and carrot salad and bread it was time to download and organize photos and deal with other “office” tasks. If we don’t have elephants, buffaloes, lions or monkeys around camp the sounds of numerous birds and insects always fill the air. Some of the individual birds have been with us for years, and are tame enough that they land on the table while we are eating and fly into our tent to beg for bread crumbs and other goodies. Elephants are an important symbol for all wildlife, but there are millions of other wonderful creatures all around us.
This is written just before we start packing our bags for a few days at the Kenyan coast, where we are going to celebrate Christmas with close friends. We will drive through the huge Tsavo ecosystem, to experience two of Kenya’s many amazing National Parks. We’re back in Amboseli on the 27th of December.
We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Petter and Joyce