Tag Archives: kenya

YOU can do a lot for elephants

We send a warm thank you to those supporting us during 2009 – your interest and generous contributions makes a big difference and is highly appreciated! We dedicated your donations towards our work in Kenya, especially Petter’s field trip early in the year and Joyce’s in November.

We will at the same time apologize for not being as active on WildlifeDirect as we planned to. As a small organization we’re having a hard time dealing with all the elephant-issues we’re constantly confronted with – and (unfortunately) there are only 24 hours a day:-) We are happy to see that so many other bloggers on WD are active – and can only hope that some of you WD friends also visit us on ElephantVoices or ElephantVoices on Facebook.

People often ask us what THEY can do for elephants. There is actually a lot you CAN do – whether its helping to stop the killing of elephants for ivory, strengthening conservation efforts, being an eco-tourist (like Barack Obama-:)) or Barack Obama visits Basecamp Masai Mara during trip to Kenya, due to its commitment to responsible tourism and the local community. BMM has won several international awards, and is rated as the best eco-tourist hotel in Kenya. (©Basecamp Masai Mara, www.BasecampExplorer.com)improving the lives of elephants in captivity. We have listed some ideas here. One special challenge is to educate those who do not understand what a life of confinement means, and especially about how much elephants in circuses suffer. WE NEED YOUR INVOLVEMENT!

We’re asking an important favour of you: Get your friends to join ElephantVoices on Facebook, and not only those you believe support elephants already. We would like to reach as many people as possible about elephant interests – which is why we’re spending time here on WildlifeDirect, on Facebook and on ElephantVoices.org. Each day we work with cases and issues trying to convince legislators, judges and other decision-makers that elephants deserve proper treatment – and public opinion is extremely important!

We wish you and yours a great 2010 – please spread the word!

Take care, Joyce and Petter

ElephantVoices on Facebook – also for youth

More and more people are on social networks. ElephantVoices is following the trend, with the obvious goal of improving our educational interface towards a global audience. With the current disastrous boom in the trade in ivory and poaching anybody working for the future and interest of elephants must optimize all efforts trying to reduce supply of and demand for ivory. A big job has to be done between now and the CITES conference (CoP15) starting in the middle of March.

ElephantVoices on facebookElephantVoices’ facebook “window” will be were we will post daily updates, viewpoints and comments, while hoping for many from you as well. Join us! We will at the same time continue to improve and expand ElephantVoices.org when it comes to comprehensive information about elephant communication and elephants interests, our multimedia databases, and access to other relevant resources. We will also give news updates through the site, and here on WildlifeDirect, when appropriate.

ElephantVoices 4U is launched to provide a network for youth who want to discuss and work together to secure a kinder future for elephants. We are very grateful for anyone recruiting young people to join!

ElephantVoices is also on Twitter, for people that want to follow our work and updates through this communication channel.

Some of you may enjoy watching a “video” put together by Petter from ElephantVoices’ visit to PAWS in San Andreas, California, in late October 2009. The soundtrack consist of elephant sounds from our collection, in a composition mixed by Gerry Bassermann.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/t-6t-MtRpf8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The elephant in the well – Kibo and his new life

In February we told the story about the baby elephant that fell into a man-made well west of Kilimanjaro, and how she ended up at the elephant orphanage at The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi.

You may read what we just posted on ElephantVoices, and see the video from the rescue either there or below. Sometimes a bad situation ends up ok – even though I’m sure Kibo is still missing his family!

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/evOvkXScvrE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Notes from the field – from Blake

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)

Members of CB family
Cathy with three calves from the CB family.  She is the largest one, second from the right. (Photo: Blake Murray)

Amboseli elephants dusting
Amboseli elephants dusting (Photo: P. Granli)

Thank you for your contributions!

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!
Amboseli elephants

ElephantVoices and Kenyan web-developers – appeal for support

I can now say “jambo” or “habari” here from Nairobi, where I arrived Friday night after a pleasant flight from Europe with KLM. I used the many hours of travelling to prepare for several meetings in Nairobi during the coming week. Unfortunately, I will not be visiting our AERP colleagues and elephant friends in Amboseli on this 10 day trip.

My first job yesterday morning was to collect our field vehicle, a strong and rustic looking (read: beaten up) ’93 Toyota Landcruiser, from a workshop in Karen, Nairobi. The 4-wheel-drive has been there since we left in the middle of January, and three months and kshs 141,740 (approx. USD 2,300) later it’s back on the road. Some of you may remember our appeal in December – sadly the bill ended up worse than we feared especially considering the substantial costs that we incurred even during our last stay. Being a car on Kenyan roads is no joke… Hopefully, the car the elephants know so well won’t give us any trouble for a long time!


One of the many other tasks I have is to work with a Kenyan web- and database-programmer who we hope will become a close collaborator of ElephantVoices. We have several databases that we want to get online in the next few months – one of which is our long-awaited elephant calls database. Kenya has a large contingent of clever IT-people, and we always try to use local partners in our work. Support for Kenyans is especially important right now. The economy and people’s livlihoods are really suffering as a consequence of the unrest and the collapse in the tourism industry following the December 27th election.

We are very grateful for any support toward our use of Kenyan programming capacity to get our elephant calls database online – so that you all can listen to elephant sounds and learn more about how they communicate. While I admittedly enjoy computer-work and html-coding, the efficiency of ElephantVoices depends on our ability to have high focus on the many elephant-related issues lined up. ElephantVoices and WildlifeDirect are only two of many channels through which we are trying to reach out.

Thank you for following our work!


Elephants and social learning

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.

elephantvoices_social_learning290.gifIn 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.

Trumpets, Joyce

The good and bad news for South Africa’s elephants

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

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