How early life may influence the way elephants age

Guest post by Hannah Mumby, Myanmar Elephant Project / University of Sheffield

Elephant babies in myanmar

Elephant calves at a logging camp in Myanmar. Image courtesy of Hannah Mumby.

There are a great many reasons to study elephants; they’re endangered, highly social, quite frankly huge and hold a unique and central place in many cultures. They can also be very strong, sometimes dangerous and slow to do what you want. But that’s not enough to stop me from working on them! One of my interests is actually their life cycles. In the past I’ve studied humans and non-human primates and the fact that elephants evolved long lives, almost on a par with our own, but on a separate evolutionary trajectory was fascinating to me. Elephants also usually only have one calf at a time and each calf is dependent on its mother for many years. These characteristics allow us to test a lot of ideas underpinning theories of life history and ageing, including ones that have been primarily designed with humans in mind.

So why is this interesting? Continue reading

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Rehabilitated elephants can be good moms!

By Deepani Jayantha & Sameera Weerathunga

In August 2015, one of our frequently sighted females in Uda Walawe named Indika was seen suckling two calves of different ages on either sides of her. The younger male calf Indika was nursing was about three months old and merely skin and bones. He was obviously malnourished and weak. She already had a rounded and bulky belly suggesting another calf was on her way. This unusual behaviour of the elephants intrigued us so we dug deeper into our field notes.

[208] and calf

[208] with her newborn calf in June

It turned out he was not her calf – he had been born to [208] in June, 2015 and was the first calf we had witnessed her to have produced during our study. A few days after the birth she lost her interest in the new-born and may have stopped lactating. The calf’s body condition started gradually declining so our team informed it to the veterinary staff at the Elephant Transit Home. Continue reading

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Bring back the dead or save the living?

Thoughts For Breakfast

No, I’m not talking about zombies.

This post considers two stories in the news last week.  The first, is a new study in Science Advances by Ripple et al. finally spotlighting what we’ve known for a while: herbivores around the world are collapsing, particularly the large charismatic ones. This is bad news not just because they’re iconic species that people love to love, but because they are major components of ecosystems and their disappearance would have widespread cascading effects.

Columbian Mammoth in the George C. Page museum, Los Angeles

The second is an interview on NPR with Dr. Beth Shapiro at UC Santa Cruz on her new book How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction.  It leads with the question “If science could clone a mammoth, could it save an elephant?”

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Life’s Joys and Sorrows

DSCF2808

I was honored to receive the President’s Award for Scientific Publication on October 31st 2014.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, this is the result of a lot of hard work by many people. I am most thankful to Sameera Weerathunga and T. Kumara for sticking with a very demanding job despite all challenges, Ms. Nisha Suhood for doing all that is necessary behind the scenes and more, and Dr. Devaka Weerakoon, our longtime collaborator at the University of Colombo.  I’m also lucky to have a wonderful and supportive husband, Sergey Kryazhimskiy. And of course where would anyone be without their beloved parents.  Thanks Mom & Dad.

But, in a constant reminder that all good things must pass, I am very sorry to have lost a beloved member of the family.  I cannot write this post without also honoring the memory of Dr. Arkady Kryazhimskiy, my dear father-in-law.  A brilliant mathematician, wonderful father, and gentle human being.  May he rest in peace and may his ideas live on.

~SdS

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Hyena girl meets elephant girl – A Chat for Skirts in Science

Some colleagues at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science have started a series featuring conversations by female scientists called Skirts in Science.  The goal is to make women in science more visible to students, especially young women and girls.

I had a lot of fun in this chat with Sarah Benson-Amram, now faculty at the University of Wyoming.  Here is a brief window into our work:

Many thanks to Paula Cushing, Kimberly Evans, and Marta Lindsay for inviting us to be part of this great series.  Check out their channel here.

Part 2 will have a discussion of how we came to do what we do. Stay tuned!

~ SdS

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Musth, not tusks, confers advantage to duelling males

Tuskers fighting.

Two tusked bulls fighting. Photo by Karpagam Chelliah.

Bull Asian elephants come in two forms: tusk, and tuskless (this is termed dimorphism).  It’s long been thought that tusks must confer an advantage in competitions between males for dominance and mating rights.  However a recent study by Karpagam Chelliah and Raman Sukumar of elephants at Kaziranga National Park, India, puts a wrinkle on this common story. Continue reading

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How will Asian elephants react to the sound of bees?

Guest post by Dr. Lucy King – Elephants & Bees Project, Save The Elephants

Apis Cerana, Photo by K. Raveendran

Apis Cerana, Photo by K. Raveendran

I’ve just returned home to Kenya after a fascinating month working with Dr Shermin de Silva and her team at the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project in Sri Lanka. There have been several productive links between Dr de Silva’s project and ours at Save the Elephants over the years and key to the collaboration has been the ability to compare elephant population ecology between Kenyan and Sri Lankan elephants. However, I went to work in Uda Walawe National Park for an entirely different reason – bees! Continue reading

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Wildlife-Viewing is Not Thrill-Seeking

Baretail and Batik with their newborns.

Baretail and Batik with their newborns.

We sometimes forget how fortunate we are to be able to watch peaceful, calm, habituated elephants in Udawalawe.  It’s easy to take for granted when they stand there, threshing their grass en masse, as though it were the most natural thing in the world to have a horde of humans gawking at them from a few meters away. This post may seem self-evident to a younger generation of wildlife watchers, who have grown up in a world packed to the breaking point with human beings and who realize that wilderness is an increasingly rare and precious thing.  But it may challenge the thinking of some, particularly those of an older generation, for whom wilderness was a vast and ominous space teeming with dangerous things.  For the latter, seeing wildlife might satisfy the need for a thrill in the same way as watching a frightening movie or visiting an amusement park – especially if that wildlife acts fierce and ferocious, such as charging elephant might do. This view still prevails among more than a handful of people today, who might think that seeing the “tame” elephants of some national parks is not as much fun as getting a much more “wild” experience in more secluded areas where the animals elicit more mutual terror.

If this is you, or someone you know, then read on and share. This post is for you.

Loch Ness monster?

Loch Ness monster?

Continue reading

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Facing The Threat Together

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

Down the Old Mau Ara Road we drove, my head swiveling left and right as I scanned for elephants on the grassy strips to either side.  Then we rounded a bend, and Lucy slowed to a stop in front of the herd standing thirty meters away.  It was a rather large group:  [472], [873], [075], and [151], along with a number of sub-adults and juveniles.  [151] and a sub-adult female approached slowly to within a few meters of our jeep.

Mickey_elephants1

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

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Dwarf elephant battles musth male!

16 June 2014 – S. de Silva

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

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

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