Four of us sat in the watchtower, completely silent except for the occasional striking of a match or the spark of a lighter and the distinct crumpling of tobacco papers. I stood up as quietly as I could, standing now next to P’Nuey, a Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary park ranger who, for more than 40 years, had guarded one of Thailand’s greatest homes for wild elephants. This was my first trip into the sanctuary in a while, but it’s going to be the first of many, many more to come in the near future. For the past two years, I have been developing a research plan in collaboration with colleagues at Mahidol University aimed at better understanding wild elephant behavior, and this coming January, we plan on starting data collection. Our plan is to build several watchtowers, some that border farmer croplands and the sanctuary, and others that are deep inside the sanctuary itself. The purpose of these towers is to begin to collect behavioral data on the wild elephants in Thailand; to our knowledge, this has never been done before, but perhaps for good reason.
At about 8pm, we could hear an elephant drinking from the big watering hole adjacent to the watchtower, but it was already too dark to see him. That’s the problem with collecting behavioral data on elephants in Thailand. First, it’s difficult to see them at night when they are most likely to come out into the open, and second, in most instances, when they are in the forest, it’s nearly impossible to observe them without getting too close. By building watchtowers, installing cameras, and conducting wild cognition studies (you’ll have to stay tuned for my next blog to learn more about our plans there!), we hope to not only better understand the social dynamics of the Thai wild elephants, but also to find ways to use elephant behavior and cognition research to mitigate human/elephant conflict.
For a long time, I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate what we know about the elephant’s mind into mitigation strategies aimed at promoting the coexistence of humans and elephants. We think we have an idea of how to do this…
It’s been awhile since we’ve posted blogs, but we’re back at it! I plan on posting more regularly, but so will our collaborating scientists, students and educators. Stay tuned to learn more about our upcoming research and education programs. Think Science. Think Education. Think Elephants!