Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Identify Elephants in the Wild

Elephants are some of nature’s most majestic creatures. But how do scientists know who’s who in the wild? To think like an elephant scientist, it’s important to look at key characteristics, said elephant biologist and National Geographic Explorer Joyce Poole. These traits include sex, body size and shape, tusk configuration, and ear patterns.

By knowing the animals as individuals, you can get a better understanding of their behavior, relationships, and sophisticated family dynamics. “It takes some sleuthing to ID elephants sometimes,” Poole said, “but my childhood love of jigsaw puzzles has paid off!” Poole and her husband, ElephantVoices co-director Petter Granli, created the first online digital ID registry of elephants, which features Kenya’s Masai Mara elephant population. “Instead of having just a couple of scientists and research assistants monitor elephants,” Poole said, “we thought, well, why couldn’t you include everybody in on this?”

In 2011 they started Elephant Partners, a project that approaches conservation through citizen science and web technology. The database enables non-scientists visiting the reserve to help monitor and protect elephants by adding their observations via mobile app or website. (See “Elephants Communicate in Sophisticated Sign Language, Researchers Say.”) Funded in part by National Geographic’s Northern European Fund, as well as the JRS Biodiversity Foundation and others, the project includes the Mara Elephant Who’s Who database, containing 1,046 registered elephants, and the Mara Elephant Whereabouts database, which keeps track of all the sightings of elephants.

Elephant lovers visiting the Mara can assist the project by downloading the Mara EleApp, an Android-based app that automatically records the date, time, and location of an elephant sighting. Users can then respond to a series of queries about the sighting, such as: How many elephants? Is it in a family group or is it a bull? The app allows you to take a photo and asks you to enter the names of the elephants, if you know them. Registered users can upload their photographs and observations to the databases. Learn how to identify an elephant in this video: READ MORE

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