Catching up with elephants and ELP
Young calf splashing and cooling off at Dzanga © Elephant Listening Project

Elephant Listening Project

October 2015

It has been such a long time since I reached out to you with news of what ELP is doing, where we have been, and where we are going, that it seems appropriate to start in the present and catch you up in reverse order.

Positive Developments

It often seems hard to avoid serving up depressing events and thoughts when it comes to elephants and their future, but having just come from the Elephant Conservation Summit, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I am actually a bit optimistic. Lots of enthusiasm, of course, and I got to meet for the first time some of the giants of elephant studies (Joyce Pool, Cynthia Moss, Sam Wasser). Too much money being spent on fêting people from the rich world, as usual, but some good ideas and calls to action. Probably most encouraging was an announcement just before the summit, by President Obama and President Xi of China, of an agreement to stop the ivory trade (see sidebar). If words become actions this could be the paradigm shift that will save elephants for future generations. 

Dzanga Update

Andrea Turkalo has been back at her study site at the Dzanga Clearing in Central African Republic since July. The situation in the country is still very tense and dangerous, but elephant numbers at the clearing seem good and she is cataloging new babies and the return of old friends. Rapacious logging to the north of the reserve, only a dozen kilometers away, poses a grave risk.

Advances in Sound Conservation

In 2014 we ran a study to compare population estimates based on acoustic monitoring with the standard method of counting dung along transects in the forest. We wrote a little about this study site in the spring of 2014, mostly about how difficult it was to work in this 'green abyss'! I'm still not keen to work in this or similar habitats, but the study resulted in nice confirmation that the acoustic method and transect method give similar estimates of elephant abundance. In addition, the margin of error around the estimate was less for our acoustic method than for the transect method, which means that with acoustics we should be able to detect smaller changes in population size.

Expanding Influence

Those of you who follow us on Face Book know that we had a fantastic Congolese biologist with us all summer to absorb everything he could about sound analysis and acoustic monitoring. Clement Inkamba-Nkulu is now back at his study site and applying his new skills toward securing a future for elephants in southwest Congo. It was wonderful to have him here and we all learned a lot from him (and we stuffed him as full as we could with new ideas and approaches).

Inspiring and gratifying to experience the incredible enthusiasm of Caleb, a 7-yr-old young conservationist who learned about the Elephant Listening Project and wanted to do something to help. He made origami elephants by the dozen to give as thank you gifts to donors, gave a talk to his school class about the plight of forest elephants, and manned a donation table at his school co-op. Altogether he contributed $141.40 to help save forest elephants!
It is wonderful to write a newsletter that not only begins on a positive note but ends on one as well! With the commitments of wonderful folk, young and old, we can make a difference.

Thanks to all of you for your continued support and interest.

Peter H. Wrege,
Director, Elephant Listening Project.

Presidents Obama and Xi - on ivory trade
© Getty/Northern&Shell Media Corp.

Banning the Ivory Trade

If they follow through, soon, the largest market for ivory in the world could close down. In the ad campaigns run by WildAid in China, the sound bite 'when the buying stops, the killing can too' might actually come true. Peter Knights, who heads WildAid, said at the Summit that China could become a significant force for conservation - if they choose to.
© Elephant Listening Project
Andrea Turkalo on the observation platform at the Dzanga clearing in April. 
© Elephant Listening Project

Congo Challenge

This map shows the 'call density surface' in our study area, aggregated for the 20-day sampling period. This gives a sense of the probability of encountering an elephant in this remote and trackless region of Republic of Congo.
Clement Inkamba in the ELP lab at Cornell © Elephant Listening Project
Caleb fundraising for ELP
© Elephant Listening Project
The Elephant Listening Project is dedicated to the study and conservation of elephants, with a focus on the forest elephants of Central Africa. Visit the project's website at

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