New experiences in Congo
Mpoh valley, Batéké Plateaux, Congo © Peter Wrege

Elephant Listening Project

December 2016

Scary – Sublime

Just 100 meters into the forest, we got a surprise that sent our pulses racing: a loud gorilla scream!  It was likely more in fear than challenge, but our team leader freaked out nonetheless, screaming back. Poor visibility in the forest and uncertainty about the real situation – these are the experiences that are both scary and that make working in Central Africa such fun.
     I was on a mission with our new acoustics team, Phael, Christian, Joules, and Frelcia. Daniela (ELP's new post doc) and our Wildlife Conservation Society colleague, Terry, were also with me. No gorilla silverback in his right mind would seriously challenge such a big group of humans. But I didn't know this and neither, apparently, did our leader (or he forgot in the moment).
     We were deploying our new and improved acoustic recorders with the goal of measuring elephant numbers and hunting pressure in a safari-hunting area south of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo.  Another objective of the trip was to introduce Daniela to forest elephants and potential study areas.

At least for me, this was not a friendly forest. Thorny, spiny, hooked nasties seemingly everywhere and positioned just for me. I had blood streaming down my sweaty arms more often than not. 

Truly Big Plans

Putting recorders in the safari concession was a preliminary test of the recorders and the team's training.  In April we will put out a grid of 50 recorders, collecting more than 5TB of sounds every three months! Nothing on this scale has been tried before and honestly, I don't know whether we can do it. If we can't, the project will nudge us to figure out how we can. Only big scale monitoring will help us save the big beast we study.

Logging Threat

For those of you who see our occasional Face Book posts you know that logging is now underway only a dozen kilometers from Dzanga Bai. Exaggerated information about the amount of destruction had us gearing up for a crisis. We are still very concerned about potential impacts on elephants, the Bayaka communities, and all wildlife, but we now know the activities are legal and the company at least going through the motions of monitoring for impacts. Because of the special nature of the area (Dzanga Bai, world heritage site), we are looking into whether we can establish an independent monitoring action to ensure compliance with the management plan signed with the government.

The New Year Ahead

This has been a rough year in many respects – ivory poaching still out of control, human conflicts in too many places around the world. But our recent trip to Congo and CAR nonetheless gives me hope. There is still a lot of fantastic forest in tropical Africa and we have teamed up with local conservationists who show a passion and enthusiasm that can change their world. When I analyze ELP videos, I am struck by these huge yet gentle animals, living in a complex society as we do, yet without war, mostly without even nastiness. As individuals we humans can work to make this world a better place– we just need to actually want this. Watch this happy video short, and make your 2017 New Year's resolution to be a force for good!

The entire ELP team is wishing you all the best in 2017.

Peter H. Wrege,
Director, Elephant Listening Project.

© Daniela Hedwig

Kunga, a black-back male lowland gorilla, resident in the Bai Hoku area not far from Dzanga Bai. For good reason, researchers in Central Africa probably fear an encounter with a big male gorilla more than most any other animal. If a male gorilla encounters a lone researcher or very small group, he may react as though these humans are competitors, challenging them and potentially inflicting very serious damage.

© Elephant Listening Project

In April we will begin deploying 50 SWIFT recorders in the forest of southern Nouabalé-Nkoki National Park, and in one of the bordering logging concessions. In addition, we will also monitor three forest clearings far to the north, where some of Andrea's Dzanga elephants have been seen.

© Andrea Turkalo
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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