What We Do

Elephants bathing.
     We study wild, free-ranging Asian elephants in Udawalawe National Park (UWNP), Sri Lanka. This park, roughly 308 sq. Km, is home to one of the highest densities of Asian elephants anywhere in Asia. Despite their size, we know very little about these intelligent social mammals. We're interested in social structure, vocal communication, and demography.

     We have created an identification catalogue of close to 600 adult males and females. This is quite a bit higher than the population that was expected to live in this relatively small reserve. We hope to be able to predict population trends and better understand the ecological needs and impacts of these elephants.

Data collection.      Data is gathered by spending the whole day (10-12 hours!) in the field, usually driving or looking for shade near a grazing, bathing, playing, or sleeping group of elephants. We do this several times a week, and have been monitoring continuously since June 2006. We mark the locations of all elephants by GPS and try to follow animals we recognize.

     We audio- and video- record calls whenever they occur, including infrasonic sounds (sounds below 20Hz, the limit of human hearing). But elephants produce many different sounds, some of which are difficult to believe as originating from elephants. Some of these calls have never been described before. We are interested in how wild elephant vocalizations compare to those of captive elephants, and vocal development.

     Research by graduate student Elizabeth Webber from the University of Sterling monitors calf development and behavior for comparison with captive populations of Asian elephants and previous field observations from Amboseli National Park.

     Our most recent work compares the social behavior and spatial ecology of elephants at Uda Walawe National Park to the African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) at Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves, Kenya. This research will be conducted in collaboration with George Wittemyer, of Colorado State University. We are interested in how different ecological pressures may have shaped these elephant societies, and the evolution of social organization in general among animal societies. We are also interested in examining the broad conservation challenges faced by these two species on two continents.

Other collaborations»