Chasing elephants in Tsavo

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Well, not actually chasing per se. I worked with a grad student in Kenya who was studying the foraging choices of elephants. What kinds of plants do they like and what nutrition do those plants have? Her project involved driving transects through Tsavo National Park and then trying to watch elephants eat for an hour at a time. The main challenge involved with this are that elephants don’t like it when people watch them eat!

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The PhD student, George, observing elephants from the roof of the land cruiser
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In practice, this involved careful attention to wind patterns so that we always approached the elephants from downwind, and a lot of hoping that they wouldn’t be skittish. The females and family groups tended to be more skittish than the males, especially when young elephants were present. We did our best, but often the elephants would move off before she finished a full hour of observations.

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While my friend George was watching elephants, I was out sampling bees. Bees have never been sampled in Tsavo, and for good reason. There are a lot of dangerous predators out there known for mauling humans. One time when I was sampling, my friend Esther spotted a lion on the horizon. We all stood on the roof of the land cruiser watching it through binoculars for a while, then I got out and continued sampling. After a while, I realized I had lost track of the lion and thoughts of being eaten by a lion while sampling bees filtered through my mind.

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Of course, a lot of great scientists have died for their science. 😉

Anyway, this was an incredible opportunity for me and I learned a ton, not just about bees, but about elephants!

For example, most elephants spend the hottest part of the afternoon hiding in the shade, and older elephants get the best shade.

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And elephants are really sensitive to smells and don’t like the smell of humans at all.

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*sniffing*
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*more sniffing*

Also, elephants play with their food a lot…they smack themselves with it (probably knocking off flies and swing it around). They also eat a lot of really thorny bushes!

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8 thoughts on “Chasing elephants in Tsavo

  1. So cool! Elephants are totally majestic. Would love to see them in the wild like that. You’ve got my follow. Check out my comedy blog and give it a follow if you like it!

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