Monday, December 26, 2011

The Elephant Listening Project

In the dense forests of Africa, there is a species of forest elephant that has proved very difficult to study. Indeed, even simple questions like how many elephants there are and where they are located have been impossible to answer.

Katy Payne's discovery of low frequency communication systems in elephants has provided a new way to study elephant behavior. Automatic recording units make it possible to monitor the elephants' communication signals and researchers use this information to begin to understand something of the forest elephant's biology.

Peter Wrege, director of the Elephant Listening Project, describes the techniques and what has been learned about the biology of these wild, elusive animals.

Elephants in the wild seem to coordinate their movements even when widely separated. Male elephants seem to be able to find females in estrous even over long distances.

Bioacoustics researcher Katy Payne and her colleagues have found that elephants use low frequency sounds to communicate. These sounds are mostly below the range of human hearing but we feel them as "pulsations" in the air. In Africa these sounds may travel as far as 10 km and serve to coordinate elephant herds.

Payne is co-founder of the Elephant Listening Project, which uses acoustic methods to study and aid in the conservation of forest elephants in Central Africa.

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