Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Paul Tehoda wins best poster at APS 2017!

We are very proud to announce that our collaborator Paul Tehoda won the best poster prize at the Inaugural Congress of the African Primatological Society - APS in Bingerville, Ivory Coast last month!

His work "Photographic Records Of Ghana’s Elusive Chimpanzee And Its Conservation Status" was made possible thanks to the collaboration between the PanAf and the research group of Dr. Emmanuel Danquah at the Department of Wildlife and Range Management and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana :)

Congratulations Paul!!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Elephant communication 🐘

Elephants have complex ways of communicating with each other that involve olfactory, visual, tactile and auditory signals.

They are highly social mammals that live in very complex societies. In this sense, the acoustic communication plays an essential role in locating individuals and maintaining intra- and inter-group cohesion.

The elephant society is a fission-fusion model where individuals aggregate and dissociate based on ecological stressors and other factors such as predator pressures, calf care, and mate selection. As explained in “#ElephantTuesdays: oh mama! a female´s role, the core unit of the elephant social structure is the family unit which consists of an adult female and her offspring. Family units that are found to be highly associated are bond groups. To maintain cohesion and coordination of the family group and association with bond groups, numerous tactile and visual communication cues are used along with a complex system of auditory signals.

Elephants produce a broad range of higher frequency sounds like barks, roars, cries and snorts. But
the most frequently used sounds they produce are the “rumbles”. Rumbles are very low frequency sounds that were originally thought to be originated in the elephant´s stomach (stomach rumbles). These low frequency sounds can reach up to 2 kilometers (Langbauer et al. 1991, McComb et al. 2003) and are used for communication between and within family herds over large distances.

If we compare the range of frequencies used by elephants with those used by humans, we can get an idea of how amazingly low these rumble frequencies can be: a typical human´s voice in speech is about 110 Hz for men, 220 Hz for women and 300 Hz for children, while a typical male rumble is about 12, a female´s rumble is about 13Hz and a calf´s 22Hz.

Original video: ACP000dlbi

It is known that the frequency of the sound is correlated to the level of excitement of the elephant; they produce low frequency sounds when they are in a low level of excitement. These sounds are used to promote group cohesion. In contrast, high frequency sounds are present when the elephants are highly excited.

They are not only great at producing sounds, but also at localizing them: it has been suggested that the larger the space between an elephant´s ears (inter-aural space), the better the ability at localizing sounds, so they extend their ears perpendicularly to their heads in order to localize sounds.

When an elephant rumbles, a replica of the airborne sound is also transmitted through the ground. Seismic communication could supplement airborne communication or be especially beneficial when airborne conditions are not ideal for transmission. (O'Connell-Rodwell, C.E. 2007. Keeping an "ear" to the ground: Seismic communication in elephants. Physiology 22:287-294.).

Elephants also use other senses to communicate, like their vision. Here we talk about visual communication: if you watch an elephant for a long while, you will see a large repertoire of visual signals that they perform to communicate with one another (or with other species) by using their heads, eyes, mouth, ears, trunk, tail, feet and their whole body. So, if you happen to be in front of an elephant and s/he starts run to you, head up high above his/her shoulders, spread ears, you´d better run fast if you have the chance, or start your car and speed up! S/he is telling you that you are not welcomed; it´s a threatening or dominant signal. A subordinate elephant carries his/her head low and his/her ears back. A socially excited elephant rapidly flaps his/her ears, eyes open. A frightened or excited one raises his/her tail and chin, remember?

Original video: ACP0000b7b

You all might remember the blog post about the “elephant trunk”, talking about the elephant´s trunk abilities. They are very tactile animals that touch each other with their entire body to communicate in several contexts like defensive, sexual, playful behaviors etc.

But the trunk is the part of their body with which they more often touch each other to communicate. Remember this video? a beautiful example of tactile communication:

Original videos: ACP000cb8k ACP000cb8l ACP000cb8n

They also use chemical signals to communicate. Trunks up to sniff the air, exploring the ground for urine trails etc., sniffing genitals, mouths, glands or ears of partners…chemical communication gives an efficient long-lasting signal.

Original video: ACP0002p30

Anyone interested in learning more about elephant communication, this is a very interesting visual guide: "What Elephant Calls Mean: A User's Guide" published by National Geographic in 2014

Thanks for reading :-)


Langbauer Jr., W.R. 2000. Elephant Communication
Berg, J.K. 1983. Vocalizations and associated behaviours of the African elephant Loxodonta africana in captivity.
Elephant Voices: https://www.elephantvoices.org/

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What do we do in our spare time?

When you have a job and two small kids, talking about spare time is often very optimistic. But somehow, Ingo and I manage to find some activities that we can share with our kids and that really make our day.

Although on chimpandsee we always are studying chimps in the wild, we also are involved with captive chimps sometimes, taking great care for their welfare when they are housed in zoos and sanctuaries. If it was somehow possible, believe me, I myself would open each and every  gate to release the animals. But I´m not intending to start a debate about zoos here; as sad as it often feels, zoos do exist and we need to care.

So, years ago Ingo and I founded an association devoted to animal protection called Kalinga. One of the many goals of Kalinga is to lend a helping hand to the zoos that might need and want it (usually those in the developing countries).

We work mainly, but not exclusively, with elephants in things related to enrichment, foot care, protected contact (PC), improvement of infrastructures, and more general things like environmental education.

For our latest project we didn´t have to travel too far, as it took place here in Germany, in Baden-Württemberg, in a small zoo called Leintalzoo. This zoo is run by an experienced family, and holds the biggest harmonious group of chimps in Germany (33 individuals).  The chimps installation might be shocking at first, especially because we are nowadays used to seeing those big zoos where the animals are kept in islands surrounded by water, so you basically see no barrier, which gives you the feeling of "freedom". But actually, there is a barrier: the water. So, all the space that the water occupies is lost space for the animals. But humans see no gates.

In the Leintalzoo you do see barriers, big iron cages to be more specific. This is really shocking, but put it this way: chimps can move in all three dimensions. They not only can walk, but they can also climb. In fact, the chimps in this zoo have amazing muscles!

Anyway, the chimps enclosure was too empty and boring for our taste. We had to do something!. It wasn´t clear to us if the owners were going to be very happy if we barged in, but after offering our help, they gave us green-light to go ahead :-) . 

We got some fire hoses from the Böblingen Fire Department and we used them to build and hang lianas and hammocks. This is what happened:

this is what the chimps installation looked like: 

Getting started: hanging lianas:

Next step: the hammocks: 

And the very best part of all: the chimps reaction: 

There´s still soooooo much to do, but we are moving in the right direction.

I hope you liked it :-)

@Pugli and @NuriaM