NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
24 Feb 2002
Central African Republic
- Dzanga-Sangha Reserve; Andrea Turkalo camp; Near elephant bai and Mirador observation platform
- 2.954323 16.364085
- SONY TCD-D8
4-Channel Surround; 1=L, 2=R, 3=Ls, 4=Rs; Schoeps MK 2
Show: CAR Elephants
Log of DAT #: 10A
Engineer: Bill McQuay
Date: Feb. 24, 2002
KP = Katy Payne
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Bill = Bill McQuay
It's the afternoon of the 24th, it's about 2:22 in the afternoon. And we're here with Katy Payne. Katy, just to start would you say who you are, how we should identify you, and spell your name.
I'm Katy Payne, and you can call me Katy. I'm working at the Lab of Ornithology in the Bioacoustics Research Program. And I'm leading a project called the Elephant Listening Project, which is a conservation directed project in which we hope to use sounds made by forest elephants to reveal the locations and sizes and health of populations of this very rare species which lives in very difficult terrain.
I believe that the idea of the Elephant Listening Project occurred to you.
That is absolutely right, it did.
How did it occur to you?
I'd been studying sounds made by elephants for some 15 years before that I think, starting with the discovery that elephants make sounds that people cannot hear because they're too low pitched for us to hear but they're very powerful and very low frequency sound travels very well over long distances so that these sounds, once we became aware of them, we realized that they may be coordinating the behavior of elephant populations over large areas. And gradually as we began to write the dictionary and look into evidence that they were being used over long distances, which they are, and the ways in which elephants use them to coordinate their behavior, their mating, their family behavior, I realized oh my goodness, maybe we can use these in the service of conservation. Conservation is what I care most about in this whole world. And I did know that Andrea Turkalo had been studying elephants for many years in this forest and had never been able to record their sounds. So I contacted her, with this idea behind it: that if we could find a relationship between the patterns of calling of these elephants and the conditions that we were seeing in front of us in her very visible population, maybe we could make a some sort of model from that that could be applied in forests where elephants are only heard but never seen, and in fact only heard by each other, but never seen by people. That is for instance, almost all the other forests in west and central Africa. Elephants there don't have clearings to come out into and they're known mostly because people either get bothered by them, coming into their crops, or they find piles of dung in the forest.
I think people probably don't know that there are such things as forest elephants. Because exactly as you say, you'd think these are the principal elephants in west and central Africa and nobody ever sees them.
Nobody ever sees them. It's quite possible that half of Africa's elephants are forest elephants, which have virtually never been seen and about which almost nothing is known except by one person: Andrea Turkalo. But here they are. Of course they're excessively vulnerable because nobody knows how many there are to begin with. And they're in countries living in places very remote from central government and in many cases the central government doesn't have conservation on its screen as a priority at all. There are rivers. Tusks can be taken from poached elephants and put into pirogues, which are dug-out canoes, run down the river to Cameroon and sold on the black market. And it could be this species could go extinct without anybody's hardly even knowing that it existed. But we have recently come to realize that it is a separate species from the savannah elephant. That wasn't thought to be so a few years ago and so a great many more elephants were thought to exist in one species. Now that there are two we know that each one is smaller than was previously thought. That increases the urgency to find out about them and protect them.
How does the Elephant listening Project work? What is it that you actually do? How do you listen to them and then what do you do?
Using devices that have been put together ingeniously in this bioacoustics research program by Chris Clark, my old friend, and his buddies, he put them together to study whales in the ocean. Now we can use modified versions of those, little hard drives, little computers, hooked up with batteries and microphones. And we can place them in trees. In simplest form we say you can Velcro it to a tree and then run along and Velcro another one to another tree. You can put an array, any number of these devices in the trees in the forest and leave them and they will continuously record for months at a time. When you pick them up they're full of acoustic information, full of recordings.
But of course they're not just full of elephants. They're full of insects, they're full of thunderstorms, they're full of birdcalls and monkeys and everything else in the forest.
Yeah, that's absolutely right. Elephants are very easy to discriminate from the other animals because they make calls that are much lower pitch than the calls of these other animals. So either we can set the settings on our recordings so that we're only picking up the very low frequency calls, and then most of what we pick up will be elephants, wind, and thunder, or we can record everything and get a recording of the biodiversity of the forest, in which case we use a lot more power, but we can find the elephant calls because they are unique in their structure and in their pitch. And in fact the big problem is you come home with data that is too too too voluminous, you know hundreds of thousands of thousands of data points, I mean of things, things recorded. So Chris's research program has, as one of its missions, making automatic the process of analyzing the material that comes off of these units. We now have an elephant call detector. We can simply feed the material from a hard drive into this detector, run it through the detector and out comes a series of spectrograms which are pictures of the calls and it has selected elephant calls from among the other things recorded. That means that someday, someday, not yet, a park ranger in remote west Africa may be able to run out into the forest, grab the hard drive from the tree, run back into his camp, plug one thing into another, and come out with a conclusion that so many elephant calls were made in the last ten days and that that probably represents so many elephants.
What is it about being here in this Bai? Why have you chosen this clearing where Andrea's working to begin trying to make your model? What is it that is the key factor here?
There are two things about the Dzanga Bai that make it absolutely irreplaceable. One is Andrea's knowledge. Over the last 11 years she has gained the acquaintance of most of the elephants whom we are seeing here so that we can say 'this one is a sub-adult male and this one is an adult male and he's come many times and these are some of the relationships that she's noted among these elephants.' That means that we're able to interpret some of the calls in terms of their social meanings.
Because you know the relationship between this elephant and that elephant.
Yes, right. And you hear a rumble and she says 'well that's Anemone 1 and she's calling for her infant' and you look and she says 'the infant is way over there, no wonder she's calling for it.' And you watch them together and then you get more rumbles and certain behaviors¿great flappings of ears¿and that's a greeting. And then you can say those rumbles are greeting rumbles. To write a dictionary is no small task and we are very much in kindergarten. But as we begin to be able to do that we can say 'calls of this structure are only made by infants.' And so if in Ghana in a park where we're also working where elephants are never seen, our recordings from the ARUs show that kind of call, we'll say 'hallelujah, there are infants here.' Overlapping calls, very excited calls made by groups of elephants at the same time are only made by families. Males don't make them. So when we find those in our recordings we can say, good, there's a healthy family structure in this population. The other thing about Dzanga, which makes it the only place to do this work is that you can predictably see elephants in the clearing any day of the year. And it's the only place where that's true. And if we can see them we can count them. Then we can say when we record this rate of calling we were actually seeing this number of elephants. And when we record this kind of call we were actually seeing a mating, whatever. So it enables us to put the visual together with the acoustic.
You said earlier that a very important factor is the rate of calling in the density of the group that you're studying. The more elephants the more calls. Now why is that important to you?
It's important that we be able to go backwards from that relationship to recordings made blind in another area and say, okay, our detector tells us that we were getting one call every four minutes over this two month period when it was recording in the forest. One call over every four minutes would average out to up to about 10 elephants in the proximity of that unit. But if we were getting four calls every one minute then that means we've got a population with at least 60 elephants in it. So the rate of calling¿And this has been something that is very rewarding. It wasn't something that was definitely going to work because they're very emotional animals and some days they don't call at all, and then other days there's this blitz of calling, it's like a stampede of calling. But when you average it all out you discover there's a real bust relationship and you really can if you've got a long enough recording of a sample, you really can extrapolate the numbers of elephants present.
How would the ARU, or the basic concept of the Elephant Listening Project, how would that be a conservation tool in a place like Ghana? You told me a story a year ago I think of a pilot project in Ghana where there was an undetermined population in an area and people wanted to make a protected zone but they didn't know whether it should be 1X or 5X or 10X in size. And you put out a recording unit and I think people had seen 2 or 3 elephants in this area over months of looking for them. And you, very quickly, determined that there was an enormous number of elephants in this forest.
Well you've exaggerated most marvelously, but if we go with that (laughing)¿The fact is we recorded for 2 months on 11 of these units which were scattered through a 300 square km area (AC: In Ghana), in Ghana, in the Kakum (sp) National Forest, and it's a place where Richard Barnes has been trying to assess numbers of forest elephants by walking periodically on 11 different trails and counting piles of dung; he has a team that do it periodically. And his dung counts, he was extrapolating to between 100 and 200 elephants in the park. And he was extremely happy when the model that we had made in Dzanga confirmed that. He was dealing with under 100 piles of dung and we were talking about over 3000 calls. But the model, just as this kind of rate means this kind of numbers, with a large margin of error in both cases. I think it's important, before people will be willing to preserve a forest, in particular one like this that's full of valuable hardwoods, to preserve it for conservation in an impoverished country, you have to know that what you want to conserve is really something and is really there and is worth to some people more than the forest turned into timber would be worth. And if you can say, alright you've got 200 elephants here and they're probably the most endangered elephant species in the world, that means something. It's also the beginning of a study of biodiversity for which I think acoustic information will be very very valuable. How about endangered frogs, how about the other things that we're going to be recording? What can we learn about the primates? You can learn an awful lot about a lot of things simultaneously. And analyzing the data is what takes a lot of time. And when I say endangered, they are of course endangered by the possibility that the forest will be taken, that the Bai will disappear, its valued elephants will disappear and will dissipate into the forest. They're endangered by the fact that people are trying to reopen the ivory trade. That would be probably just devastating for these elephants which are so difficult to protect. If we can say, alright, we saw 1000 elephants in the Dzanga area in 2002 and now it's 2004 and we're only seeing something like 600, what's happening? This material we're getting now provides a baseline for comparison. Or if we can say it was a healthy population, we were finding males, females, infants, mating, and so forth in 2002 but in 2004 we find no calls of males and there don't seem to be any infants, it can be a indicator of all kinds of things.
Do you have any idea why it is that people are only turning to acoustic ideas for counting these wildlife populations, well, very recently?
I think the world was waiting for Chris's bio-acoustic program to tackle the job. It's not a simple task to create a device that can do these long long long recordings digitally and then give them to you for analysis. And it's no simple task either to analyze massive massive amounts of acoustic data. I just think it was behind, it hadn't caught up with its value.
No, it must be incredibly difficult to write a filter that will just pull out exactly what you want from that just mammoth amount that you---
Yeah, well these guys are on fire. The engineers in this program are just cranking. I mean actually when we asked for that filter we had it in one day. So that didn't turn out to be the hard thing. But I have been overwhelmed by the complexity of the issues that they have tackled in order to produce what we want to be a very very simple piece of equipment.
Well, there's much more we are learning, and I love the people on my team, they are---
Bill interrupts, listening to the insects.
All the members of my team are both interested in the science and the art of the thing and we've gotten very very interested in elephants as individuals, in the evidence that they may be conscious in their enormous compassion for each other and curiosity about each other. And of course while we are collecting these data with the large scale motive of finding out relations between rates of things and numbers of other things, we are seeing them as beings, as organisms. We think of the human species as being the compassionate species because some of us are capable of it. Some aren't. Elephants show every evidence, as far as I'm concerned, of emotion related to the welfare not only of the individual who is crying out but also of its relatives, of each other. And we even had a very interesting episode that they're very interested in each other's welfare whether they're related or not. This was a little calf that died in front of us and we kept a video record of the visits to the dying animal and then to the corpse. 127 different animals walked, singly, independently, and sniffed and then responded. And the responses were enormously different. They were as different as human being's responses would be to finding a member of our species dead on the road in front of us. And one young male, a sub-adult male, attempted to lift the body 57 times and revisited it 5 times. Well now, I don't know what he was feeling, and biologists are always leery of going into that domain of speculation. But all I can say is he was extremely concerned and involved. And so there was none¿out of all 127 visits there was only 1 animal who did not respond, who treated that as though it was a stone in the path. So there's all this delicious possibility of finding out about the thoughts and feelings of another animal that comes through watching their communication.
You're also trying to¿You talk about writing a dictionary. Do you think it's possible to understand the calls of elephants, to understand in some way, what they're trying to communicate to one another?
That's a question very well asked. I certainly do not think that the subtleties of what they're saying to one another will be clear to us in most cases. But I think on a sort of a grand scale, we can say that the screams, of which we hear a good many in this clearing, are usually the calls of young animals, of animals competing for a resource, of animals getting shoved away from the hole where they want to drink the minerals. And that rumbles are very frequently evidence of cooperative events or cohesive events of families trying to get together or families getting together or families celebrating or somehow responding emotionally to a mating. It's interesting that when you find overlapping calls, that's a sign of females, they're the ones that talk at once, the males don't do that. So you see I'm very much in kindergarten. There's a call that Cynthia Moss has translated among savannah elephants which means 'let's go.' It's a great translation. The old matriarch will move away from her family, will face in a direction she wishes to move in, and will give this long brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr(sound with her mouth). She'll do it repeatedly. And as the moments go by, all the members of her family, be they 10 or 20 or 30, will slowly surround her. And she will not move until they are all there. And then she will give it again and they will move as a single unit out of an area where they were dispersed and behaving differently. There's a call made by a female in breeding condition which calls in a must male, that is to say it calls in a male who is full of testosterone and feeling both aggressive to other males and very much in search of females for mating. And this is a sequence, it's like a song. It repeats over and over again, the same call. And we have done playback experiments with that in the savannah. We've made recordings of something very similar in the forest which I suspect is also an estrus announcement call. And I think she is saying I am Zeta and I am in estrus, come and get me. Because males come from all directions very fast.
Have you tried any playback experiments here in the Bai?
Nope. I have not. But other people have done some playbacks in the Savannah and have found that individuals recognize each other's voices, they recognize the voices of their own family members. And they recognize the difference between elephants whom they seen frequently and elephants whom they see infrequently.
Have you not done playbacks in the Bai here because you do not want to intrude into the process that's going on?
Well, this is the truth; we certainly don't. But I also feel we don't know enough yet to do it. I need to learn more first. But that's a wonderful kind of experiment to do. It really does cinch the issue. If we were to play Anemone 3's call, probably only the members her own family would respond, and they would probably come to the loudspeaker and that would be very confirming of one's guesses about the meaning of the call.
You talk about the emotional life of these creatures. What is the emotional life of an elephant?
Well I think the emotional life of an elephant changes radically depending on the age and sex. For males, the emotional life seems to be involved with individual dominance, a position in the dominance hierarchy. A tremendous amount of emotion goes into the fights and the shoving matches with which they establish their right to dominate another or to keep another out of a resource, whether they're drinking there themselves or not (AC: just for the heck of it!) Just because that's what they have to do. And of course once it gets to the top and once the males are old enough to be spending part of their time in must it determines their access to fertile females, which means that the winner is the one whose genes are represented in the next generation. But for females the emotional life is very much group related. You got to know where the others are, got to know that the others are all right, got to be in touch. Huge emotions, obviously, surrounding some of these events. Like the mating event that we saw the other day was just incredible. After a female in this family had been mounted by a fertile male, there was a tremendous uproar, a great circling of elephants in the place where it had occurred as they sniffed the semen that had dripped onto the ground, they called and called and called and called. And the overlapping calls went on for more than an hour. And this was the, as I think I said, stampede of vocalization that seemed to accompany this event.
Waiting for some sound to go away, and for Bill to change batteries.
You actually were describing the mating call. How would you feel about letting us use some of that recording..
Well just to go back to the big question you asked about what is the emotional life of an elephant. The emotional life of an infant is all the sorts of things that come with surprises as it explores. It explores the world not knowing that some elephants are its mother and others aren't. And it wanders into puddles and it wanders into the wrong family and it gets whacked and it gets sent back to its mother and you hear lots of vocalizations associated with the family trying to educate the infant: this is your family, these are the sounds that belong to the Penelope family. And we've seen a number of calf rescue events, one actually in the Penelope family, that have been absolutely charming and fascinating. Young sub-adult females act almost like kidnappers. They are so drawn to a newborn calf that they will follow it around, try to sort of trunk it away from the mother, get it underneath their own legs. You know the legs of an elephant are like a four poster bed and when the infant is in there it's secure and it belongs to you. And sometimes they kidnap each other's babies and put them in there. And then you hear these ruckuses that have to do with the family realizing the calf has been kidnapped and rushing over and rescuing it and getting it back to themselves and training it. and then you hear families responding to what you might think of in humans as private experiences. For instance, a young female the other day was mounted by a male and it appeared to be a successful mating. And no sooner had he dismounted than she and he were surrounded by dozens of elephants rushing around in a great circle, clashing their tusks together, draining from their temporal glands, urinating, defecating, trumpeting, rumbling, roaring, everything that shows emotion, flapping their ears. This in fact, occurred first I believe in the family of the female who had been mated. Then she and her consort drifted out of the middle of that and others came to the same site where the mating had occurred. And others from other families went into the same frenzy of excitement.
Sniffing the ground and stomping around there.
Sniffing the ground. Yeah, right. So it was a huge event. It was being announced, if you will, perhaps without any conscious intention, but who knows, to the world at large, and two hours later the biggest must bull in the whole area and the biggest one that Andrea has ever seen, this huge bull with tusks more than 2 meters long, straight down to the ground, came nobly into the Bai. Sure enough. He must have been called in by the estrus calling and the mating pandemonium. And I've seen the same thing in Savannah elephants. And it's really really really interesting when you start wondering how it has evolved. But I suppose it's to the advantage of the all members of the family to have this member give birth to a very viable infant and that paternity has something to do with that. And then probably it's useful to other individuals whose own families may get the benefit of this powerful, dominant, must male. So I suspect that events like that synchronize estrus. And this is the one thing that I saw with Joyce Pool when I saw a similar event in the Savannah. There were 5 or 6 different matings that occurred all within the course of a couple of days. With this kind of noise. And these sounds, these calls, which were audible to us, very loud to us over a couple hundred meters, they're going miles. And because low frequency sound travels so well through even forest, it's the only kind of communication that would go those distances.
When you're up there on the platform, overlooking the Bai and watching the elephants, what are the things that are occurring to you that you're not noting down scientifically. That is, what is it about the lives of the elephants that strike you? What are the things that you wonder about?
Oh, I wonder if they're thinking. You know, sometimes it seems so much as if they're having human-like experiences and sometimes it seems as if they're just out in blado land, just kind of automatically wandering from one¿I wonder why they compete for dominance so much, when many of these dominance interactions don't end up with anybody drinking very much from the pool, that is just one. And I'll have to think about that and give you a better answer later. One of the things I wonder about in that particular clearing, the only clearing that I know well, is whether its nobility and uniqueness as it seems to me, isn't so extraordinary, that just in itself it will live forever. It's kind of a marvelous thing, that even though there's been lumbering in this area for 80 years or so, the lumber companies didn't cut down the forest immediately surrounding the clearing. Why not? I think anybody who comes into that place and sees this phenomenon in front of themselves has to say, "it belongs to them." And I wonder, I wonder what it takes to have people realize that the earth belongs to other species.
That place certainly does seem to belong to them.
But I've watched you up there on that platform, looking at the elephants through your binoculars or your scope and I see that something has occurred to you, that ideas just occur to you, and you're looking at relationships and you're seeing things going on.
the more you look the more you realize that every individual is just enormously different from every other individual and that their relationships inside their families are different and some mothers are very giving to their infants and others compete with their infants and jab them and shove them away and some infants are very persistent about nursing or getting into the holes and are hilariously funny and go down with their trunks deep in the hole and their hind legs up in the air. And others are kind of tentative. There are some individuals who get what they want by sneaking. The big males have to compete with one another. And while they're doing that, little fellows will run around and grab the hole that is temporarily vacated by the contest that is going on outside. I just think it takes all kinds to make the world. And one of the things that's really beautiful about that Bai, that clearing, which may or may not have visual meaning to the elephants, but it sure does to the observers, is that after a little bit of rain they go into mud pools and the mud pools are very different colors. So there's a bright brick red mud pool that just shocks you it's so red. And 4 or 5 elephants will come running into the clearing from the southeast and you know they've been in that hole. At the same time, others may come in yellow from another direction or white (AC: completely covered in these colors). Yeah, right. Well you see them bathing they're having a party. They just wallow and rub themselves all over and you know that play and fun is a very big part of their lives too. But why does it matter so much to know who's who, there's a question for you.
Why does it matter so much to them?
Yes, why does it matter so much to you and me to know who's who? I mean look at the amount of energy we put into thinking about individual differences in human beings? In everybody we know, everybody we read about. You know, we're just consumed with fascination. I wouldn't be surprised if elephants are too. And I'm quite convinced that every call has the signature of the caller in it. If we were to write the dictionary, it would start out with, "I, Katy" and then continue..
So you think that elephants can discern who is making every call.
I strongly suspect that that's the case.
They have individual voices.
Mmm hmmm. Have we proved it, no. The only example we've looked at was the only call for which we had adequate sample to do a statistical test. It was the estrus calls because the same female makes the same call repeatedly, of three different savannah elephants and they did show evidence of being individually unique. So, otherwise, well, you see, here's one of the things that really is puzzling me. In the savannah you really see lots of evidence for the value of sociality. It's disadvantage to be so huge to have to eat 3 to 5 hundred pounds of vegetation a day to keep alive and also to have 10 folks accompanying you all the time. You can see that in many ways it might be better to be like a rhino and solitary. But elephants in the savannah have these predators who will go after tiny calves and who hunt in groups: lions, hyenas, wild dogs. And those group predators are very much deterred by large groups of elephants. So it's my sense that not only the family unit holds together in order to be mutually supportive against predators but also savannah elephant families have close associates who run to join them if they hear a commotion from recognized individuals. So the bond group also is a functional unit that has to do with defense from predation. But in the forest there isn't any predation. There are guides behind us.
Guards talking in the distance.
What are the plans for the E.L.P in the next year¿you're going to take the data back from this field season and work on it for the entire next year?
Yeah, we will do that. Trying to figure out, well we will look again at the question of relationship between calling rate and numbers of individuals in another season. Now we've done it in the dry season, last time we did it in the rainy season. We will get another year's worth of data from Kakum in Ghana, the area where there are lots of elephants but no sightings of them. And we'll be working very hard with Chris and his gang on improving these ARUs to make them more autonomous and easier to use. Because ultimately we'd like them to be a tool that's available to anybody who's interested monitoring sound. In I believe it's November of 2002, this year, there's going to be a big meeting of CIDES, the convention for international trade and endangered species, and undoubtedly the issue of the possibility of reopening a commercial international trade in ivory will resurface again. I'm very hopeful that our preliminary work showing that acoustic monitoring is possible will play some kind of role in that decision, but I want very much to accompany any announcement of our findings with a great caution. No matter how much monitoring you could do in a few populations you could never monitor elephants everywhere. It would never be cost effective, in the sense that the small amount of money that would come in from harvesting ivory in a few places could never pay for the monitoring programs that would be required to make elephants safe everywhere. Furthermore, a monitoring program will never make the animals safe. It's always after the fact. So I'm hoping that, well, our project is seen as hopeful by those who wish to trade in ivory. They hope that we can say, alright, well it's now easy to monitor elephants everywhere so you might as well go ahead and hunt a few and we'll see what the trends look like. And this kind of hope is based on an ignorance of what trends really are. You have to have a baseline data and you have to understand how things fluctuate for years and years before you can find out whether, for instance, commercial trade has had an impact. And there's no way that commercial trade could be anything but injurious for this population.
Getting guards to be quiet.
I suppose if I'm going to say anything I should say more, to explain the fear here.
You mean that the people who want to trade in ivory, want to hunt elephants for ivory, actually like your work?
Yeah, I'll tell you what. Let me just explain and we'll see if it's too complex to go into on tape. The CIDES is very much a pro-trade institution. It's not a protective institution. And there are 111 member nations of CIDES. And very few of them have elephants. But elephants are traded for whales, or there's a large contingent, maybe half the members of CIDES are countries which are worried about having the world put pressure on them in relation to what they consider their natural resources. And they support one another. So there's been a big fuss. Year after year CIDES has been a complete nightmare. When the South African and Zimbabwean and Angola and Botswana and Namibia have said "now we believe it's unfair to have no trade in ivory because we have stockpiles we want to sell and we're managing our populations fairly well." In fact, only one of those 5 countries is capable of managing them, South Africa. But the others have had luck. And they don't have much poaching quite yet. So rancorous fighting in CIDES because so many people feel that elephants should simply be protected because they are elephants. And the East Africans, who have suffered an enormous amount of poaching¿in 10 year period, all of Africa's elephants were reduced to ½ of what they had been, a million, three hundred thousand and they were reduced to about 800 thousand in a 10 year period as Ian Douglas Hamilton found. At that point, Leakey lit the torch¿do you know about this?¿on a great stockpile of ivory that has been confiscated from poachers in Kenya. And they got all the publicity they possibly could, a hell of a lot of it. And he said "this is to show people what we feel about our elephants. They are worth more than the ivory is worth to us." And all but 11 nations voted then to protect elephants by banning all international trade in ivory. But there were these 5 nations that were just infuriated by it because they wanted to trade. And they have what they call pockets of overpopulation, which means that the area is becoming smaller and smaller and there are these pockets of density. And they're very articulate. They have some very articulate leaders who got a lot of support from fishing nations because Japan was on their side because Japan wanted to buy the ivory and Japan was subsidizing the little Caribbean fishing nations and so forth and so it's always a big political thing; it really has nothing to do with elephants and so. But last year, to make a long story a little bit shorter, the decision was reached, two years ago, that until monitoring programs were up and running which could show us where elephant populations are and how many there are everywhere so that trends could be followed and so that the impact of any trading that was done could be assessed, until such monitoring programs existed there must be no further trade in ivory. It was just about then that we got our monitoring money, see. So I'm very afraid that the S. Africans will say, "oh ho, we hear that acoustic monitoring is working very well¿"
"Our good friend Katy Payne has now made it possible for us to go sell elephant licenses."
That's right. So we've got to get up on our feet and tell people what a monitoring program really is and what it takes to understand a trend, and also make a point that it would never be feasible and certainly not economically feasible to monitor all the elephants all over the world that might be endangered by trade.
But what a terrible irony that people would attempt to cite your work, which grows entirely out of a conservation imperative and belief to hunt elephants.
But I'm afraid of it. I don't know that they're going to do it, but I'm just worried about it.
Don't you feel that you actually have devised the best way to monitor elephants?
I feel that we have devised the best way to monitor forest elephants. Savannah elephants can be assessed visually. You can fly over the savannah and get some pretty good estimates of the sizes of populations and the group population.
But half the elephants in Africa¿
Forest elephants. And the only way to count them is your way.
Well, it's one of two ways and those two ways working together may give us some pretty good information. And of course, at the same time it tells us, by the way these are wonderful animals.
One of two ways. But the other way is counting dung piles and that's a lot harder.
It's a lot more work but it can be done by people with less sophisticated tools. I think at the end of the day acoustic monitoring will be less expensive, lest costly, certainly of labor. At this point we're still working on getting the bumps out of it.
You said a little while ago that you were not a great scientist. That was just an off-hand comment, you were talking about somebody else before we started recording. What sort of scientist are you?
Observational scientist. That is to say, I'm fascinated by new things and where they might lead. I need a team to help me follow up hunches, people who are very methodical and very good at working with the same kind of data over and over and over again until you get statistically valid results and analyzing them statistically. And my forte is watching things and thinking about them and getting hunches and loving them. And I'm not sure that's scientific at all; it's just kid's stuff.
Kid stuff. (57:26)
But I'm so lucky. See now I'm at Cornell. And I'm just so so so lucky to be working with that team of people. Because they include some really fine, highly trained scientists who are seeing that this is a very rich study and worthy of their attention and so we're getting help from terrific people.
I'm so impressed with Cornell as a school as I've gone back there. The people at Cornell are, I think they're very creative in the way they see the world, in the way they look at the world. And they're also very technically adept. I mean they're great engineers. They have this engineering fascination, they have a fascination with engineering but they're very creative and curious about the world at the same time. It's not a fascination with process so much as it is exploration.
You're talking about the Lab of Ornithology in particular or about Cornell in general?
Well but also other scientists I've met there. I don't know if you know Ron Hoy? (KP: Oh sure, sure) What an interesting guy.
Oh, we need to record ambi.
1 minute AMBI. Fly buzzing around for some of it. Insects humming in the background. Birds chirping in the second half.
I do need to say something else.
This project isn't actually funded at all by Cornell. We have this collaboration with Chris but I've raised all the funds for it. And it's come from 7 different institutions. I know that the emphasis and what we've said here is on WWF because they built the mirador and you're meeting Lisa tonight. Wildlife Conservation Society is the institution that has supported Andrea all these years. And it's wonderful. Those people are real believers in long term investments, long term studies, long term conservation projects. I personally think they're far better. Both of those have been two of our sponsors. The US Fish and Wildlife has given us several grants. Conservation International stands behind us. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been exceptionally generous to us. And then we have a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, which is interested in dominance and aggression. And from the Park Foundation in Ithaca. So all of this is outside, external, to Chris's project. It's just that we made a good mesh. And so if credit can be given, I know there is an awful lot of credit to give. But those are the institutions.
We will do that at least on our website. I don't know that we will play all of that on the air. But we will at least on our website.
And if you could somehow say this is a collaboratively sponsored, or this is a project that is collaboratively sponsored by 7 conservation and animal welfare organizations or something like that, also a few private donors, I'd appreciate it. Each one of them has made it a stipulation, a condition of their support that we acknowledge them in anything we do. So I wouldn't want it to sound as though it was Cornell, because actually Cornell doesn't pay any of us anything. But gives us a great place to work.
But you know, it does seem to me that you have been, I'm sure it is more difficult¿it seems to me that you have developed funding for this very very rapidly. And whether that is because you have a body of work behind you or because the idea itself is so powerful or because you have enormous contacts.
All of those things but then the last one is because there's this political immediacy. A lot of these institutions see the CIDES decision as being very very significant for elephants of all three species and it's going to happen immediately. If that ban is lifted we're in deep shit.
Well we plan to put this on the air in October.
That's great. And you may have heard from Grant Sonics at BBC.
I did hear from him and wrote him back. He wrote to me and I was gone and then wrote him back, and I haven't heard back from him.
Well he's a darling, he's a wonderful wonderful man. He's a great friend of mine, he came to Botswana with me last summer as a BBC producer for the natural history unit. And he's going to do something in October as well. But it'll be different. He's starting off from my book I believe is the take off point and then trying to go into this.
1:04 53 AC
Do you have another book underway?
No, I'm gestating a whale book.
Well, it's not really on whales, it's on Argentina, family stuff. But I can't do it at the same time we're collecting data. I'll have to break away and take a year and work on it.
Does the elephant project have a, in your mind will you reach a point where you say "okay, we've demonstrated this and that's the end of the Elephant Listening Project"?
I think that we'll reach a point where the units are working or not working and we'll say here's a packet, here's a bag of tricks, folks go out and monitor in your area. And I suspect that that will be 2 or 3 years from now. But where of course the whole question of repertoire leads me is into the deeper questions of who elephants are and how they think and what's going on in them and I would hope that we could work here for a long time learning those things.
Here at Dzanga Bai.
Yeah. Right. And I also just have a very strong commitment to Andrea. I feel she's deserved what we can now give her very quickly. She's deserved it for 11 years and I want to stick with this work until we've really paid her back, the privilege of seeing it with her.
Not just in terms of her research, but in terms of her protection of the area.
Look, she's¿.yeah. If Andrea weren't here, I'm not sure these elephants would be here. The people in this area, the Bantu, the Pygmies, these government officials have great respect for her. Why? Because she's so forthright, her integrity is impeccable. They know that she loves this bizarre thing. She loves it so much they believe that it's lovable. She's just an example, even to people from wholly different cultures. And you see their respect for her in everybody you meet. She does not abide fools gladly.
Thank you Katy.
Spaced omni surround array.