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#27. Charging Elephants and Fresh Dung: Challenges from the Field

This is the fourth episode in a series all about how I actually studied elephants. I recently gave a talk and people were really curious about how I went about this (how does one study elephants?). 

I decided this would be the perfect thing to talk about on my podcast – taking you through step-by-step of how I set it all up and what it was really like to study forest elephants. 

This week’s episode is all about studying elephants non-invasively through their dung and using it as a source of DNA. Did you know that some scientists study elephants completely through their dung? Some never even see the elephants!

When I was in the forest collecting dung, I had a super close encounter. This episode details getting too close to the elephants I was studying – and all by accident. 

Finally, something happened to me during this field season that has never happened before in all of the history of the field station (25 years!). Let me tell you, it was scary – the scariest moment of my entire life. Listen and you’ll find out what this animal encounter involved. 

Specifically, in this episode, I go over: 

  • Changing plans in the field AGAIN
  • Things that went wrong in the field
  • Finding fresh elephant poop (spoiler alert: It was harder than I thought)
  • How elephant dung could answer my dissertation questions in a different way
  • Animal encounters
    • Chimpanzees
    • Charging elephants in the forest
    • Scary elephant story at the field station
  • and MORE!
forest elephant
Billy the elephant scratching himself on our laundry line during the daytime while we were at the field station.

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Resources and Sources Mentioned in Charging Elephants and Fresh Dung

Scientist collecting dung
Me collecting dung in a particularly muddy place.
Me with Billy in the background. He was only one of two elephants that would visit the field station during the day.
Me with Billy in the background. He was only one of two elephants that would visit the field station during the day.
Billy the elephant following our car. Billy was a friendly elephant, but most elephants in the park were scared of us and even aggressive.
Billy the elephant following our car. Billy was a friendly elephant, but most elephants in the park were scared of us and even aggressive.
broken room
The aftermath. It doesn't look that bad, but they definitely pushed through the window and these walls are thin!

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