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#28: Why Aggressive Elephants? Also, Field Stories, Dung DNA, and Elephant Conservation

This is the fifth episode in a series all about how I actually studied elephants. For my Ph.D., I studied the social structure and genetic patterns of African forest elephants in Gabon. Here I follow up on aggressive elephants in the park, fun field stories, extracting and amplifying elephant DNA, and how to conserve elephants.

It may be a good idea to catch up with episodes #24-27 so you can fully understand what my field research and seasons were like:

Forest elephant mother and calf

In this episode, I follow up on my experiences with aggressive elephants during my field work and hypothesize why what happened to me happened.

This episode is focused on my second field season and in addition to the close elephant encounters, I had another close encounter with an animal (actually lots and lots of them) that you can’t see in many places in Africa. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my whole life!

I also talk about my research after my field season – what it was like to work with the elephant dung samples back in the lab, what I did with them, and did they work? As always with science, things don’t go exactly as they planned. 

Finally, I cannot talk about elephants without talking about their current plight – that they are at risk of extinction, especially forest elephants. The problem is surprisingly massive and if we don’t work hard now, we could lose this species. We’ve already lost a lot of forest elephant range and individuals. 

Specifically, I go over: 

  • Why some elephants and elephant populations are aggressive and others are not
  • What I think happened to me the night elephants broke into my room
  • Rare sighting with a large group of mandrills
  • A scary (non-animal) field story
  • How to get DNA from dung and the lab work involved
  • What you can do right now to help elephants
  • and MORE!
careers in wildlife biology
elephant dung DNA

Me collecting elephant dung (left) and a dung sample slurry (right) that I would extract DNA from. 

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Resources and Sources Mentioned in Aggressive Elephants

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