Etosha Elephant Project
In an ongoing study conducted by Utopia Scientific scientists and contributing volunteers, in partnership with Stanford University and supported by the Oakland Zoo, elephants of the Mushara area of Etosha National Park have been monitored at several different levels to better understand their social structure and communication in order to apply this knowledge to improved care in captivity and ultimately to elephant conservation in the wild.
Over 120 bulls and more than 12 family groups have been documented and studied in an effort to understand the importance of long distance communication through both the air and the ground. Other aspects of the study include the influence and stability of hierarchies within and between groups, the interplay of hormones and dominance, the role of musth in male society and reproductive health, as well as the influence of relatedness on male associations and bonding.
The project scientists are now also looking into questions relating to long term memory, general cognitive ability and evidence of psychological states that resemble human emotion in these long lived, highly social mammals.
The Oakland Zoo has served as an important laboratory for this research by providing a controlled environment within which to test some of the scientists' theories that were developed in the field. By using target training with captive elephants, we are able to participate in experiments with acoustic and vibrotactile acuity and cognitive ability. This long term study has resulted in numerous scientific publications and popular articles as well as the internationally acclaimed book, The Elephant's Secret Sense. This research was initiated by Utopia Scientific co-founder, Dr. Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell and as of 2004, the program accepts a number of contributing volunteers in order to help educate the public on the importance of elephant conservation, which in turn serves to facilitate the cost of running the field program.
For the past four years, the Oakland Zoo Conservation Fund has supported the cost of hormone analysis for this study. For more information about Utopia Scientific, their mission and current research, volunteer opportunities and donations, please visit www.utopiascientific.org.