Citizen scientists complete survey on semi wild elephant herd in Northern Thailand

From 4 -12 Nov 2019 Biosphere Expeditions & Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary (KSES) ran their third Asian elephant conservation expedition within a Karen hilltribe community in Mae Chaem region in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Six citizen scientists from Australia, Germany, UK and the Netherlands helped gather data of five elephants roaming freely in the forest around the village, but are still under the watchful eye of their mahouts.

After the citizen scientists were trained up in elephant identification & association pattern and behaviour recording, as well as plant identification, they spent a total of 111 hours in the forest following an individual elephant each. The team of six citizen scientists covered an average of 10 km per day to follow and observe the elephants roaming in different terrain.

The overall long-term goal of the research is to contribute to welfare initiatives in Thailand by collecting data on elephant behaviour in a natural setting. More than 3,500 elephants are currently kept in captivity working for their survival in tourist camps. The goal of the study is to create an official guideline regulating daily practice and management of captive elephants to ensure the highest degree of welfare standards. Expedition scientist Alex Johncola says: ”It was great to have citizen scientists from all over the world help us collect much-needed research data in order to help elephant conservation & welfare. A huge thank you to all.”

Preliminary results were:

  • 80 hours spent recording activity & behaviour
  • 16 hours looking at social relationships and closeness
  • 15 hours looking at foraging preferences
  • The elephants spent the 52% of their time foraging, followed by exploring (12%), socialising (9%) and walking (8%)
  • During six survey days they consumed 15 species from 7 different families of plants with the majority of their diet being from a currently unidentified herb (73%) as well as bamboo (15%)

Some pictures and videos from the expedition:

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