Thailand: Roundup, pictures, videos

From 12 – 20 Nov 2018 Biosphere Expeditions & Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary (KSES) ran their second Asian elephant conservation expedition within a Karen hilltribe community in Mae Chaem region in the mountains of northern Thailand. Eight citizen scientists from Canada, Germany, UK and the US helped gather data and spent a total of 107 hours in the forest following the elephants.

The overall long-term goal of the research is to contribute to welfare initiatives in Thailand by collecting data on elephant behavior in a natural setting. Almost 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 Talia Gale explains that “this year we were thrilled to gather complete datasets on activity budgeting, association and foraging, thanks to the hard working citizen scientists.”

Preliminary results are: 80 hours were spent on recording activity & behaviour, 16 hours looking at social relationships and closeness, and 11 hours on foraging preferences. The elephants spent their time on foraging (64%), followed by walking (12%), standing (7%), scratching and dusting (6%). During six survey days they consumed 32 plant species from 18 different families, with the majority of their diet consisting of two species of bamboo (40%). The data gathered by the expedition by and large corroborate previous studies on wild Asian elephants.

KSES is a non-profit foundation founded in 2016 working together with local communities to bring elephants home to the forest. Kerri McCrea, co-founder of KSES: “What makes our program unique is the very close relationship we have with our local community. The whole village works together to run this project, everyone with their own role whether it’s homestays, driving or looking after us and the elephants in the field, it literally takes a village to get it all done. Thank you to Biosphere Expeditions for bringing us motivated citizen scientists to progress our science projects. Working together is the only way to work towards creating a more promising future for the elephants in Thailand.”

Some pictures and videos of the expedition are below.

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Thailand: Two full datasets, done

The team completed the last survey day on Monday. After the final data input and a refreshing shower in the afternoon, we sat around the dinner table for a final review. Absorbing everyone’s reports, I noticed that it all sounded as if we were talking about good old friends, commenting on their mood and behaviour amongst other things. The elephants have become much more than study objects and we all felt a bit sad when we had to say good-bye. On the very bright side, the team met this year’s goal of two full day datadsets for each individual and set the basis for further data collection – well done everyone!

Preliminary results after 107 survey hours between 08:00 and 16:00 on six survey days are:

  • 80 hours were spent on recording activity & behaviour
  • 16 hours looking at social relationships and closeness were recorded
  • 11 hours were spent on looking at their foraging preferences.
  • The majority of the elephant’s time was spent foraging (64%) followed by walking (12%), standing (7%), scratching and dusting (6%).
  • During the six survey days, they consumed 32 species from 18 different families with the majority of their diet being two species of bamboo (40%).
  • These preliminary data corroborate and resemble previous studies on wild Asian elephants.

More on all this will follow in the full expedition report, which we will tell you when it’s out (in a few months).

It was well before bedtime (around 20:00) when most of the team dinner to do some packing up or going straight to bed. It has been a tiring, but satisfying week. Thank you, everyone on the team, for your time, hard work, sweat for science and the enthusiasm you have put into the project. I very much enjoyed the time with you out in the forest and also watching you making yourselves at home within the local community. Your help and input is much appreciated and without you the project would simply not happen. Thanks to KSES, Kerri & Sombat, for organising everything on the ground, together with the local people and mahouts. Thanks, Talia, for sharing your knowledge and never getting tired of answering questions on the science or elephant anatomy 😉

Best wishes, I hope to see some of you again some day and I leave you with a collection of pictures from your time here.

Malika

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