By Ariel Schwartz
Elephants are probably not the first animal you think of when picturing the rainforest--they’re generally seen roaming the savannahs of Africa, like the one in the picture here, or traipsing across the grasslands of Southeast Asia. But there is a subset of elephants that live in the rainforests of Central Africa, and they’re in trouble. At least 1 million of these animals lived in the rainforest at one time; today, there are just 100,000.
The Elephant Listening Project, an initiative that records elephant vocal exchanges in an attempt to figure out what they’re doing, is engaged in the tricky work of eavesdropping on these animals without encroaching upon their remote habitats.
Peter Wrege, director of the Elephant Listening Project--a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology--explains part of the problem in a post on the O’Reilly website:
"Forest elephants spend most of their lives walking a network of paths through the forest, finding food and perhaps engaging in social interactions about which we know nothing. ELP is trying to pair video camera traps with acoustic recording units to piece together what is happening--but a network of acoustic and video sensors produces a lot of data and we don’t have an efficient way to get it out of the forest."
Cell phone towers can help in some instances, but getting data from the recorders in the forest to the cell towers--and then to Cornell’s computers--isn’t easy. Another problem: marking elephants from a safe distance. Tranquilizing them and adding tracking collars isn’t an option; the mortality rate is too high. When the elephants come to a clearing, the ELP can use thermal imaging. But this isn’t a permanent solution. More....