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ElephantVoices in Gorongosa

November 17, 2013

By Joyce Poole - We spent October studying the elephants of Gorongosa. The research combines building up baseline data on the population that was ravaged by the civil conflict that ended in 1992 and studying their behavior. Protecting the biodiversity of Gorongosa is dependent on revenue from tourism and, therefore, ensuring that elephants are habituated to approach by vehicles is of fundamental importance. Our work aims to combine the study of elephant behavior with practical input for conservation management and local capacity building.

This year a film team from PBS/National Geographic International followed our work as part of a six episode series on Gorongosa, which will air in 2015. So, in addition to our own data collection and still photographs, we had the benefit of three cameramen (well, one was a woman) to help us document the complex signals between elephants - and we had two vehicles to negotiate "Ambush Alley" and to navigate "Gauntlet Gully". There were some adrenaline pumping moments, but we do feel that the elephants we observe regularly are becoming calmer.

Here are some of our updates from the field:

One afternoon we met three males and stayed with them for a long time. This 35 year old male looked like he had been through the wars! His ears were tattered and his right tusk was bent backwards. We met him again yesterday, this time with a family group. We enjoy every minute learning more about the wonderful and exciting Gorongosa elephants.


It was a treat to spend the afternoon in the Acacia albida (or Faidherbia albida) forest in the drizzle and mists with Provocadora, her family of 38 and 10 young males. The entire family was there including Valente, Mwana Nzo and "Pointy-Tusks" and generations of their offspring. We were cold and wet, but that didn't detract from the magic of the time in their company. Humble rumbles from Joyce & Petter in Gorongosa. 


When elephants threaten in play or for real, they may Kick-Dust, Throw-Debris and Bush-Bash. This tuskless female ended her demonstration with several minutes of "Displacement Dusting", and then stood in the shade of an Acacia with a pile of debris on her head. Her teenage son stood by her side and balanced a branch on his head. We thought they look rather comical standing side by side thus adorned:-) Members of the elephant population of Gorongosa National Park continue to show fascinating behavior!


On 13 October we posted a photo of a one-tusked female with a big V-tear in her left ear and asked for suggestions for her name. You responded with such great ideas - it was very hard to choose between them! After a few days of contemplations we have chosen Vigilante suggested by Bárbara Matadinho - who argued that she was there to watch and keep her family safe. Vigilante was, indeed! While the others were doing their thing, she was busy Periscope-Sniffing and keeping an eye on us. Congratulations, Bárbara! We will be asking for more names soon, so you will have other opportunities to name the Gorongosa elephants! A warm Thank You to all those contributing ideas - we appreciate your interest in the Gorongosa National Park elephants!


We meet groups of Gorongosa elephants every day - and enjoy immensely learning more about these amazingly clever and highly co-ordinated individuals. In the picture Mwana Nzo, Valente and their offspring have just discovered our tyre tracks in the grass. We have reason to believe that they are beginning to know us as individuals, too, they are becoming calmer by the day. Stay tuned to follow our work


Joyce Poole and Marc Stalmans, Director of Scientific Services, out looking for elephants in Gorongosa National Park. It is a pleasure to work as a team, with close collaboration between research and park management.


The Mabenzi family of 38 elephants - including Provocadora, Valente, Mwana Nzo and Pointy-Tusks - raise their trunks with interest when they hear the sound of a felled palm tree. Trees crashing to the ground translate into treats to eat! Males are happy to share these goodies with family groups, but not with other males. It is likely that they sometimes knock over trees to curry favor with the ladies... What do you think about that:-)?


Four young males Periscope-Sniffing in the Acacia albida "fantasy" forest in Gorongosa National Park. The picture was taken a few hours ago. Do you see anything wrong in this picture? What is it? Let us know.


We have been working with Gorongosa Guide, Jose Montinho, teaching him how to identify elephants, collect data on elephant groups and how to recognize their different postures and gestures. Montinho is learning fast and is a pleasure to work with.


Provocadora's daughter walks over to greet her mother and their Little-Greeting-Rumble set off a chain reaction with Valente and gf0014 joining in. We enjoyed this afternoon with Provocadora's family immensely! It is difficult not to fall in love with the elephants of Gorongosa here in Mozambique - they are such characters!