ABOUT THE ELEPHANT LISTENING PROJECT
ELP is not just about elephants, but is also about people: researchers, supporters, colleagues, and friends, who together make ELP happen. Here we give a brief history of how ELP began, and short descriptions of the more central players, past and present.
In some ways, the Elephant Listening Project began at the Portland Zoo in 1984, when Katy Payne felt (more than heard) the low-frequency rumbling communication of two Asian elephants, a male and female, who were standing on opposite sides of a concrete wall. In the following years, Katy and a group of dedicated colleagues demonstrated that elephants often communicate using sounds below the threshold of human hearing, that these sounds carry over vast distances, and that elephants use vocal communication to bind their complex family social system together. Katy describes the fascinating trajectory of her interest in elephant communication in the delightful book Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants.
© Melissa Groo
One of Katy’s insights was that we could perhaps ‘eavesdrop’ on the elephant’s lives by recording their vocal exchanges and learning to identify the contexts in which certain calls are used. In 1999, Katy and several colleagues founded ELP to further the use of acoustic methods to study and aid in the conservation of forest elephants in Central Africa.
The Elephant Listening Project is a not-for-profit organization associated with the Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Since its inception, ELP has depended on financial support from a diversity of governmental and non-governmental organizations, private donors and BRP.
Some of the earliest research was focused on characterizing low-frequency communication in savannah elephants, but increasingly the focus has been on forest elephants in the rainforests of Central Africa.
The ELP Team - Past & Present
- Current Team
- Extended Family
© Marie Read
Peter became the director of the Elephant Listening Project (ELP) in January 2007. A behavioral ecologist, Peter has made Ithaca his base for more than 30 years, but has been fortunate to work for long periods of time in the field, observing animals in their natural environments and trying to understand what makes them tick. Although he has worked in such exotic places as Venezuela, Panamá, and the Galapagos, his eight years of research in Kenya, East Africa, were particularly influential. He is very happy to be back in Africa to carry on ELP’s research program in the equatorial rainforests of the Congo Basin.
© Katy Payne
A biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a member of the IUCN's African Elephant Specialist Group, Andrea has devoted the past 20 years to the first demographic study of African forest elephants. She has identified and catalogued over 4,000 individuals dwelling in the Dzanga National Park, Central African Republic and continues to track their family lives and associations. As a founding member of the Elephant Listening Project, Andrea's knowledge of this population is an integral part of the project.
© Melissa Groo
A lifelong naturalist and amateur musician, Katy began her career studying the evolving songs of the humpback whale. She shifted her focus to elephants in 1984, when she and two colleagues discovered infrasonic calling in elephants by recording at a zoo. The studies that followed from this discovery have shown that elephants use their low-frequency calls to coordinate their social behavior over long distances. She founded ELP in 1999, and was the leader of the project until 2006, when she officially retired. Katy is now writing a book about forest elephants, and continues to play a critical role in all ELP's activities.
© Peter Wrege
Modeste has been observing and identifying elephants in Gabon for more than five years. As part of the Wildlife Conservation Society elephant research team, he has been the key person establishing a database of elephant identities for Langoue Bai, Ivindo National Park.
Modeste is now teaching new researchers about elephant observation and identification.
© Peter Wrege
Oliva works with the Elephant Monitoring Team at the Wildlife Conservation Society - Gabon, consulting on strategy and developing initiatives for elephant conservation.
She plays a key role in keeping ELP's acoustic monitoring projects ticking over and helping us identify places where we could assist in attaining conservation goals.
© Peter Wrege
Clement and Russel are Congolese biologists who have been working with WCS-Congo for many years. Clement recently completed his MSc degree, studying the movement of forest elephants among a cluster of clearings in Congo, including the Dzanga clearing studied by Andrea Turkalo.
Clement is principle investigator on a new study at two recently discovered bais in Congo, just east of Djobo Bai in Gabon. This is a critical area for forest elephants and currently under considerable pressure from poachers. Clement and Russel are working with ELP to collect acoustic data at these bais and also to make the first attempts to use night-vision photography to identify individuals visiting the bai at night.
CEB was the first company in Gabon to operate under the principles of sustainable forestry management. CEB produced Central Africa's first comprehensive forestry management plan. Under Gabonese law, the forest must be managed on a sustainable basis. The company is owned by Precious Woods.
ELP has been recording elephants at several forest clearings, or bais (the foresters call them 'salines') in this concession, including one that turns out to be the most active bai known to date in Gabon!
Wildlife Conservation Society
WCS has been working in Gabon since 1985 when Richard Barnes started a 4-year project to estimate the number of elephants there. WCS has been working with Gabon National Parks Office to manage a number of the protected areas there. ELP has been working as a collaborator with WCS since 2007, providing new and different information about forest elephants to help in the conservation effort.
© Melissa Groo
A member of the Elephant Listening Project since its inception in 1999, Mya took a break to study for a PhD and have two babies! Her research focused on improving acoustic monitoring methodologies for African forest elephants and understanding the role vocal signals play in maintaining their social system. She was awarded her doctorate in September 2009.
Mya now pursues her passion for education as part of the education program at the Lab of Ornithology (close at hand for frequent consultation about all things elephant).
Melissa Groo has been a research assistant with ELP since its inception in 1999. Amongst many roles, she helped to design and then populated our video database with more than a thousand annotated clips of forest elephant behavior. She maintains listserves on African/Asian elephant news and resources, sponsored by Save the Elephants. All these articles are archived here, where you can also sign up for the listserves or visit our International Elephant News page.
© Peter Wrege
Nico has been dedicated for many years to understanding the ecosystem known as the Plateaux Bateke, with a special commitment to the conservation of large mammals, especially the forest elephant.
As head of the Bateke Elephant Project he made important strides toward expanding our knowledge of how elephants use this ecosystem, and increasing the interest and commitment of local people to find alternative land uses that are compatible with sharing the landscape with elephants and other important fauna.
Nico has been a key collaborator with ELP in our monitoring efforts in the Bateke region.
© Katy Payne
Dr. Richard Barnes was one of ELP's founding members. He organized and participated in ELP's work in Kakum National Park, Ghana. He is a conservationist affiliated to Anglia Ruskin University in the UK and the University of California, San Diego. He has worked on elephants and primates throughout Africa, and refined the technique of making systematic counts of elephant dung piles to chronicle forest elephants' presence and abundance.
© Melissa Groo
Steve GulickSteve was ELP's first engineer, and accompanied us to the field in 2000. He is now an expert in remote sensing for wildlife protection, and you can find him heading up his own organization, Wildland Security here.
© Mya Thompson
Eric worked for ELP from 2001-2005 as an engineer and researcher. For the 2002 Dzanga expedition, he deployed an array of BRP's TARU units to collect time-synchronized elephant vocalizations. He created and deployed the 'Musthmaster' digital camera array system to capture elephant locations within the Dzanga Bai, and later built a custom database for the team's analysis. Eric is currently working on BRP's automatic-detection buoy system, but has many fond memories of Dzanga.
© Josi Demmer
Bruce Thompson and Nik BatruchBruce is a professor of physics at Ithaca College. He's also the father of one of ELP's founding members, Mya Thompson. He has had an active interest in ELP ever since Mya started here. Nik was one of Bruce's students when the two of them went with Peter to Gabon in 2007 and provided the expertise for recording seismic activity for the project on the effect of oil exploration on elephant activity (see more here). Nik has now moved on to a career in sound engineering.
Edward has been working in Kakum National Park, Ghana (one of ELP’s study sites) since 2003. He took a leave of absence to study for an M.Sc. at Freiburg University, Germany. As part of this, he joined us for a summer internship in 2007. He is now back in Kakum NP, working as a Law Enforcement and Protection Officer. He is conducting reseach for his PhD (with Cape Coast University) on the ecology of a primate species in Kakum Conservation Area. ELP is very happy to have Edward as a colleague: we hope to have a long and fruitful relationship with him.
Dzanga Ba'Aka Team
A team of Ba'Aka 'pygmies' provides support to the Elephant Listening Project in the Central African Republic. Their intimate knowledge of the equatorial rainforest and its inhabitants has proven essential to the success of our field efforts.
More on the Ba'aka and their culture (PDF)>>
© Robert MacCurdy
The Elephant Biology and Management Team
The EBM team is a group of African wildlife biologists, funded by Conservation International to specialize in the censusing of forest elephants. The team worked with the Elephant Listening Project in 2000 and 2002 to deploy recording units and carry out simultaneous dung-count surveys.
Our work would be impossible without the dedicated help of a whole bunch of wonderful people who care about what we are trying to do and have worked across the years to help us make it happen. Cornell undergraduates, students from local high schools, and Ithacans who want to be involved.
We have organized this page in reverse chronological order (more or less). If you are one of our former volunteers and we don't have a picture for you, please do send us one (and catch us up on what you are up to).