The ELP Blog: notes from the field

Happenings 2010

Morning Treat

posted from GABON - 10/10/2010

Although we’ve seen many elephants now at night, I’ve been keen to see them in the daylight, wihtout the greenish cast of my night-vision binoculars. Today was my chance. I was at the end of my nighttime observation shift. Dawn had broken; the mist slowly lifted, and colors gradually returned to the bai. The morning chorus of birds greeted the day. Bleary-eyed, Eugene and I started to pack up when we heard the tell-tale sound of rustling leaves on the far bank opposite us. A family group of eight elephants appeared on “south stage.” They seemed nervous but gradually came to the pond in front of us.

We saw one large adult female with small tusks, along with a smaller adult female, sub-adults and juveniles—all different colors, depending on what mud they’d been washing with or wallowing in. They still seemed nervous as they milled about the pond. Then a young adult male elephant approached with apparently one thing on his mind—females. The big adult female seemed to be having none of it, though, and kept chasing him off. The rest of the group climbed the bank and headed out of the bai, as if the female had told them to leave. She followed, turning back to head off the male, and to retrieve one of the group that had got left behind.

A few moments later, they were all gone. It happened very fast, but I did get to see elephants in the daytime!

Family group arrives in the Grande Saline - FINALLY, elephants by day!

A Change of Plan

posted from GABON - 10/05/2010

As so often happens with field research, things haven’t gone quite according to plan. After six 24-hr sessions of watching the bai (clearing), we had yet to see a single elephant in the daytime, despite seeing plenty at night. This is unusual—perhaps due to late September rains, we’ve speculated. But we decided that if the elephants aren’t coming during the day, neither are we!

We’ll make better use of our time by cutting out the daytime watches and doubling the number of night watches. It’s been a good decision. It’s quite amazing to watch elephants with an infrared light and night-vision binoculars. When there’s no moonlight, you can’t see a thing in the bai. But then you look through the binoculars and miraculously, there are the elephants in greenish monochrome, their eyes reflecting brightly back at us.

Sometimes they arrive almost silently. One night, I heard just a very faint rustle and looked down to see a huge male, slowly but steadily making his way to the pond. For such huge animals, they can be surprisingly delicate. Sometimes they stand in the pond and gently feel the surface of the water—I’ve no idea why. Once I saw an adult female do this and her youngster mimicked her exactly!

The nighttime elephant activity seems to follow a pattern. Elephants trickle in just after darkness has fallen. Numbers peak between about 10 PM and 1 AM. After about 2:30 AM, we hardly ever see an elephant—that’s when it’s most difficult for us to stay awake. They arrive either as solitary adult males, or in family groups—adult females and 2–8 dependent offspring. A few are quite easy to identify, so we know that sometimes elephants come and go a few times during the night. But, mostly we can’t distinguish them, so it’s impossible to know how many individuals we’ve seen. We’ve counted a huge variation in the number of elephant-entries into the bai per night—from 2 to 67.

Infrared images

Male elephants can be aggressive, but often they’re content to drink side-by-side, after first figuring out who’s who. But last night, we had a large male in the reproductive state known as musth, when they tend to be dominant over all non-musth males. This one didn’t seem to mind the presence of two smaller adult males in the pond with him, but he was intent on driving off another large male. He’d head him off whenever the other approached the pond. This went on for at least half an hour.

Finally, the non-musth male came too close and the aggressive male apparently chased him off into the bushes. There followed a huge crashing of trees—it sounded like he was just venting his anger by pulling the trees down. Moral of the tale – don’t annoy a musth male.

At quieter moments, the elephants seem to be always on the alert, and often turn to face us with their trunks up in periscope position, sniffing the air, ears wide. Quite a sight when eight or so are staring at you! I swear I saw one almost stand on tip-toes he was so intent on getting a good whiff. If something scares them, they can turn on a dime and be gone before you know it.

We also see other eyes shining in the infrared light: small crocodiles silently glide across the pond, chevrotain (small antelope) delicately pick their way around the edges – picking for seeds in the elephant dung, lizards crawling up and down tree trunks, and once we saw a couple of African buffalo.

Elephants Enter the Bai

posted from GABON - 09/30/2010

26 Sept: Finally, Peter, Eugene (our Gabonese colleague), and I are on the observation platform overlooking the Grand Saline bai (forest clearing), watching for forest elephants. They come here to drink from the mineral-rich springs in the watercourse. We want to know whether elephants use these areas differently in day and night. To find out, we climb into a tree platform early in the morning and settle down to watch and listen for an entire day and night in silence. Bird and primate calls alternate with fish splashing in the pond and thwacks as one of us swats at a fly. The hours tick by and the day heats up. No elephants. A kingfisher flits over the stream and wagtails strut around on the sandy islands.

Eventually darkness falls, the air cools down, and everything begins to feel even damper. We take it in turns to keep watch, scanning the bai regularly with night-vision binoculars, which transform everything into a surreal monochrome image. We can’t see much, but we can hear a lot.

At 11 PM I hear a beautiful deep, long, elephant rumble from behind the platform, but nothing appears. Finally, at 1 AM three large dark shapes appear from the forest, only about 35 feet from our platform: a mother elephant and her two young. They push their trunks down into the spring and loudly blow out the surface water, then suck up the mineral-rich water into their trunks and carefully pour it into their mouths. Mum is nervous though and doesn’t settle to drinking. She turns this way and that and puts her trunk up vertically like a snorkel to smell the air (elephants have an extremely sensitive sense of smell). Perhaps she can smell us, or is nervous because elephants have been poached here within the last couple of months.

A few minutes later, the elephants trot off out of the bai, disappearing down one of the many elephant trails that lead into the forest (more about baby elephants, with photos). I’ve now seen forest elephants, and one of my dreams has come true.

Group of Forest Elephants drinking from a mineral spring

29 Sept: We’ve spent another elephantless daytime at the bai. But the night doesn’t disappoint us! At first a group of seven appear, far off to the left, and make their way down into the stream. And then more appear. They keep coming and within about half an hour, there are more elephants then we can cope with! We soon give up on trying to record the sex and age of each.

It’s enough of a challenge just to count them. If only they would stand still for a few moments, but no, they either huddle together in tight groups or wander up and down so we can’t keep track of them. I try different techniques—counting first bums, then trunks, but just when I’ve got the same answer twice one moves to reveal yet another elephant. The consensus is that we have 27 elephants.

Why are there so many tonight? Until now, the maximum we’ve had at once is seven. The moon isn’t especially full, and we’ve not had rain. Have they all coordinated their movements to arrive at the same time, rumbling the news to each other through the forest, or is it just chance? Whatever the reason, this is certainly an opportunity for them to socialize. While most stay in the stream far to our left, one large male strolls alone into the big pond in front of us. He swishes his trunk lazily in the water and flaps his ears, making loud thwacks, then drinks. He’s evidently in musth (the reproductive state that male elephants come into once a year): he has enlarged glands on his forehead that secrete fluid. Soon, a family group of six enters the pond too. The male doesn’t seem to take much notice at first, but then approaches one of the females, sniffing her to see if she’s in heat. No luck though, and he wanders off, allowing another adult female to dominate the spring there.

After a while, more elephants wander near us. Two young males joust—interlocking their tusks and pushing each other backwards. Meanwhile, some of the other youngsters get into trouble. They lose track of mum and give the “help me” aooga call (a rumble-roar combination), to which mum responds with a reassuring rumble. Some elephants find the ideal rubbing log and back up against it to rub their backsides. I can just imagine the satisfied expression on their faces! A mother with a tiny infant stays out of the way most of the time, presumably so her youngster doesn’t get trampled.

Some elephants have now climbed up out of the stream and are milling around near our platform. Elephants are everywhere! It’s really quite noisy what with the bubbling and blowing, calling and ear flapping, and the occasional fart! After a couple of hours, they start to wander off and within half an hour they’re all gone. We each turn on our headlamps and frantically scribble in our notebooks, trying to recall events. That was perhaps a few too many elephants at once. Be careful what you ask for!

Sounds of Gabon - and a Few Sights

posted from GABON - 09/27/2010

Everything is in place: eight autonomous recording units (ARUs) now surround the bai (clearing) at distances ranging from 150 to 300 meters. Each has a GPS device attached to provide millisecond accuracy—allowing us to use differences in arrival time at each unit to pinpoint exactly where each recorded elephant rumble or trumpet originated. Our observation platform has been fitted with camouflage netting and a bit more rain protection. All that we need now is for the rainy season to begin and for the elephants to pour into the bai.

Our primary objective is to find out what is really happening at night in forest clearings. The only previous observations have been done during full moon nights and without specialized equipment—and even this has been done rarely. From our sound recordings we know that most of the elephant activity occurs at night, but is that activity different from daytime? Are there different subsets of animals that come only at night (for example might the biggest bulls avoid clearings in the daytime because of the risk of being killed)?

In order to see in the dark, we are using night-vision binoculars (sensitive to infrared wavelengths) and a specialized LED floodlight that emits only in the infrared. Best of all, we are now entering the main phase of the project when we get to sit for hours on the platform and just observe and listen to all that is around us.

One of the strangest sounds that we hear in the forest at night is the territorial call of the tree hyrax. By the end of his call, the male sounds positively desperate to find that hidden female! Listen to a recording from near our camp:

Tree Hyrax

To play this sound you need Flash Player

Last night was our first overnight on the platform. It was both wonderful and instructive. We put white paint marks on some of the trees to help us estimate how big individual elephants are, but these were not very visible with the infrared binoculars. And boy is it hard to estimate size from up on a tower (looking down adds to the change of perception that comes with the darkness).

As far as birds go, in just a short while we saw African Finfoot, Hartlaub’s Duck, Black-casqued Hornbill, African Green Pigeon, African Pied Wagtail, African Pied Hornbill, African Grey Parrots, and heard lots and lots of birds that will keep us busy identifying them at times when elephant activity is low.

Grand Saline

The 'Grande Saline' where our night-observation work was conducted

We’ve made many treks through the forest now, following Eugene (one of our Gabonese colleagues) in silence and single file, mainly using the network of elephant trails that crisscross this forest, often stepping in their immense footprints.

Eugene knows this forest well, and is constantly on guard for the tell-tale sounds of elephant. If he sees or hears one, we have to strictly obey his orders. As we wend our way through the undergrowth of shrubs and vines, all we see of the immense trees is their thick, straight trunks. Flowers are rare here, though a pink-flowering saprophyte is flowering now, as well as a white-flowered shrub whose beautiful scent perfumes the air.

The forest is more a place to hear animals than see them. Birds and primates call against a constant cacophony of frogs and insects. Our Gabonese colleagues can identify many of them. The “casque-noir” (Black-casqued Hornbill), is one of the more common ones. These large birds slowly flap and glide, often in pairs, around the forest, their wings making an odd sound rather like a slow helicopter. They have a confusing variety of calls, sometimes sounding more like ducks to me!

Meanwhile, the primates—mangobeys and putty-nosed monkeys—are hooting and hollering! There are crashing sounds, too, from animals going about their daily business, and from surprisingly frequent falling dead branches. At the moment, I’m just beginning to distinguish dead wood from the live animals (not saying much for an experienced zoologist!). Occasionally we’re treated to glimpses of smaller birds: an iridescent sunbird, brilliant blue kingfishers, and a flock of pretty red-billed finches.

“Arrette, arrette, python!” exclaimed one of our three Gabonese colleagues as we drove on the disused forestry road toward our work site, in a logging tract all-too-aptly named “Precious Woods.” A 5-meter-long python (not a very big one they said!) slowly slid back into the stream below.

Lying in my tent at night, the volume coming from the forest ramps up. The frogs and insects really get going, as well as a whole new collection of sounds: hooting owls, strange screeching tree hyraxes that seem to work themselves up into a frenzy, and many other mysterious calls. Last night though, I heard a sound that I did recognize: a distant trumpet. We’d all retired to our tents by then. Eugene whispered out to anyone still awake “Ah, l’elephant est la bas.” “Oui,” I replied, and smiled as I finally drifted off to sleep.

Into The Field Again!

posted from GABON - 09/14/2010

Owendo, N’dzonde, N’djole, Ivindo, Moanda – the tiny towns along the single railroad that arrows southeast into the Congo Basin of Gabon–they don’t pass nearly fast enough. Liz Rowland and I are on our way to begin a new field season in our study of forest-elephant language and nocturnal behavior. We’ll spend the next six weeks perched for 24 hours at a time on a platform above rumbling, trumpeting pachyderms.

Scientists in the Elephant Listening Project at the Cornell Lab have been listening to elephants in Central Africa since 2000. We record the calls they make to each other and study them to help with their conservation.

This is my tenth trip to Gabon in four years, but this time I’m accompanied by my collaborator Liz Rowland. Liz has spent the last five years analyzing elephant sounds back home at the Cornell Lab, and she’s just beginning her first excursion into the field to work with these amazing animals.

What will it be like to live in and work from a rude camp of tents in the forest for six weeks with no car, no amenities? Fantastic and full of surprises no doubt. And what do we hope to discover? Whether elephants get lost in the dark, and whether the real giants of the forest come out only at night! Stick with us!

The Ogoue River, Gabon. One of the largest rivers in Central Africa, but very dry for this time of year. © Peter Wrege

After five years with the Elephant Listening Project, I’ve seen and counted thousands of elephant calls, using graphs called spectrograms to analyze them in detail. But until now I’d never set foot in Gabon and have never seen a forest elephant.

All that is changing! I met up with Peter in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, and we were soon on the train to somewhere deep in the rainforest.

This is longer than I’ve been away from home for many years, so it was with a mix of emotions that I said goodbye to my husband. Sadness at leaving him behind (he would’ve loved to come), excitement about traveling to a new part of the world and seeing the elephants, and, I have to admit, a hint of trepidation. What’s it going to be like camping in the middle of the rainforest, in the hot, humid weather for six weeks with all the bugs and snakes, or trying to sleep during the day after a nocturnal shift?

I started my transition to Africa with a long layover in Casablanca. Arabs wearing colorful, flowing gowns, turbans, and slippers with curled-up toes; burkas; also skimpy Western-style jeans and t-shirts. The sounds were a similar mixture Arabic and French being spoken with African accents. Combined with jet lag, it was quite an otherworldly experience!

During our 11-hour train ride into the Gabon interior, we got acquainted with some fellow passengers. A guy in our compartment had worked with CEB (the logging company that leases the land where we’ll be working). We struck up a conversation with a French guy who turned out to know all about sound analysis. After leaving our analysis lab behind, I wasn’t expecting to have a chat about Fast Fourier Transforms quite so soon. Small world!

Heading off again!


Tent campActually, Peter has already left for Gabon, and I'm leaving tomorrow to join him. We're going to be watching elephants in a small bai in a forestry concession deep in a the rainforest. We'll have sound recording units up around the bai too. The goal is to count the number of elephants present at regular intervals during the day and night, and estimate their age and sex. Then we'll compare the data from the visual count with the acoustic 'counts' (number of calls made by elephants in the bai). We're interested to see what differences there are between day and night. Does each elephant tend to call more at night? Do the big males tend to come more at night than in the day? This will be the first nocturnal study of forest elephants, so it's very exciting. We'll be watching from an observation platform - we'll have to stay up there for at least a day at a time. When we're not on the platform, we'll be at the tented camp (about 3km away) catching up on sleep and recharging batteries (both our own and the electronic equipment - infrared floodlight, laptops etc). We'll have only very limited internet access while we're there, and since we're both gone, no-one will be here in Ithaca to put posts on to this blog. So, we're planning on posting every week or so to the Lab of Ornithology's Round Robin here: So check for us there. I'll be back at the end of October, but Peter will be staying a couple of weeks more. This will be the first time I've seen forest elephants, after many, many hours of looking and listening to elephant calls. In fact I've never been to this part of Africa before either, so I'm very excited. I think we'll have some tales to tell! So, I'd best pack that rucksack and get going.

Heading Home

written in GABON - 02/25/2010

Gabon TrainGabon is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Africa, and most of that small population is in one of three cities. With a few exceptions, get 30 miles from Libreville or Franceville and the roads are not much more than tracks. The train, on a single track, cuts through the country from Libreville in the west to Franceville in the southeast. On a good day it takes about 12 hours from one end to the other - a total distance of 600 km. Along that route, usually about 1 hour travel time between them, are tiny villages that exist because they are access points for logging companies. Other than gigantic logs, there is not much else there!

So, on Thursday I am on that train heading from Franceville to Libreville on the day train (most of the trains go at night, but stop at every station and take a longer time - the day train is a very little bit faster). My flight back to Ithaca is leaving Friday night. It was 1:30pm, hot as hell somewhere on one of those empty stretches, and the train ground to a stop. In itself this is not unusual - the one track means that pauses occur all the time to let logging or manganese trains get through a stretch and onto a siding to let the passenger train proceed. But this time the power was cut and the train went silent.

a wonderfully lively, friendly woman from Franceville - she made the trip much more interesting, even though I could understand only a bit of what she was saying to the others (one topic was about polygamy - the two Gabonese men were getting GRILLED)

Then the babble rose like a wave, and soon people were out of the train and walking along the track.

The bloody engine was on fire!

OMG! There was speculation flying everywhere as to what was going to happen now: how many kilometers to walk ahead or back to the nearest village? Would the train company pay for food if we get stranded there? Would another engine be able to get there before the next morning? I'm gleaning these bits and pieces without really knowing the full detail of what is being said. I have a 40 lb backpack plus my 20-25 lb daypack (with camera, computer, how much water?) and I'm thinking about hiking along the railroad in the sun with all of this - only to get to some village with nothing to offer in the way of potable water or a place to stay over night - and thinking about the hassle of changing flights and connections in NYC if I miss my flight on Friday.

It rattled to life - the power came on - the AirCon started up! People piled back on and we got underway. Once again it looked like I was going to just whisper by with my much-too-tight-a-schedule for a place like Central Africa. We were only about an hour late in the end - and I swore (not for the first time, unfortunately) that I would build in a little bit more of a buffer on my next trip so that unforeseen, but not unexpected, delays can be absorbed.

Bai by night

posted from GABON - late February 2010

It's now 16:47. We arrived at the bai mid-afternoon, hot, sweaty, not the nicest part of an equatorial day. But now, some hours later, it is beginning to cool and the forest sounds are growing.

baiThis is a lovely, intimate bai, with the typical stream running through, a sandy bottom and open glades around the edges. A Hartlaub's duck, peculiar to forest streams and clearings, is dabbling in a sparkly riffle across the bai. The shadows of fishes, moving across the sun-dappled sandy-bottomed pools, are easier to follow than the fishes themselves. A pair of African Gray parrots just came through, whistling to each other. A rather too infrequent breeze cools the damp skin and helps settle and confirm the tranquility of the place.

He swaggered into the bai from the south, trunk swinging under his chest and to the side of his shoulders. Probably could smell us - constantly. Ears flapping much of the time. He went straight to the mineral pit in the main pool, blew bubbles and drank.

Maybe fifteen minutes later the male is still at the main pool and pit, a group of chimps give their nighttime going-to-bed hollers off to the south - probably not more than 500 meters or so from the platform. Now crickets are starting as evening comes on. The male is clearly nervous - after all, four smelly humans on a platform must have filled the bai with an unpleasant perfume! He wanders out to the northwest, disappearing as quickly as he had materialized thirty minutes before.

(next morning) The night on the platform could have been worse, but more elephants would have made it a lot better. Once the musherone (sweat bees) had gone at dark there were surprisingly few mosquitoes - just enough to keep you from really sleeping, if that were possible in any case, lying on the deck with head against my pack. A female and her calf came briefly through the bai just after midnight, but otherwise a quiet elephant night. This was really too bad because a quarter moon was giving reasonable light for the night-vision glasses we had. Still, it was lovely to get lost in the thick mantle of stars, changing imperceptibly through the night, and listen to the forest sounds (and mosquito whines).

I don't understand why there are so few elephants around here right now. Although I have not always seen them here when popping in for a few hours at any season to change an ARU, it was not unusual either. Our acoustic data from a nearby clearing shows this to be the lowest time of year for elephant activity, but still there was a fair amount of visitation. However, there was logging in this area in December and they utilized a new road cut between this bai and another only 2 km away. Maybe the elephants are still wary of this area, even now, a couple of months after the disturbance ended. I have collected sound data from both this and the nearby clearing, covering the entire period of logging, so we will be able to hear directly what has been going on.

No way out of here!

posted from GABON - 02/26/2010

Well, the map had an old logging or oil road marked that hinted at a way to thread the marshes that line nearly the entire length of the river by Akaka. Two years ago we had an ARU about 3 km inland from the river and 7 km south of Akaka where we recorded not only high elephant activity but also a lot of hunting. But I was hoping for a shorter access into this area – thus the interest in the old logging road. I didn’t expect anything to actually exist by this time, many years since it was used, but at least a walkable route should be there. The best of intentions.

The double circle route

We had no trouble finding the place where land met river – easy to see when everything else is swamp. Soon after starting into the forest we encountered a large bull elephant feeding – beautiful big tusks. I tried to get a bit of video (difficult) and then he smelled us and moved off. So on we went. Swamp was visible to both right and left, so we skirted the patch of dense forest where the elephant was. Soon we ran into a forest buffalo – almost literally. A moment later the buffalo took off, crashing through the forest toward the north and suddenly a great trumpet sounded off – the elephant apparently didn’t care much for the crashing buffalo just after smelling us!

Serge was not real happy by this time – the understory was much too thick for safe walking with elephants around. We went on, cautious, lots of pauses to listen. I had my GPS on but was not paying much attention to it. Suddenly the elephant charged at us with another great trumpet! All four of us tumbled backwards ten meters or so, then froze to look what the bull was doing. He was gone, but all of us had racing pulses I’m sure.

Of course I wanted to go on, but the others insisted we were on an island. I looked down at the GPS to show where we might try to get through to the main forest, only to see that we had walked already in a double circle! Maybe in the dry season it would be possible, or knowing the exact path perhaps one could wade through a shallower part of the swamp to the forest, but not today. We would have to walk south from Akaka after all.

Flood gates open (Part 2)

posted from GABON - 02/23/2010

It was a wet night, that first one near the leech muds, with rain for a couple of hours during the night, but not heavy. The forest felt like a sauna the next morning. Even though I had dry clothes to put on, before I had even eaten quick oats and coffee for breakfast I was soaked through with perspiration – a wonderful adaptation for cooling, perspiration, but it needs evaporation to work and I felt like moisture was condensing out of the air onto my skin!

The day ended up a good one for getting units up in the forest. A few morning showers but light enough to go almost unnoticed in the dripping forest. The second deployment, in the afternoon, was in an interesting forest with chimps calling from not far away. No time to go looking for them, as usual – we were hoping to spend the night at the Max Planck gorilla/chimp research camp back on the lagoon.

We arrived at Yatouga (the camp name) just before dark. I was really happy to see that Jojo and her father had also managed to arrive (they had boat delays from Port Gentil – surprise surprise). Jojo is a good friend and incredibly dedicated field biologist. She has been working on habituating lowland gorillas and chimps here for more than five years.

Boy was I glad to be here where they have several platforms for tents and for a dining area. Sometime near 4am the sky opened and the rain began. By the end of this day more than 250mm of rain fell – that is nearly a foot of rain! The morning was spent talking and waiting for any sign that the rain would stop enough to get some work done. Everyone said that if the rain does not stop in the morning it won’t stop for the day. As much as I enjoyed talking and looking at some super video clips from Jojo’s camera traps, I was impatient to get going on my own work.

In the early afternoon it broke up a little and we scrambled off to my fourth deploy site. That went well in spite of rivers of water where there were none before. Then two hours up the river to Akaka, an eco-camp used by the lodge in the dry season, but unoccupied now. About 40 minutes before we got there the rain began again in earnest, at times so hard we could barely see the bends in the river less an 50 meters off. Whatever was not wet before (bloody little) was certainly wet now. I was shivering by the time we arrived at Akaka.

After unloading gear, Eddie said ‘Nous n'avons pas de dîner ce soir.’ no dinner tonight – quaker oats and cold water. The wood in the forest was soaking and there was no supply of bottled gas at the camp for us to use. But, in the end, the guys were no more enamored with a cold dinner than I was and, with the use of some kerosene they found and some strips of rubber innertube, got a fire going. A couple of cans of peas and carrots, a couple of pork and beans, and some onion and garlic made a satisfying meal on rice that night.

Flood gates open (Part 1)

posted from GABON - 02/19/2010

The Rabi River marks the north boundary of Loango N.P. to the east side of the lagoon. Mostly about 25-30 m wide, it is quite lovely but full of submerged logs, so progress with the motor boat is slow and cautious (but great for watching for birds and primates). Lots of African Fish Eagles (an ecological equivalent of our Bald Eagle – same lifestyle, nearly identical plumage, same size) and the specialty of Loango bird life, the Palm Nut Vulture. Not many primates on this traverse.

Our access to shore was in a mucky, shallow indent full of water lilies. Looked rather nice until we got out to push the boat and gear in to shore. Each of us came up with 1-4 leeches a couple of inches long (I had only 1 – lucky I guess). I started to pull it off, but Serge stopped me. When we got to shore he showed me how to dip a finger into the gasoline can and dab it on the leach to ‘encourage’ it to let go!

Deployment of ARUs (the red stars) along the Rabi River

We made camp a few hundred meters into the forest – for now just a tarpaulin with gear beneath it. I wanted to get the first ARU up this afternoon. So off we went again in the boat (no leeches for me this time!). We had not gone far on the river before a tree-fall blocked further progress. We tried several strategies to squeeze the motor under, but to no avail. So we took off into the forest on foot to find a place for the ARU. Fortunately I didn’t really have a firm location set – just forest that would be attractive to hunters. (This particular project is aimed more at monitoring hunting in the forest, and the effect of anti-poaching patrols that take place here, and less at specifically recording elephant activity.)

We found a place about 1.5 hrs into the forest and started the preparations for getting the unit about 8 m up into a tree. Then the rain started. It would not be the last time! And of course it was just when battery boxes were open and wiring being done. Everything was getting soaked. Two of the eco-guards held a poncho over myself and Eddie, who was helping with the wiring. It helped, but I’m just crossing my fingers that the connections are secure and won’t corrode between now and the expected 6-month running time. By the time we got everything assembled the rain had let up a little bit, so the tree climbing was not quite as miserable (and dangerous) as it might have been.

Back at camp it was soon dark and I was glad to have a dry tent and pad, and dry clothes to start out tomorrow. As Eddie made dinner I set up equipment for the morrow so that we would not expose the inside of the battery boxes to rain again. I got a chuckle from watching the stoic Serge become totally bothered by anything crawling near him in camp – ants, spiders, anything. This was the guy with leeches who ignored them for many minutes until the job was done.

But there is room!

posted from GABON - 02/16/2010

It is not very easy to get to Loango National Park these days. Once I was able to fly nearly to the fancy lodge with clients, but that has not been happening since the election a few months back. So one now flies from Libreville to Port Gentil, then takes a three-hour boat ride through the mangrove-lined channels of the Ogoue River delta to the small town of Omboue. Then an hour-and-a-half truck drive to the lodge on the park boundary.

Unbeknownst to me, the officials at Port Gentil have been throwing their weight around (and getting a bit richer in the process), inspecting luggage, exacting ‘duty’, and hassling about papers. This was a domestic flight, for God’s sake! So, they asked me whether I had a yellow fever vaccination: ‘Oui monsieur’ ‘Show me the certificate.’ ‘It is in Libreville, sir, I thought it was only necessary when first entering the country.’ ‘But this is a port of entry.’ ‘But I come on a domestic flight and already have my entry stamp.’ ‘Wait here. I must deal with that plane arriving.’ and off he goes with my passport. Great! The plane was a little late as it was, and I was not completely sure when the boat left for Omboue, nor whether they would honor my reservation if the boat was full.

Lonago Lodge - the final destination!

Eventually the guy returns with another victim in tow (and fortunately the official is now fixated on my papers, so my luggage full of scientific equipment is not checked at all). A long discussion in French ensues with an assistant accompanying the Asian suspect. Finally they take him somewhere (probably for an injection) and turn to me. If I don’t have the certificate I will have to get the vaccine here and pay. (All I could think of was first, bad vaccine, and second, HIV). ‘No way! I just had the vaccination last year.’ He looked at my passport and couldn’t understand the multiple-entry visa – then asked me why he couldn’t tell whether the ‘2’ on the entry stamp was referring to the 2nd month or the 2nd day of the month! (I explained that it was a Gabonese immigration official who wrote it, not me, so how should I know?) I said I was a biologist studying the language of Gabon’s elephants. This was interesting.

He comes around again to ‘Well, you will have to pay.’, said in French. ‘¿Por qué?’ I said – then realize that this is Spanish, not French, and laugh. He laughs and says ‘get out of here’.

Thankfully I leave the terminal, flag a taxi, and head for the ‘old port area’ and the ‘fish center’ where the boat should be. And it was. Very fortunate for me, an administrator for the tourist lodge near the park, Jacqueline, from Holland, was also going to the lodge, else I probably would have spent a day or more in Port Gentil. The fact that the lodge has been depending on this boat service to get clients from Port Gentil to Omboue has led to something close to extortion by the boat owner. At some point they began to demand a minimum number of passengers to make the trip at all – started at four, now it was six. Of course, if you are running an upscale lodge it is bad enough to subject your clients to a three hour sit in a boat, but for it not to go would be impossible. So the lodge had paid for the extra seats to get the job done. Jacqueline paid for five seats, plus mine made six. Let’s go.

We got our luggage into the boat and then out of nowhere come three or four more passengers who start loading their luggage into the boat. Jacqueline of course went to talk with the operators to get back some seats she purchased, but they just could not understand the concept! ‘There is room for ten on the boat. So what is the problem?’ Back and forth. At one point they just handed back ALL of the money and said they would go, period. Eventually it was resolved, with one additional paying customer and four places paid by Jacqueline (at least two of the others just walked away with their luggage – obviously they had not paid anything). We went!

What I could not understand was that, when we got to Omboue, there was a boatload of customers waiting to take the boat back to Port Gentil. Would they have cancelled on all of these paying customers as well? Is this my fate next week when I am heading back? Suspense and uncertainty make for an interesting life – but not always a particularly pleasant one.

Coming in February - Gabon redux

posted from GABON - 02/to be determined/2010

Exciting adventures are sure to be in store for Peter as he heads out to start several new projects and continue others. Destinations include Loango National Park on the coast, perhaps a first visit to Lope National Park in the center of Gabon, return to 'Grande Milolé' - the busiest bai known in Gabon, and continued work with the community associations near Franceville in the southeast of the country.


The road goes ever on - but where will we land this time?

Happenings 2009

Airport Anyone?

posted from GABON - 10/26/2009

The rainy season seemed to come with a vengeance last night in Franceville – beginning about midnight it just dumped water as can happen only in the tropics. By 9 am more than 20 cm of rain had fallen – that is a lot of rain. I was supposed to fly to Libreville this morning, but it was not looking so likely. Everyone was arriving at the office/case de passage soaking wet.

I was still scrambling together my gear and getting stuff put away that would remain in Franceville for assistants to use. But we headed off for the airport, hoping for the best. The airport seemed abandoned – almost no one around. We waited for half an hour or so, and then someone from the airline company did arrive and checked in my backpack – the plane was supposed to be coming from Libreville. Well, in fact, not yet. It either could not get out of Libreville because of weather, or was waiting for better weather in Franceville. In either case the plane did finally head for Franceville, to arrive about two hours later than scheduled.

They sat on the ground for only a short time, hoping, I suppose, to get turned around and heading back to Libreville before the weather got any worse – it was raining still, but the clouds had at least lifted slightly. So off we went, into the clouds.


Just what I would like to do if I manage to make it to Libreville and on to the beaches of Loango National Park! (long-nosed crocodile, Gabon. photo © Peter Wrege)

About 30 minutes into the flight, nearly all of it within the cloud layer, the pilot really went into a descent and the co-pilot started punching away at what looked to be a GPS system on the dashboard of the cockpit (the door was open). Surely a passenger flight like this requires ability to fly with instruments? Suddenly we came out below the cloud layer – about 200 feet above the forest canopy! Fantastic view, but not exactly where one wants to be in a medium-sized plane.
We flew at this altitude for some ten minutes or so, eventually flying over a logging sawmill and staging area. Then the pilot pulled up into the clouds and made a hard turn – I assume all of this was to figure out where we were!

So now it seemed we were heading back to Franceville – the weather to poor to continue to Libreville? I could not really understand the French explanation but the other passengers were having a good laugh about it. I began making plans as to how to deal with another delay in Franceville and how to get more efficiently to Libreville for the next segment of fieldwork.

Another ten minutes and another pretty strong turn – what is going on? But when we finally broke through the clouds again there was the coastline north of Libreville – whew! All's well as lands well?

Blood on the track

posted from GABON - 10/23/2009

There was blood on the track – elephant blood. We knew this because it was pooled, red and wet, on leaves too high to be anything else. Immediately I was hearing (and thinking myself) ‘braconnage’ – poaching, but of course elephants must sometimes really get wounded from natural causes – sometimes. An animal bleeding, probably frightened, possibly in pain, can also be really dangerous, even if not an elephant.

Alertness and caution both went up a few notches. We didn’t yet know whether this unfortunate animal was in front of us or behind us. Not enough sign yet. We crept on. More sign appeared, and it was interesting to hear how the guide’s empathy for the victim came through in his interpretation of skid-marks and scuffs on fallen logs: ‘tombé’ – stumbled, ‘glissé’ – slipped. Maybe in fact he could see this sort of detail, but I think not. The elephant was somewhere behind us, having passed down the trail in the opposite direction not more than an hour or so before.

We continued along parallel to the Mpassa river, large and fast with the onset of the rainy season. I had been on this river before, upstream in the Batéké National Park. Here we are closer to where it joins the Ogoue River, the largest river in Gabon, and north of the national park in a buffer zone ‘administered’ by the community association of Kessala.. Forest elephants seem to use the ‘beaches’ along the river much as they do the more classic forest clearings, or bais. They come for minerals that can be acquired in water percolating up through rock formations under ground. At least so we think. They are behaving almost the same (although in some places they actually dive under water to do it), but everything is happening in the river bed with water rushing over.

At the fourth beach, where our ARU was located, we were treated to eight elephants sipping mineral water from a large sandbar out in the river. A big male was a little separated from three female family groups. Two pretty small babies were among them, one with its mother on the far shore, perhaps the water too deep to get out to the sand bar. With the air currents flowing across the elephants toward us, we had wonderful time to watch and wonder. It was hard to pull away and do the work that we came here for.

Positive news!

posted from GABON - 10/21/2009

Forest elephants have some significant allies in the two managers of the Precious Woods forestry concession in Gabon. Ever since my first project there in 2007 they have been interested and willing to do whatever possible to facilitate the project logistics. Also they have been honest – their job is to extract valuable wood from these forests in such a way that the company can make a profit. But from the beginning they also said they were interested in aiding research that could help them minimize the negative impacts of logging.

They also control access to a string of forest clearings that may be among the most important in Gabon. This is because not only do these clearings have high visitation rates by elephants (and gorillas), but they are situated within a few dozen kilometers of Ivindo National Park and Langouè bai. Certainly the elephants of Ivindo come also to these clearings outside the protected area. Protecting this string of bais could be a keystone to conserving the population of elephants in Ivindo.

Jan Pols deplying AUR up a tree

Jan Pols deploying a recording unit

And it isn’t all talk. Recently Liz and I were analyzing the frequency of gunshots around these bais, and also were logging the common occurrence of vehicle sounds at totally inappropriate times of day – like 2 am. This is in an area far from any public access roads, but only a few kilometers from a big worker’s ‘camp’ (really a small village, with grocery, clinic, school). I mentioned some of these results to Jan, the guy up the tree in the picture, because at some times of year hunting of small game is legal in the concession and he would be able to tell me the seasons. Jan has helped me numerous times during work in the concession. His answer confirmed that much of the hunting activity was out of season, and involved the illegal use of high-power rifles. He was also shocked by the vehicle sounds and suggested I let the managers know of this immediately. I did this, and within a couple of days they installed GPS units in the two vehicles that stay at the worker camp. Surprise, surprise, there was a huge amount of driving going on when it should not have been. Now, thanks to the concern of these men, the illegal use has been stopped. My guess is that is will also reduce the illegal hunting – the recorders are finding that out right now.

Poached elephant found in forest clearing

posted from GABON - 10/20/2009

A forest clearing, or a ‘bai’ to Central Africans, is a wonderful place to see some of the most spectacular wildlife in the Congo: forest elephants, of course, who may in fact create the clearings and who certainly maintain and enlarge them; lowland gorillas if the bai is grassy and a bit swampy; forest buffalo; sitatunga and bongo, both lovely forest antelopes; red-river forest hogs, with their ever-mobile tasseled ears; African grey parrots and goliath herons, to name only the most coveted of bird species; and poachers. Poachers come because they know the elephants come.

An elephant shot by poachers

One of the most active bais in Gabon, and a favorite of mine because it is so lovely and intimate, was marred this trip by the carcass of a middle-aged male. Even in its crumpled, maggot-ridden state the former magnificence of this beast was clear. Who can do this sort of thing? Maybe we need to plaster the boutiques of Asia with this picture and ask how they can enjoy using a name stamp made of this male’s teeth?

Above the clouds

posted from GABON - 10/09/2009

Flying over the rainforest of Central Africa, peering through holes in a fairly dense cover of clouds - the stuff of which rainforests are made. Glimpses of varied shapes and colors, even some naked crowns waiting for the over-late rains. Rarely - surprisingly rarely, the gash of a red ribbon of road.

Strange - viewing the forest from several thousand feet above. The immensity of these forests is communicated well, but with a feeling of separation, of unreality that one doesn't feel down there under the blanket of green. There, the nose and ears and eyes are all flooded with the diversity of life. Give me the ground.


Patterns of the Earth

over North Africa - 04/21/2009

Imagine a desert. But not an American desert - an African desert. Nothing but bare earth, sand, hills, and ridges folded into the most complex and surprising forms. The dawn sun is throwing sharp black shadows that at the same time accentuate the ruggedness and patterns but also make an illusion and disruption that fools the eye. It seems there really is nothing there in this northernmost edge of the Sahara. Maybe my 37000 foot high flight-path deceives, but I can see no trace of green or yellow that might be something living and certainly no people have settlements there.

But a beautiful metamorphosis begins to transform this sight as I fly north, closer and closer to the Mediterranean. At first it is the hint, just the whisper of a wadi here and there that brings the thought that an understandable pattern does exist in a landscape that seems arbitrary, dramatic, confusing. More hints that sometimes water must come here, even if only once a century. The wadis become more numerous and deeper and eventually the bare hint of something growing shows deep in the shadows at the bottom of the grooves. And, with even this seeming insignificant ammelioration of the harsh landscape come signs of people - a five-cell pattern of mudbrick walls, open to the sky - a path winding up the side of a dusty slope. Soon there are real bands of green along the bottoms of the wadis instead of just occasional clumps, and now the grids of adjoining mudbrick walls have fifteen and twenty cells - but always up in the rugged hills away from the green.

I begin to see actual water glint once in awhile or a small muddy reservoir dug out of the dirt with nothing growing along the edges - only where the water is carried, perhaps, are there some sorts of crops to sustain the sparse populations. But the progression now is rapid. Suddenly, as we come over a low escarpment, the first real fields add a softness and coolness to the still overwhelmingly gray brown landscape. And these first identifiable fields are not old, with a long history of care. They are perfectly round spots of green, each with a single spoke of pipe bringing water - let the desert bloom.

Then a most beautiful sight rolls out below me - a mosaic of fields of such various color and texture, size, and shape that my eyes just feast on it. Geometric because of defined sharp boundaries and the crazy juxtaposition of different colors, and yet with no pattern at all because every shape imaginable is somehow fitted among all the others, the boundaries matching but the minds behind the layout inscrutable. Now the pallet of color is like the box of 500 crayons I craved as a kid. Deep maroon where the soil is damp and tilled and encouraging the seeds below to grow, next to deep greens and mustard greens and gray-brown dry fields. Every shade of ochre and buff, lemony greens and even some green so dark they almost seem blue. The gorgeousness comes from the extremes of stage in growth, soil preparation, and the shapes - the shapes. None of that gridded uniformity one sees flying over the midwest in America. Here some sort of gleeful abandon seems at work. How do you fit huge perfectly round 'let the desert bloom' fields against triangles and wedges and blocks?

An overlay of texture adds more to the feast. Perhaps fallow fields with tall grasses present a coarse look, with random patterns from clumps flattened by winds or rains, ridged from plows, swirled where tractors made grand sweeping turns. Stripes of maroon and green where new plants are emerging along the tops (or bottoms) of furrows, and velvet-smooth swaths of some lush herb or vegetable. Surprisingly there are few buildings visible for miles - commuter agriculture. The glint of the Mediterranean ahead, and as we come lower the textures and colors morph and resolve - an organic kaleidoscope - humankind's footprint on the earth.


No Time Left

written in GABON - 04/12/2009

The mission was to re-deploy two ARUs in a cluster of forest clearings not far from the boundary of Ivindo National Park. One of these clearings is the most active in Gabon, and we know this only because of our acoustic recordings. The other bai in this cluster, a few kilometers away, I visited for the first time in the summer of 2008.

I had intended to leave the main complex of the forestry concession by about 0800 hrs, but it was not to be. Nicolas, Carol, and Thomas were not up until 0745, so even petit déjeuner (breakfast) didn’t get started until after 0800. Our host was there (although he had eaten probably around 0600 hrs) and talk ensued. Finally I think we got started at about 0930, with more than an hour to drive to the trail-head. Backtracked yet again to recover a GPS unit that had been left behind (but that would be critical for the mission), so it was nearly 1100 hrs by the time we got out of the car and prepared to really begin.

Since our plan was to bushwhack directly from the first bai (Grande Milolé) to the second (Grande Saline), we had double the battery weight on the first leg. Nico, Thomas, and I carried about everything. It was a half hour walk to Grande Milolé and there we found no elephants, unfortunately. This is a very beautiful bai and I hoped to give Thomas and Carol a chance to see forest elephants. But at least there were no carcasses either (two elephants had been poached here last year). So we got started on getting the ARU down and the battery changed. I wanted Nicolas to get some more experience climbing into the trees and using the ropes, but of course this takes more time. Inevitably there are glitches in this work, and today was no exception. By the time we finally had the refreshed unit up in the tree again it was early afternoon and I was getting anxious.

As we came out of the forest again and into the bai we saw that a young male had arrived while we were working. Even with the breeze unfavorable, we managed to get around him a little and to get some good looks and photographs. Always a wonderful distraction!

Finally off we went with heavy packs to find a way to the second bai, just over 2 km away. It seemed that we started out well enough – at least the elephant paths out of Grande Milolé were large and I suppose headed in the expected direction. But in the end, instead of encountering the south edge of the new bai, we went all the way around the east side and approached from the north. I’m still confused as to why this happened (I was not in charge of the compass and GPS), but our guide seemed to think there were some difficult swamps on the straighter path.

There were seven or eight elephants in the clearing close to where we entered, and I thought I heard some more on the back side, beyond a line of trees. I got a few photographs, but it was after 1500 hrs already and we had not only the ARU to re-deploy, but a two hour hike back to the vehicle. So I left the others and got to work on the ARU.

It turned out to be a bitch of a job. The place I really wanted to place the climbing rope was close to some dead branches and I was afraid that the throw-line would end up tangled in it, so I went for the ‘better’ spot. I was feeling really pressed for time. We did not want to be in the forest still at 1830 hrs! I missed my ‘better’ target several times, then got it over the top of the fork near the ARU and decided to try it.

from my field notebook - just to remind myself how to think before leaping

Not good! I got up to the ARU and was trying to get to the anchor bolt. I had the light hoisting rope over the branch through the ‘better’ spot when the smaller branch my support rope was over started to bend severely, right where it joined the larger limb, and my rope was slipping along it out away from the tree trunk. I started down – and the branch bent more, and more. As the rope slipped farther out, the branch bent more. I was afraid the rope would slip right off and drop me in a heap – kilometers from a vehicle if anything serious was damaged. But I got down – whew. My intention was to use the hoisting rope to re-position the climbing rope through the fork near the ARU – this would have worked. Unfortunately, I didn’t tell anyone else my plan, in the panic of getting down, and now one end of the hoisting rope was 5 meters up in the air and out of reach.

Now really anxious, I thought about just leaving without recovery. Our Gabonese guide said he would just climb the main tree (we had thrown the climbing rope through the main crotch, but this was too far to work on the ARU and still be tied into the tree). Nicolas was worried about this guy free-climbing. What if he got hurt? I debated a bit, then had him put on the climbing harness and tie in so at least we would (eventually) have a safety in case he fell. It worked. It was now 1630 hrs.

No time for the water samples that I wanted to obtain, but the main task was done. We loaded up and started back. God I was tired now. The anxiety associated with getting the job done drained away and my adrenaline boost with it. As we started back my legs and hips were protesting the 30 or so lbs of pack and I was feeling old because of that. I must have looked pretty grim at some points because Nicolas offered to take the pack – but he was carrying as much as I was, or close to it.

It was nearly 1800 hrs, 30 minutes to dark, when we got to Grande Milolé bai. There were elephants again, although I could not see them. A quick rest before loading up with 16 lbs of spent batteries each for the last leg out to the car. We were only just in time, too. Some places in the forest were so dark I couldn’t see obstructions in the path or the muddy holes where elephants had stepped. Just before real dark descended we broke out into the clearing by the car. Relieved. Tired. Accomplished.

Caught in the Snare

posted from GABON - 04/21/2009

Actually, not what you are probably thinking - not horrific, not exciting. In fact, bloody boring. I had visions of that movie (was it 'the Terminal'?) about someone trapped for years in an airport. the story is a lot more credible to me now.

At 10 pm I finally touch down in Libreville, Gabon, arriving from Douala, and head for customs formalities. I have a five year multiple entry visa (this is my fifth trip to Gabon in two years) and valid passport. But unbeknownst to me, I'm about to be made a lesson of.

They pull me aside and ask for a letter of invitation to Gabon! (Surprisingly, this is actually not that uncommon when first entering the Francophone countries of Central Africa.) I explain that I have been here four times before and did not need such a letter, and that immigration does not require such a letter (witness the dozens of people going by without one). No good. 'Sit over there'.

'Vous attendez' became the only phrase I could get out of them - for hours. 'You wait'. Fortunately for me they need me to claim my luggage and I see Justin Houdj, a taxi driver that I often engage in Libreville, outside waving at me. I point him out to my 'tender', who waves Justin into the immigration area. 'Ah!', I think, this will be it. Justin can verify that I work with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and that I'm often here. Again, unbeknownst to either of us, this is perhaps the worst connection to have.

I spend an uncomfortable and cold night on a bench in the immigration area. No food or drink offered (but there is a filthy bathroom). I live only for Justin's promise that he will be back in the morning. All the next day WCS people struggle to get me sprung free. It turns out that some media outfit from France had done an unflattering story on how the president is handling the national parks. Something about frozen bank accounts in Europe as well (the president has more houses and condos than any sitting president in the world). So, they were targeting NGOs in the country, even though it was a local NGO that facilitated access for the media company.

Late in the afternoon, about 15 hours into my 'incarceration', they tell me I will be sent back to Cameroon on a 5 pm plane! My god. I have little cash and visions of interminable limbo stuck in Cameroon (where I wouldn't even have a valid visa) go through my mind. 'Vous attendez. Asseyez lá-bas! ' Time passes. I'm asked for my plane reservations and they see that my flight from Douala, Cameroon, to Libreville was a one-way fare. I'm booked to fly from Libreville to Casablanca, in Morocco, in late April. So now I am told I will have to stay in that space for another thirty hours and take the next scheduled flight to Casablanca!

A thought that occurs to me over and over: Why are you doing this? If they are so impolite and disrespectful, why spend money and effort to help them find ways to protect their elephants and other natural resources? To hell with them.

At last, a little after 5 pm, someone from WCS gets through to both the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and one of these calls the immigration official - I'm free!

Humiliating, frustrating, totally unenlightened! But before vilifying this system, is it any different for many coming into our country? Perhaps (hopefully) not so arbitrary - but are they treated fairly, like human beings? I don't know - I fear not.

Maximizing the transport of empty barrels - Brazzaville

Watching Elephants in Dzanga Bai -
 Central African Republic

posted from GABON -04/12/2009

As we approached the bai, Andrea was showing her nervousness that perhaps the elephants wouldn't be there because of gunshots heard the day before. We didn't hear any rumbling or trumpeting either. But when I peered through the legs of the observation platform I could see there were elephants. And were there elephants! Thirty of them, including a big male in musth. Not only that, but a dozen bongo, lots of sitatunga, and black and white colobus monkeys! I had reached the Mecca of forest elephant researchers - the Dzanga-Sangha Deep Forest Clearing. For the next six hours there was never a dull moment. Looking left or right or streight ahead, there were elephant families interacting, babies playing in the water, males being males.

Perhaps one of the coolest things was that elephants were so often close to the observation platform. Until now my experience has largely been elephants 100-300 meters away - at Langoue bai in Gabon, or on the savannah areas of Loango National Park, or much too close when on foot in the forest. It was such a blast to watch interactions unfolding right in front of me. With binocs I could see the details of mud in their folded skins.

But by far the best of all was sitting next to Andrea and, with her, watching the animals she knows so well. The 'Anemones' and the 'Penelope' families came into the bai - names that I have only known from the lab at Cornell. Wow! How different and how exciting to see them, more grown up, a new baby, a more experienced older daughter.

Elephants in Dzanga Bai


Working in Africa is an exceptional experience, culturally, physically, and biologically. Here we post vignettes written by members of the ELP team while in the field.

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© Bruce Thompson