Study: Elephants unfazed by dynamite, but fear humans

Sep 08, 2010 By Krishna Ramanujan
An adult elephant with two youngsters in Loango National Park. (Ruth Starkey)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Elephants are not bothered by dynamite explosions, but nearby human activity prompts them to dramatically change their behavior, reports a Cornell study that used automated listening devices to monitor elephant behavior in Gabon.

In 2006 the Gabon government granted permission to an energy company to explore for oil by cutting transects and detonating dynamite in Loango National Park. That action outraged and led to a moratorium on oil prospecting until June 2007. In March 2007, researchers from Cornell's Elephant Listening Project (ELP) set up 10 automated recording units in the park.

The resulting 27,000 hours of recordings -- obtained between March 2007 and February 2008 -- showed that blasting activity did not cause elephants to leave the area. However, the elephants closest to the human activity near the blasting shifted to a more nocturnal lifestyle, probably in an attempt to avoid the workers.

"Elephants are sensitive to seismic vibrations, and we expected that the dynamite would disturb them [but it didn't]," said Peter Wrege, ELP director and lead author of a paper that was posted online July 27 in the journal Conservation Biology.

After comparing the recordings of dynamite explosions to thunder, Wrege and colleagues reported that the two sounds may seem similar to elephants and "not something they weren't used to hearing," Wrege said. However, the team reported that the recordings suggest that the sounds of chainsaws felling trees, trucks and workers prompted the elephants to change their behavior to a nighttime routine.

ELP's decision to monitor the in collaboration with the World Conservation Society may have put some pressure on the government and energy company to develop strict operating procedures before prospecting began anew in June 2007, Wrege said. The new protocols required the company to avoid nighttime activities and to limit the size of new transects and the size of trees cut, Wrege added.

An automated recording unit in Loango National Park. Elephant Listening Project

The recordings also picked up gunshots in the forest, which have led to patrols through the park to deter poachers, Wrege said.

Resource extraction in developing countries is inevitable, said Wrege, and some industries appear willing to listen to environmental and wildlife concerns, "but often we do not know what the problems are.

"By listening to the natural environment we can reveal hidden but otherwise important relationships between wildlife and humans," said Wrege. "Acoustic technology gives us one more tool in the toolbox that lets us find out things we wouldn't find out in some other way."

Explore further: Research helps steer mites from bees

Related Stories

Pygmy elephants tracked by GPS

Dec 17, 2005

A satellite used by the U.S. military to track vehicle convoys in Iraq is helping the World Wildlife Fund shed light on the pygmy elephants in Malaysia.

Elephants' fear of angry bees could help to protect them

Oct 08, 2007

At a time when encroaching human development in former wildlife areas has compressed African elephants into ever smaller home ranges and increased levels of human-elephant conflict, a study in the October 9th issue of Current Bi ...

Jumbo-sized discovery made in Malaysia

Jan 14, 2009

New data released today by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) reveals that a population of endangered Asian elephants living in a Malaysian park ...

Study: Elephants might seek revenge

Feb 16, 2006

An increasing number of incidents involving African elephants attacking humans is leading some scientists to believe the animals may be seeking revenge.

Male elephants get 'photo IDs' from scientists

Aug 15, 2007

Asian elephants don’t carry photo identification, so scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and India’s Nature Conservation Foundation are providing the service free of charge by creating a photographic archive ...

Recommended for you

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

Bird brains more precise than humans'

Sep 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —Birds have been found to display superior judgement of their body width compared to humans, in research to help design autonomous aircraft navigation systems.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

snwboardn
not rated yet Sep 08, 2010
However, the elephants closest to the human activity near the blasting shifted to a more nocturnal lifestyle, probably in an attempt to avoid the workers. However, the team reported that the recordings suggest that the sounds of chainsaws felling trees, trucks and workers prompted the elephants to change their behavior to a nighttime routine. The new protocols required the company to avoid nighttime activities and to limit the size of new transects and the size of trees cut, Wrege added.

I don't get it, since human activity made them behave like it was night time, wouldn't it make sense to do operations at night? Then they wouldn't be acting abnormal at all...