The Lindbergh Foundation Believes that Innovative Science and Technology Hold the Key to Addressing Humanity’s Environmental and Productivity Challenges

Dr. Peter H. Wrege

Dr. Peter H. Wrege, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York

“Using Acoustics to Monitor Poaching and Elephant Populations at Forest Clearings in Central Africa”

Category: Animal Conservation: 2007

Wildlife managers are continually challenged by the need to estimate the population size of species in their care and to monitor habitat use within protected areas. Elephants and other large mammals are especially difficult to monitor because they range over broad geographic landscapes and often avoid areas of human activity. Forest elephants in Central Africa are particularly difficult to monitor because of the dense forest cover. Yet poachers, lured by the lucrative illegal and legal market for ivory and bushmeat, increasingly target these populations. Recently, dung pile counts, GPS collared elephants, and mark-recapture DNA techniques have been used to estimate the size of forest elephant populations, but all are labor intensive, invasive, and not fully effective.

Dr. Wrege plans to use acoustic monitoring to estimate and compare elephant densities at forest clearings, determine the daily and seasonal pattern of use, and investigate whether there is a relationship between gunshot activity and elephant activity at forest clearings. Acoustic monitoring is particularly appropriate for this study because elephants are highly vocal creatures and the monitors can pick up their low frequency vocalizations from long distances. Acoustic recorders can provide continuous monitoring of elephant activity and can capture gunshot sounds, which could help eco-guards locate poaching activity.

During the study, Dr. Wrege will field test a new model of autonomous recording unit; quantify transmission loss of gunshot sounds in African forests; and develop software for automatic detection of gunshots and elephant calls. The results of this study will help focus conservation efforts in targeted areas of Gabon, Central Africa, and will develop protocols for monitoring forest elephant populations and poaching activity.

Project Update

Dr. Wrege was included in "60 Minutes" segment entitled, "The Secret Language of Elephants" on January 3, 2010.  Click here to watch and learn more about this fascinating work.

This animal conservation grant is sponsored by the Cherbec Advancement Foundation.

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Learn more about Dr. Peter H. Wrege at the Elephant Listening Project