Stories tagged elephants

Can you pick out the gay one?: No, actually you can't.
Can you pick out the gay one?: No, actually you can't.Courtesy Jlorenz1

Check it out, y'all: a Polish politician is all hot and bothered (mostly bothered, really) over the Warsaw Zoo's new gay elephant.

"Growl spit growl," stated offended Law and Justice deputy Michal Grzes. "Hur hum growl gay elephant?! Grrrrooowl!"

The elephant in question, 10-year-old Ninio, has not yet reached sexual maturity, but his aggressive behavior towards female elephants and affectionate attitude towards other males has lead many to believe that he is, in fact, leaning towards the gay side of the spectrum of sexuality. Grzes isn't pleased with the idea of giving space in one of Europe's largest elephant houses to an elephant that will probably never even contribute to the deputy's dream of the zoo breeding an elephant heard.

Grzes' comments, however, seem to venture outside the responsibilities of Law and Justice deputy, and have lead some bloggers to believe that he's gunning for the coveted "Minister of Elephant Sexuality" seat next election cycle.

It seems to me, though, that he might be missing the point here. Gay or straight, the awesome thing about Ninio is actually that he is an elephant. What's more, as a recent post on Popular Science's website illustrates, homosexual behavior isn't uncommon in the animal world. (The exception being, no doubt, the Polish government.) So... I don't know, it might as well be represented in zoos too.

We've had plenty of discussion about text messaging here on the Buzz recently. Here's a video report about a novel use of that technology in Kenya, where a wild elephant sends regular text messages about his whereabouts for an amazing reason. What I don't get is how his big hoofs and type on those little cellphone keypads.

OMG: Here's another video report on a monk seal in Greece that texts reports of her daily activities to an animal shelter that rehabbed her from injuries. And here's a link on that story to a report of a crocodile that sends text messages to scientists. What's come over these animals?

More than 50 metric tons of ivory were auctioned last week in South Africa as part of a one-time series of sales approved by a United Nations body. Critics say the sales could encourage poaching. Click this link to watch National Geographic video about this huge auction of elephant ivory.

Do you enjoy learning about elephants? National Geographic has a fun read about The Elephants of Samburu. Warning: This feature is 12 pages long.

Sep
15
2008

Are you tracking me?: GPS technology saved the life of an elephant in Africa last week and is being used extensively to track the migration patterns of many types of animals.
Are you tracking me?: GPS technology saved the life of an elephant in Africa last week and is being used extensively to track the migration patterns of many types of animals.Courtesy Lee R. Berger
GPS – global positioning systems – can do some amazing things. Even saving the life of an elephant.

Here’s an account of how a GPS unit spared an African elephant in Kenya from being slaughtered by irate farmers. Mountain Bull, which wears a GPS unit on around his neck, was noticed missing one day last week from his herd near Mount Kenya. Using the GPS tracking technology, his biologist observes tracked him down with a rogue pack of elephants ravaging the goodies of farm field nearby.

Efforts to rebuilt Africa’s elephant population have had the unintended consequence of putting more pressure on Kenyan agriculture. Elephant herds looking for easy food are more commonly heading to the farm field buffet.

The Kenyan Wildlife Services officials followed the GPS signal to find Mountain Bull in the sights of being exterminated by local farmers. Equipped with GPS tracking information showing that Mountain Bull had never been out looking for a farm-field free lunch before, they were able to talk the farmers into granting him mercy on this indiscretion.

While this is a pretty dramatic story of GPS coming to the aid of wildlife, biologists are using the technology in many other ways.
Integrating the GPS readings with Google Maps technology, researchers are able to map migration patterns and find out which locations are high traffic areas for different animals. Armed with that information, biologists can better target their efforts for habitat preservation and improving species numbers.

That’s all good news if you’re an African elephant; maybe not so good news if you’re a Kenyan farmer.

So what did you do over the weekend? I guess we all missed these wild times going on in Botswana, Africa. Check out this video of an elephant pool party. I wonder if the Republican National Convention will get this crazy here in St. Paul in September?

Oct
25
2007

Problem drinker?: For the second time in three years, a pack of Asian elephants in India have overindulged on rice beer, leading to violent behavior resulting in death. (Flickr photo by Celeste)
Problem drinker?: For the second time in three years, a pack of Asian elephants in India have overindulged on rice beer, leading to violent behavior resulting in death. (Flickr photo by Celeste)
There are the usual suspects known for being problem drinkers: college frat boys, middle-aged rock stars and Green Bay Packer fans. Now you can add Asian elephants to that list.

Six elephants in India were killed earlier this week after creating mayhem after drinking rice beer in a remote city in northeast India. They were part of a herd of about 40 elephants that overran the town looking for food. The six found their way to a variety of plastic and tin drums that the villagers use to brew their own beers.

After getting juiced up on the rice beer, the six elephants went nuts rampaging through the town. In their fury, they uprooted an electrical power pole that led to their electrocution.

Elephants in the region are known to have a developed a taste for the rice beer. A similar incident with occurred three years ago, leading to the death of four intoxicated elephants.

This all leads to a lot of questions, but the one I really want to know is how much rice beer does an animal the size of an elephant need to consume in order to get drunk?

Oct
21
2007

It knows when you are sleeping; it knows when you're awake: And it knows what you've been thinking.  (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
It knows when you are sleeping; it knows when you're awake: And it knows what you've been thinking. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Like Santa, elephants totally know if you’ve been bad or good

The “bad or good” value judgment depends on whether or not you plan on killing them. “Them” being the elephants, of course, not Santa. No one should plan on killing Santa. He would know what you were up to if you planned it.

People do occasionally plan on killing elephants, however, which is presumably why they have gotten good at telling who these people are. New research shows that African elephants are often able to distinguish, through sight and smell, between humans who are a potential threat and those who are generally harmless.

For the purpose of the study, scientists from the University of St. Andrews compared the reaction of elephants from Amboseli National Park in Kenya to people from the nearby Maasai and Kamba tribes. While Kamba will generally only attack elephants when they invade their farmland, Maasai will occasionally spear elephants as a show of virility. It has been observed that elephants will become defensive or run away as Maasai approach, even when they are still several kilometers away.

The Kamba and Maasai are fairly distinct as to their diets and dress. The Maasai traditionally wear red shawls; the Kamba do not. The Maasai eat lots of milk, and sometimes cattle blood and beef, whereas the Kamba eat plenty of vegetables and maize, and some meat. Scientists believed that this difference in diet could be apparent to an elephant’s sensitive sense of smell.

To test the elephants’ sight reactions, the scientists displayed clean and unworn pieces of white cloth and red cloth on bushes in Amboseli. They found that the animals acted “significantly more aggressively toward the red cloths.” This is one of the more obvious points at which elephants and Santa diverge in their behavior – we all know that Santa has an almost perverse attraction to red cloth.

The St. Andrews researchers then presented elephants with clothing that had been worn for five days by either a Maasai or Kamba man. The elephants seemed to react with greater fear towards the clothing worn by Maasai men, running faster and further away from it, and towards tall grass for cover. Also, according to the researchers, these elephants took significantly longer to relax after they stopped running.

When the same experiments were repeated on Santa, scientists observed that he behaved in a similar fashion, running and hiding from some pieces of clothing but not others. Santa’s reactions of fear, however, appeared to correspond to the clothing of particular individuals, not to that of entire groups. Researchers were denied access to the famous “lists,” unfortunately, and so were unable to crosscheck for specific names. When asked how they intended to continue their research on Santa, the scientists enigmatically replied, “We have no plans.”

Nov
02
2006

Mirror image: Researchers have found out that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror and actually look at parts of their body that they can't see on their own. Those are sure signs that that have a self-awareness, something that used to be thought of only being in humans and chimps. (Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Mirror image: Researchers have found out that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror and actually look at parts of their body that they can't see on their own. Those are sure signs that that have a self-awareness, something that used to be thought of only being in humans and chimps. (Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest elephant of them all?

According to the findings of a new study, elephants confronted with a mirror display the traits of self-awareness and will actually primp and preen in front of their image. Previously, it was only thought that humans, chimps and maybe dolphins were able to recognize themselves.

The findings come after watching three elephants at the Bronx Zoo in New York handle themselves in front of an elephant-sized mirror. Among their actions were looking inside their open mouths and studying their ears. One elephant, Happy, even used her trunk to touch a mark on her head that was only visible to her by looking in the mirror. That, researchers say, is a strong sign of self-awareness.

An eight-foot-square mirror was put in the elephants’ pen to conduct the exercise. It was elephant-proofed in a frame of plastic reinforced with steel.

The pachyderms initially tried to look behind the mirror, underneath it. When they finally realized it was a mirror, they then checked themselves out.

Researchers contend that having self-awareness is the first step in having more complex behaviors in an animal. Those attributes would include empathy, compassion and other emotional traits.

But all this has got me to wondering: if an elephant looking in the mirror isn’t pleased with its own huge image, what animal does it think it looks like? It can’t be an elephant.