The Elephant Listening Project is based out of Cornell University in the United States, but its field work is conducted in the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo. As a research analyst with the project, Ana Verahrami has completed two field seasons in the Central African Republic, where she helped collect the behavioral and acoustic data vital to the project.
Verahrami joins the Mongabay Newscast to explain why forest elephants’ role as keystone species makes their survival crucial to the wellbeing of tropical forests and their other inhabitants. We listen to a handful of the recordings the Elephant Listening Project has made at Dzanga Bai in the Central African Republic to better understand elephant communication, as well as recordings from its landscape-scale acoustic grid in the Republic of Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.
It is believed that, in the early 20th century, there were as many as 3 to 5 million African elephants. Today, there are just around 400,000 African elephants left.
One of the two existing African elephant species, forest elephants are native to the humid forests of West Africa and the Congo Basin. The forest habitat they rely on has also suffered steep declines in recent years, with one 2018 study concluding that at current rates of deforestation, all of the primary forest in the Congo Basin could be cleared by the end of the century. As Mongabay’s contributing editor for Africa, Terna Gyuse, tells us, the chief threats to the Congo Basin’s rainforests are human activities.
Verahrami says that what the project is learning about elephant communication can help to improve protections for elephant populations: “That would give us a lot more detail on the population demography, the makeup of the group of elephants in that region, and also help us to better protect them. Is there a specific spot in the forest that they’re going to mate, for example? That’s somewhere we’d really, really, really want to make sure we’re protecting so the population can continue to grow.” Protecting elephant populations, Verahrami adds, will in turn benefit the tropical forest ecosystem as a whole.