January 11, 2014
My name is Sarah and I arrived at the camp two days ago for a one month internship with STE. I am in my second year of the Master’s program in Behavioural Ecology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. For my thesis I am studying how memory in pigs is influenced by stress as well as individual differences in social rank and personality. While my research centres on domesticated animals, I am also interested in how the study of animal behaviour can be applied to conservation efforts. I thought an internship with STE would provide an excellent opportunity to involve myself with the conservation side of animal behaviour as well as learn more about the incredible lives of elephants.
I went out for my first drive with Shifra yesterday and saw more wildlife than I had hoped to see all month! Within a few minutes of leaving the camp we came across our first group of elephants, the Butterfly family. Shortly after, we arrived in the midst of a congregation of several families. Almost as soon as we had stopped a lioness crept past the front of our car and crouched in the bushes, peering out at the elephant family approaching us. When the elephants perceived her presence, they quickly bunched together to protect their calves and emitted low rumbles. It was an incredible sight!
A little while later as we watched a pair of females resting in the shade, a bull, Yaeger, appeared suddenly and passed right in front of us. He was in musth and was dribbling a steady stream of urine. The females greeted him and parted to let him pass. He hardly paused, appearing quite determined to continue his search for estrus females.
The other highlight of the day was watching a group of elephants compete for the highly coveted mud hole, one of the few remaining in the reserve as the dry season has arrived. The dominant individuals would rudely displace the younger or smaller elephants enjoying their mud bath by pushing them away with their tusks. When there was no one around, though, the calves would blissfully splash around, using their trunks to spray mud on their backs. It was hot enough outside that the mud hole looked quite inviting, but I probably would not have been very welcome there.
These first couple days have already proven to be an amazing experience and I am looking forward to the adventures the next few weeks will bring!