Zambian villagers co-existing with elephants

This 16 November 2018 video says about itself:

How Zambian Villagers Learned to Coexist With Elephants

In the 1950s, villagers waged a constant war against elephant herds that raided their crops. But a man named Norman Carr figured out a way to call a truce between the warring factions.


Ice Age American elephants

This video says about itself:

15 June 2017

The proboscideans are a group of animals that contains the elephant and mastodont families. Many of us will be well-aware of these groups, but what of some of the lesser-known proboscideans? One such family are the gomphotheres and in this episode we’re introduced to them by Dr Dimila Mothé, of the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

By Alexandra Witze in the USA, 12:30pm, November 13, 2018:

How mammoths competed with other animals and lost

Human hunters helped wipe out mammoths, mastodons and gomphotheres

The Gray Fossil Site, a sinkhole in northeastern Tennessee, is full of prehistoric treasures. Between 7 million and 4.5 million years ago, rhinoceroses, saber-toothed cats and other creatures, even red pandas, perished here by the edge of a pond. But that bounty of fossils pales next to the site’s biggest find: a mastodon’s skeleton, nearly 5 million years old, preserved in exquisite detail all the way down to its ankle bones. “It is just fantastic”, says Chris Widga, a paleontologist at East Tennessee State University in nearby Johnson City.

The ancient elephant relative became known as Ernie because it was enormous, calculated soon after its 2015 discovery to have weighed 16 tons in life. The name came from musician Tennessee Ernie Ford, known for the coal-mining song “Sixteen Tons”. Since then the researchers have revised the mastodon’s weight down to 10.5 tons, says Widga, but the name stuck.

Ernie is still the biggest mastodon ever found in North America. He would have dwarfed today’s large African elephants, which average up to six tons. Excavators are working to dig up the rest of Ernie’s bones before this winter, with an eye to reassemble the ancient beast, the researchers reported in October in Albuquerque at a meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Ernie is a jaw-dropping example of the ancient elephants that once roamed Earth. Scientists have found the remains of mastodons and their relatives, the mammoths, throughout the Northern Hemisphere — from huge tusks buried in the Alaskan permafrost to mummified baby mammoths in Siberia (SN Online: 7/14/14).

Now, researchers are knitting together these scattered discoveries into a more coherent picture of the lives and deaths of mammoths and mastodons. Scientists are exploring what plants these megaherbivores ate as they rambled across the landscape, and how they competed with other animals — including humans — as climate changed and the last ice age ended some 11,700 years ago.

Clues to these mysteries lie in ancient teeth and bones. Tiny scratches on the teeth of mastodons from North America suggest that they ate a surprisingly varied diet of grasses, twigs and other plants, depending on their environment. A recent analysis of the chemistry of European mammoth bones reveals that those animals probably struggled with dwindling food sources as the climate warmed, which probably hastened the animals’ demise.

Excavating some of the last known sites where mammoths and humans coexisted points to how early Americans gathered around a kill, making the most of the giant carcass to feed themselves.

Scientists hope to better understand the extinct elephants’ role in ancient ecosystems. “How did these big herbivores respond to climatic shifts, both before and after humans arrived?” asks Hendrik Poinar, a geneticist and anthropologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. “How resilient were these populations — or not?”

The answers may even help biologists eke out lessons about how modern elephants might cope as habitats shrink and hunting pressures rise.

Asian elephants and mathematics

This 2008 New Scientist video says about itself:

Asian elephant does arithmetic

A cunning Asian elephant bests a science reporter at a simple counting game.

Read more here.

From ScienceDaily:

Asian elephants could be the math kings of the jungle

Experimental evidence shows that Asian elephants possess numerical skills similar to those in humans

October 22, 2018

Asian elephants demonstrate numeric ability which is closer to that observed in humans rather than in other animals. This is according to lead author Naoko Irie of SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) in Japan. In a study published in the Springer-branded Journal of Ethology, Irie and her colleagues found that an Asian elephants‘ sense of numbers is not affected by distance, magnitude or ratios of presented numerosities, and therefore provides initial experimental evidence that non-human animals have cognitive characteristics similar to human counting.

Previous research has shown that many animals have some form of numerical competence, even though they do not use language. However, this numerical ability is mainly based on inaccurate quantity instead of absolute numbers. In this study, the researchers aimed to replicate the results of previous research that already showed that Asian elephants have exceptional numeric competence.

Irie and her colleagues developed a new method to test how well the animals can judge relative quantity. They successfully trained a 14-year old Asian elephant called Authai from the Ueno Zoo in Japan to use a computer-controlled touch panel. The programme was specifically designed to examine the cognition of elephants, so that any unintended factors potentially influencing the results could be ruled out. Authai was presented with a relative numerosity judgment task on the screen, and then had to indicate with the tip of her trunk which one of the two figures shown to her at a time contained more items. These ranged from 0 to 10 items, and contained pictures of bananas, watermelons and apples. The fruit were not all presented in the same size, to ensure that Authai did not make her choices purely on the total area that was covered with illustrations per card.

Authai was rewarded whenever she chose the figures featuring the larger number of items. This she did correctly 181 out of 271 times — a success rate of 66.8 per cent. Her ability to accurately pinpoint the figure with the most fruits on it was not affected by the magnitude, distance or ratio of the comparisons. Authai’s reaction time was, however, influenced by the distance and ratio between the two figures presented. She needed significantly more time to make her selection between figures where relatively smaller distances and larger ratios were presented.

“We found that her performance was unaffected by distance, magnitude, or the ratios of the presented numerosities, but consistent with observations of human counting, she required a longer time to respond to comparisons with smaller distances”, explains Irie. “This study provides the first experimental evidence that nonhuman animals have cognitive characteristics partially identical to human counting.”

According to Irie, this is not an ability that the Asian elephant shares with the two species of African elephants. She says that because the species diverged more than 7.6 million years ago, it is highly probable that each developed different cognitive abilities.

Elephants protect baby elephant while crossing road

This July 2018 video from South Africa says about itself:

This amazing footage shows how an elephant herd protects a baby elephant while crossing a road in Kruger Park.

“This happened on the Orpen Camp – Satara Camp road, the H7. I went camping by myself and on one hot afternoon i came across this family of elephants. I like watching elephants so I waited a round a bit watching them feed, until they finally crossed the road right in front of me.”

Video taker: Sian Green. Wonderful to witness the amazing bond elephants have for their young and other family members.

Elephants protecting themselves from cancer

This October 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

A study led by the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah could explain why elephants rarely get cancer.

From the University of Chicago Medical Center in the USA:

Zombie gene protects against cancer — in elephants

Dead gene reborn helps destroy cells with damaged DNA

August 14, 2018

Summary: LIF6, a dead gene that came back to life, prevents cancer by killing cells with DNA damage.

An estimated 17 percent of humans worldwide die from cancer, but less than five percent of captive elephants — who also live for about 70 years, and have about 100 times as many potentially cancerous cells as humans — die from the disease.

Three years ago, research teams from the University of Chicago and the University of Utah, working separately, began to unravel why. They knew that humans, like all other animals, have one copy of the master tumor suppressor gene p53. This gene enables humans and elephants to recognize unrepaired DNA damage, a precursor of cancer. Then it causes those damaged cells to die.

Unexpectedly, however, the researchers found that elephants have 20 copies of p53. This makes their cells significantly more sensitive to damaged DNA and quicker to engage in cellular suicide.

In the August 14, 2018 issue of the journal Cell Reports, the University of Chicago team describes a second element of this process: an anti-cancer gene that returned from the dead.

“Genes duplicate all the time”, said Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago and the study’s senior author. “Sometimes they make mistakes, producing non-functional versions known as pseudogenes. We often refer to these dismissively as dead genes.”

While studying p53 in elephants, however, Lynch and colleagues found a former pseudogene called leukemia inhibitory factor 6 (LIF6) that had somehow evolved a new on-switch. LIF6, back from the dead, had become a valuable working gene. Its function, when activated by p53, is to respond to damaged DNA by killing the cell. The LIF6 gene makes a protein that goes, quite rapidly, to the mitochondria, the cell’s main energy source. That protein pokes holes in the mitochondria, causing the cell to die.

“Hence, zombie”, said Lynch. “This dead gene came back to life. When it gets turned on by damaged DNA, it kills that cell, quickly. This is beneficial, because it acts in response to genetic mistakes, errors made when the DNA is being repaired. Getting rid of that cell can prevent a subsequent cancer.”

Elephants have eight LIF genes, but only LIF6 is known to be functional. Although it was only recently described, it appears to have been helping elephants and their relatives for a long time.

“We can use the tricks of evolution to try to figure out when this defunct gene became functional again”, Lynch said. It seems to have emerged around the time when the fossil record indicates that the small groundhog-sized precursors of today’s elephants began to grow bigger. This started about 25 to 30 million years ago. This supplementary method of suppressing cancer may have been a key element enabling enormous growth, which eventually led to modern elephants.

There are significant and lasting benefits to being huge. Small animals, for example — mice, squirrels, groundhogs — get eaten all the time, mostly by larger animals. But “if you are enormous, such as an elephant or a whale, nothing is going to mess with you”, Lynch said.

There are tradeoffs, however. Bigger animals have vastly more cells, and they tend to live longer, which means more time and opportunities to accumulate cancer-causing mutations. When those cells divide, their DNA makes copies of itself. But those copies don’t match the original. Errors get introduced and the repair process can’t catch up.

“Large, long-lived animals must have evolved robust mechanisms to either suppress or eliminate cancerous cells in order to live as long as they do, and reach their adult sizes”, said study co-author Juan Manuel Vazquez, a doctoral candidate in the Lynch laboratory.

These huge animals thus have higher odds of developing cancerous cells. This can also happen on a smaller scale. Taller humans, for example, have a slightly higher incidence of several cancer types than average sized people, and shorter people tend to be at a reduced risk for those cancers.

LIF6, the study authors suggest, was “reanimated sometime before the demands of maintaining a larger body existed.” It helped enable the growth of animals that were the size of a 10-pound groundhog into majestic creatures that can weigh more than 15,000 pounds. It was “permissive for the origin of large bodies”, the authors note, “but not sufficient.”

Exactly how LIF6 induces apoptosis, however, remains unclear. This will be “the focus of continued studies”, the authors wrote.

See also here.

Playing Bach piano for a blind elephant

This video says about itself:

Bach on Piano for Blind Elephant

30 June 2018

Lam Duan is the name of an old blind elephant, her name means “Tree with Yellow Flowers”. Lam Duan has been blind most of her life. Lam Duan lives at Elephants World, Thailand.