Elephant trunks, video


This 17 January 2019 video says about itself:

Elephant trunks are the most impressive noses in the animal kingdom. Made almost entirely of muscle, elephant trunks can lift hundreds of pounds, suck up gallons of water, and sniff out landmines. But, what’s on the inside of an elephant trunk?

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Genesis 2.0, new film on mammoths


This 2018 video says about itself:

SUNDANCE 2018 WINNER – BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The hunt for white gold at the remotest edge of Siberia reveals a scenario of the future that may well turn our world upside down.

On the remote New Siberian Islands in the Arctic Ocean, hunters search for tusks of extinct mammoths. One day, they discover a surprisingly well-preserved mammoth carcass. Resurrecting the woolly mammoth is a first manifestation of the next great technological revolution – genetics.

I went to see this film on 11 January 2018.

A main person in this documentary is Semyon Egorovich Grigoriev, the director of the mammoth museum in Yakutsk in Siberia. He would like to bring a mammoth back to life by having fossil cells cloned.

Dutch Thijs van Kolfschoten, Leiden University paleontology professor, says in the VPRO gids, 12 January 2019, commenting on the film, that cloning mammoths would only become interesting for him if it would mean thousands of mammoths in a regenerated Pleistocene landscape.

Unfortunately, neither the VPRO gids article, nor the film mention the Pleistocene Park nature reserve in Siberia, where an experiment is going on in bringing back Ice Age plants and animals, in which mammoths might fit.

African elephant memory and food, new research


This 2017 video, recorded in Namibia, is called ELEPHANTS: THE GIANTS OF ETOSHA.

From the Ecological Society of America in the USA:

Elephants take to the road for reliable resources

In a national park, researchers study African elephant movement and vegetation using satellites

January 9, 2019

Summary: Landscapes can change from day-to-day and year-to-year, and many animals will move about according to resource availability. But do they remember past resource conditions? Just how important is memory and spatial cognition when seeking to understand wildlife movement? Researchers in Etosha National Park, Namibia, examined this question through African elephants.

An elephant never forgets. This seems to be the case, at least, for elephants roaming about Namibia, looking for food, fresh water, and other resources,

The relationship between resource availability and wildlife movement patterns is essential to understanding species behavior and ecology. Landscapes can change from day-to-day and year-to-year, and many animals will move about according to resource availability. But do they remember past resource conditions? Just how important is memory and spatial cognition when seeking to understand wildlife movement?

Researchers in Etosha National Park, Namibia, examined this question through an iconic mammal. “African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are ideal for this study — they have excellent cognitive abilities and long-term spatial memory,” lead author Miriam Tsalyuk of University of California Berkeley explained, “which helps them return to areas with better food and water. African savannas are unpredictable with a prolonged dry season, where knowledge of the long-term availability of resources is highly advantageous.” The study was published today in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Monographs.

Using GPS collars, the researchers tracked the movement of 15 elephant groups for periods ranging from 2 months up to a little over 4 and a half years. Key to this study, Tsalyuk emphasized, were satellite-based imagery and observations, which were used to create detailed data on vegetation types and biomass. Together with maps of surface water and human-made constructs, Tsalyuk and her colleagues then correlated these variables with the elephant movement data to look for patterns in behavior.

“Most ecological research to date examines how wildlife respond to the current environmental state,” she said. “However, animals use spatial and social memory to return to locations that have been beneficial in the past. Satellite imagery provides information about these past conditions and unravels the complexity of wildlife spatial use.”

Their analyses revealed that the elephants certainly seem to remember where to find the best food and reliable water. Long-term information (up to a decade) on forage conditions was a bigger factor in elephants’ decisions where to go than current conditions, particularly in the dry season.

“The results were very surprising indeed,” Tsalyuk said. “We thought that if we could capture the vegetation conditions as close as possible to the time the elephants passed there, we could better explain preference for a particular location. But we found the complete opposite — elephants have a stronger preference for locations where forage conditions have been better for many years, over the forage availability they see around them at the moment.”

The researchers were also surprised about the variability of the elephants’ preference for resources — different vegetation types and water sources — over time of day and over seasons.

Elephants’ strong inclination to be close to water is expected in the semiarid environment of Etosha. Preference for permanent water sources increases as rainfall declines. As the dry season progresses, elephants become increasingly dependent on artificial (human-made) water sources, such as bore holes.

Somewhat less expected was the elephants’ fondness to walk close to roads.

“Roads are often dangerous to wildlife,” Tsalyuk said. “However, this research was performed within Etosha National Park, where most of the roads are dirt roads with relatively little traffic.” Elephants highly preferred to travel along roads in the dry season, when road conditions are best and when the elephants need to move farther between water and vegetation resources. It seems they use roads as easy walking terrain to conserve energy.

It’s possible that they may also take advantage of browsable plants in roadside ditches, or could position themselves behind tourist vehicles as a potential shield from predators.

The elephants in Etosha prefer areas with higher grass biomass, but lower tree biomass. When food is abundant, the elephants feel more comfortable to explore the landscape for greener patches or higher quality forage. In the dry season, however, when food becomes scarcer and less nutritious the goal becomes reducing the risk of starvation, and the elephants restrict themselves to areas where forage productivity has been favorable for many years.

Elephants are important ecosystem engineers — they control habitat conditions or availability of resources to other organisms. For example, they enhance plant diversity by suppressing tree cover and promote seed dispersal and nutrient transport, while dense elephant populations may cause vegetation degradation and tree damage. Unfortunately for these integral animals, elephant populations throughout Africa are in steep decline in the last decade due to poaching and greater restriction of their range.

If we want to better understand the changes in elephant-savanna vegetation dynamics and to improve land management, it is crucial to account for the variation in the movement-related responses of elephants to changing resources.

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.