Interview of African Elephants Researcher Tim

What made you interested in working with African elephants?

I have always loved Africa and its wildlife. From a young age I knew I wanted to work studying, learning about, and helping to protect African animals. I love large mammals of all kinds but initially I was mostly interested in carnivores like lions, leopards, and wild dogs. When I was applying to graduate school, however, I met a professor who was looking for someone to research elephants. That got me started and now I enjoy studying such a powerful and amazing creature that interacts with and influences so many other animals I care about.

How well do African Elephants interact with people?

Not very well. Unlike Asian elephants, African elephants have never really been domesticated. There are a few places in Africa where people have elephants that they use for safari rides, but these are fairly rare as African elephants are wild animals. Being so big and strong, elephants also conflict with people, eating their crops and sometimes destroying buildings or attacking people or livestock. If left alone, though, and not trying to get food, elephants mostly avoid people.

How long have you been working with African Elephants?

Four years

Has an African Elephant ever tried to intentionally injure you? If so, why?

Not really. I have been in situations where I needed to get myself away from elephants in the wild but this was because I was in their space. If you get too close to elephants, especially those with babies, they might come after you, but for the most part they will leave you alone if you give them space.

What does an African Elephant do to entertain itself?

Elephants play with one another. This is especially common in young animals, which can be seen wrestling with one another. Most of an elephant’s day, however, is spent finding food and eating.

Do you think African Elephants will ever go extinct?

I hope not. African elephants are wide ranging animals that require a large habitat to survive. As human populations grow this reduces the amount of area for elephants. Nonetheless, people have so far done a good job at establishing national parks and protected areas for elephants. Elephants are doing well in these parks and some, like the area I work, have very high numbers of elephants so I do not think African elephants will go extinct any time soon.

How many times do you have to feed an African Elephant a day?

Elephants in the wild spend about 75% of their time finding and eating food. You asked about feeding elephants, which would seem to be more like in a zoo setting. The feeding schedule used  probably varies by zoo so I cannot really comment on any specifics.

Why do you think African Elephants evolved into what they are today?

The elephant is well suited to its habitat and lifestyle. Their large bodies mean that very few predators can harm them. Their trunks serve as tools to help gather food, drink, communicate, and play, among many other uses. Living in family herds allows mothers and grandmothers to pass along information to their daughters, teaching them about good food resources and watering holes. All parts of an elephant help it survive and thrive in the wild.

If you personally own any African Elephants, can you ride them?

I do not own any elephants, I just research them in their natural habitat. As I said above, few people ride African elephants. I never have, though I rode an Asian elephant once at a zoo when I was young.

What are your likes and dislikes about working with African Elephants?

My favorite part about it is working out in the field. I love being in wild settings surrounded by incredible animals. Seeing animals in their natural habitat drives me to do the work I do. I would not necessarily call it a dislike, but field research is also hard work. You are out in the field, sometimes far away from anyone else, for a extended time, working long hours, sometimes in harsh conditions. These are challenges but they are also part of the entire experience.

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