Friday, June 3, 2011

Elephant Feeding Behaviour

Observing our elephant herd in the forest is a central part of the project. Three times a week volunteers observe the foraging behaviour of the elephants: what parts of the plant they eat and the local names of the plants. Our elephant herd treats the forest like a salad buffet and it is fun to observe all the different plants they eat. Over the course of the last two weeks volunteers have observed some especially interesting behaviour. Two weeks ago the powerful Thong Dee pushed over a large tree, called ‘Ta Bloh Blay’ in Karen, ate a little bit of the roots, and then wandered away. About a week later the entire herd, including some additional unknown elephants, surrounded the tree and spent 30 minutes stripping bark from the tree. The females use their tushes, which are small tusks, to strip the bark away. Then again today our herd went back to the exact same tree and spent 45 minutes stripping bark and eating branches. Even little Song Kran tried to rip bark off the tree - although he only managed a few small strips. It is almost like the elephants ate some of the tree and saved the rest for later. We hope to observe more interesting foraging behaviour like this in the future!

We are trying to improve our feeding study with photos and samples of what the elephants are eating. The long term goal is to better understand the varied diet of elephants in the forest and therefore improve the diets of elephants that are not fortunate enough to live in the forest.