Trunks & Tusks: A Field Update from Nature Conservation Foundation India

As the world moves ever closer to life post-coronavirus, we are beginning to see just how the pandemic has impacted life across the globe. Elephant Family has been in close contact with all of its conservation project teams, and we have been delighted to receive these latest updates from the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Sanjay Gubbi and his team in India where they have been working to understand elephant behaviour in a human-dominated landscape.

Find out more about this project here.

The team use camera-traps for their research work, to estimate populations, distribution ranges, and to identify different kinds of wildlife found in an area using photographs. Camera traps are battery-operated, motion-triggered cameras that take pictures of any animal that triggers the infrared beam. It is a non-invasive method and doesn’t require us to be present at the sites, ensuring that our interference is minimal. We tether the camera traps at a fixed height to trees and poles based on scientific design and then analyse the photos received, to obtain various metrics.

Here is what these camera traps have captured in recent weeks:

Elephant calves, depending upon if they’re male or female stay with their mothers for the first 8-10 years of their lives (females stay longer) as they need to feed on their mother’s milk. This little one, approximately 6-8-month-olds is still developing his senses of smell, sight, and hearing. But as is common with other calves of his age, he is full of curiosity and can be seen interacting with things present on the ground that he can touch and feel, completely oblivious to the camera-trap. Meanwhile, the protective and alert mother is smelling the camera trap warily.

Young or sub-adult male elephants often indulge in mock-fights where they head-butt and lock tusks to establish rank. This also gives them practice for later in life when they may need to establish dominance to win mates. These young tuskers in the photograph are seen indulging in a bout of head-butting, as they practice for future adulthood.

How has COVID-19 impacted NCF’s work?

India went through a major lockdown and almost everything (except essentials) was shut for nearly two months. Due to the lockdown and safety concerns of all the team members some of NCF had to work from home and some had to wait for the lockdown to end to restart work. They have recently restarted work after discussions with communities by following governmental guidelines.