Earthquake-Monitoring Tech Could Help Protect Elephants

Scientists have found an interesting new way to eavesdrop on elephants by using earthquake-monitoring tech to listen to the vibrations they create in the ground as they move and vocalize. Not only is this a new way to study elephant behavior from afar, it could also help save them.

As part of a collaboration between Oxford University and Save the Elephants, a team of scientists used small sensors called geophones – which are typically used to measure seismic activity – to measure vibrations in the ground generated by elephants in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve while they displayed different behaviors, from walking to vocalizing through rumbles and trumpeting.

According to their findings, which were just published in the journal Current Biology, while their results were impacted by other noise and the type of terrain they were in, by recording the vibrations that elephants generate through the ground, they could classify particular behaviors over miles, including those low frequency rumbles that we can’t hear.

“We were surprised by the size of the forces acting on the ground that were generated by elephants when they vocalize,” said the study’s lead author, Beth Mortimer of the Universities of Oxford and Bristol in the UK. “We found that the forces generated through elephant calls were comparable to the forces generated by a fast elephant walk. This means that elephant calls can travel significant distances through the ground and, in favorable conditions, further than the distance that calls travel through the air.”

While these vibrations can be detected from long distances and used to study behaviors from far away, there are a few other implications for elephant conservation, from disturbances and poaching.

“Legends and folklore have long spoken about the way elephants can not only communicate across long distances, but also detect other events that shake the ground like far-off thunder. This study marks a new phase in trying to understand the nature of the vibrations elephants produce and how they might be used by elephants themselves. Along the way it is opening our eyes to the challenges posed by human-generated noise in an increasingly crowded landscape,” said Save The Elephants’ CEO, Frank Pope.

Researchers found that they’re heavily impacted by human-caused noise, which could be interfering with their ability to communicate with each other, but they also hope that using seismic monitoring to pinpoint particular elephant behaviors and movements in real-time will create an opportunity to find elephants in distress, which they hope can be used as a new approach to protect them from threats, including poachers.

Tarje Nissen-Meyer, a geophysicist and co-author of the study from Oxford University, now hopes they will be able to build on these findings and build a comprehensive approach to monitoring elephants, and that they will continue this work by building a larger network of seismic sensors, combined with aerial, visual and acoustic tech to see what elephants’ reactions will be when the recordings they made are played back to them.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

35 comments

Carol C
Carol C8 days ago

Thank you for posting this hopeful news. Elephants need all the help we can give - and more.

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Delia F
Delia F11 days ago

Thanks

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Ellie M
Ellie M13 days ago

ty

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Nicole H
Nicole H13 days ago

This does not surprise me at all. With catastrophes like volcano outbursts, tornado's, and many others, a lot of animals "feel" the danger coming, long before we have even a slight idea. Their highly developed hearing, smelling, trembling of the soil, changes in air pressure etc.. should have been examined decades ago. I remember that small farmers looked sometimes in the air, and said : it will rain tomorrow ! When I asked why, he told me : the birds are flying too low and are looking for a shelter place. He also had similar predictions, basing himself on the behavior of his horse or his cows. And now 50/60 years later, scientists are getting interested in this phenomenon. This is an additional reason why we must keep all animals safe on this planet, and study more intensively their behavior. I have no doubt that this will bring us at least as much advantage - at a $ 0,0 price- than all the high tech apparatus we have now, and have not yet proved to be 100 % correct. Let the animals talk ! We have to learn their language !!

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Peggy B
Peggy B14 days ago

Noted

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Christine Stewart

thanks!

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Winn A
Winn A14 days ago

Noted

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R14 days ago

Thank you for posting.

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Terri S
Terri S14 days ago

Interesting!! ANYTHING to protect these beautiful creatures!!!!

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Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride14 days ago

Very good.

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