The Elephant Listening Project was founded in 1999 to carry out long-term research on elephant communication , with a focus on forest elephants, following zoologist Katy Payne's research into elephant use of infrasound. Developing acoustic monitoring technologies in the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at Cornell University, the ELP has collected more than one million hours of audio from multiple forest locations in Central Africa, many of them monitored continuously for long periods, in order to inform elephant conservation . Some of these acoustic data have been made available as an open dataset.

Elephants and Bioacoustics


Map showing spatial patterns of elephant rumbles and gunshots in a protected area in Cameroon. Image source: Elephant Listening Project [map]. Retrieved 29 June 2022, from https://elephantlisteningproject.org/elephants-guns/

Bioacoustical listening practices are used to protect elephants in Africa by following their networks of infrasonic communication (Payne 1998; Wrege et al. 2017). Bioacoustical deterrents are used to protect elephant populations in Africa by scaring them away from agricultural areas (King et al. 2011, 2017). The acoustical life of the endangered forest elephant is not a simple one.

Through its celebrated Elephant Listening Project (ELP) researchers at Cornell University have been using acoustics to manage this species across Central Africa for over three decades. The shifts and permutations of the ELP are revealing of some of the complex developments in acoustics and conservation more generally (as several of us are exploring in an in-process paper). Lately, the ability to remotely detect gunshots in the Congo Basin has allowed researchers with the ELP to inform local state authorities when and where poaching is happening, leading to new recommendations on which areas to patrol. Will these schemes scale up into effective forms of conservation in action? Or is this another case where too much conservation tech is generating logistical challenges too granulated for distant analysts to properly parse?

Find out more in our radio interview with Daniela Hedwig.

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