Thursday, September 20, 2012


This week, the Think Elephants research team in the Golden Triangle, Thailand, are joined by their 5th group of Earthwatch volunteers. 

Earthwatch is an organization whose mission is to ‘engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education in order to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment’. Pleasingly, since this May,  5 groups of volunteers have come out to assist us with our research and important educational work. Volunteers help us conduct our behavioral experiments which are aimed at fostering a better understanding of how elephants see their physical and social worlds. The volunteers also help us in our community outreach and international education initiatives which are aimed at bringing elephants—both physically and virtually—to others in Thailand and around the world.

Currently, with this help from our volunteers, we are investigating how elephants navigate their world, conducting different tasks to test the elephants’ sense modalities. We are also developing a behavior ethogram with which the Earthwatchers have been providing assistance. It’s always a great experience to watch the elephants in the electric fence area exhibiting a diverse range of behavior and making an array of vocalizations, all of which are important and are recorded by the volunteers.

      Here, Earthwatchers are observing three of our young elephants for our behavior ethogram

One of the aims of TEI is to promote English language learning, using elephants as the central focus. Since Team 3 of Earthwatch, we have been visiting a local school called Wang Lao and teaching the kids English. The kids love the lessons, and the Earthwatchers enjoy them even more! The kids are really gaining a lot and have come a long way since the first lesson we taught. Each group has been focusing on elephant and human anatomy and has been trying to find novel ways of teaching these topics, one of these being the ‘elephant hokey pokey’! The kids have also learnt, and now frequently sing, the `heads shoulders knees and toes song’.
TEI want to educate kids and get them excited and passionate about conservation and research. We want to inspire the general public and the next generation of government officials and conservationists. Without doubt, these English lessons for the local kids, with which the volunteers lend their assistance, are really crucial.

Our volunteers come from all over the world and from a variety of backgrounds. Their contributions so far have been invaluable. For example, we have had teachers with innovative ideas for our education curriculum, and have been great at engaging the kids in a variety of ways, and engineers who have provided inspirational ideas for our experiment designs. We even used an idea from one volunteer and developed it into an experiment for the elephants and, of course, all our volunteers are elephant enthusiasts who have worked really hard and made a significant contribution to the team. Each team so far as been very different from each other and each has made its own distinctive contribution to our projects.

The awful reality is that elephants are endangered. The more we understand their behavior, the more we can do to protect them in the wild. If you want to make a difference by helping us learn more about elephants, teaching the next generation and spreading the message of elephant science and conservation, why not come and volunteer with us! To learn more about our Earthwatch project, please visit the following website.

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