I don’t quite know how to start this one. I am about to start my last week as a research assistant for Think Elephants International. I’m not completely leaving TEI, I’ll still be working on publishing our research and generally being a big fan and spreading the word. But from next week I will be based in Vienna where my new venture will be. I am moving to start a PhD in social behavior in dogs and wolves (canids) and working for TEI has certainly helped me to get there. And for that I can’t thank Josh Plotnik enough for this opportunity.
Elephants have a very special place in my heart. As I mentioned in my first blog, I have loved elephants since I was a child and it has been amazing to have worked so closely with both African and Asian elephants. I have learned a great deal not only about their behavior and intelligence but also, through other aims of TEI, about how best to conserve them in the wild and promote conservation of this important animal.
On a more cognitive note, it may seem that canids and elephants are very different but in terms of studying the evolution of behavior, there are important similarities. Both are very distantly related to us. So the reason we study them is to look into the potential for convergent cognitive evolution, where two unrelated species evolve the same behavioral trait. When this occurs it isn’t due to genetics and so it must be due to similarities in either the physical or social environment. Secondly, both are very social animals. Wolves and female elephants live in close family units whereas dogs live in an inerspecies social group involving dogs and people. The importance of their social world means that both animals may have a good understanding of their social relationships. My interests in social intelligence and convergence are what have taken me from elephants to canids.
No offence to the humans I work with but this experience would not have been what it was without my new elephant friends. They all have extremely distinct personalities and it has been a pleasure to get to know them all. I will miss you all hugely but I will be taking what I have learned here from everyone (including the elephants!) and using it in many of my future adventures. Thank you everyone and good luck to you all. Sawasdee ka.