Monday, December 30, 2013

Year in Review

New Years: a time for celebration, for families old and new, for looking back and looking forward.  It's almost impossible to believe that tomorrow will be the first day of 2014!  And so, as everyone else takes a moment to reflect, we will too.  Here's our 2013 in review, and here's to 2014 being even bigger and better!

               2013 was a prolific year for our group in terms of experiments, publications, and articles.  Our most exciting achievement was the publication of our visual pointing study in April: the culmination of our two-year education program with the East Side Middle School.  Look carefully at the list of coauthors: thirteen of those names belong to our middle school students!  Our work also appeared in The New York Times (Read it here). Just a few days ago National Geographic published a story describing our recent olfaction experiment (Read it here)!
               We also finished a number of experiments this year, with the help of our eight Earthwatch teams.  Some are in the process of being written up, and one will be published in February 2014 in the scientific journal Animal Behaviour.  At this moment we are designing and constructing new testing apparatuses, and we can't wait for field season to start again!

Photo by Elise Gilchrist

               2013 saw the kick-off and development of our Thai education program.  Our team was overjoyed to welcome our new Education leader, Tom Tem, whose experience teaching in Thai schools has been invaluable (Read her blog post here).  In May, two members of our team ran our first education program in Bangkok, which was comprised of 10 engaging lessons about animal behavior and research.  After reviewing the results of this work with professors from Mahidol University, we ran (and are currently running) our program in a local school here in the Golden Triangle.  Throughout our Earthwatch teams, we visited local schools to play elephant and conservation games, and to teach children about elephant biology.  In 2014 we will be expanding our education program in leaps and bounds: we will soon be teaching in 20 schools, and training new instructors in our program!

Dr. Cherry and Gae teaching elephant biology to our local students.
Photo by Elise Gilchrist

               We also ran a number of outreach programs this year.    In July we gave lectures and research demonstrations to a group of American high school students traveling throughout Thailand.  In August we presented research demonstrations and presentations on elephant biology and cognition to a group of staff members from the US House of Representatives.  Perhaps our most exciting outreach program was our Skype in the Classroom event in October, during which we ran a live vet check to classrooms in the US, New Zealand, and Australia!  Of course, from May to October we hosted our eight Earthwatch teams, and these  enthusiastic volunteers helped make all of our experiments during the field season possible.  In addition to all of this, we continue to run outreach and education programs with guests at the Anantara Resort and Spa and at the Four Seasons Tented Camp, spreading our message of scientific inquiry and conservation far and wide!

Our teen Earthwatch team from the LA Zoo.

               Finally, 2013 saw the transition of our founding group of Research Assistants to our newest crew.  I would be remiss to not mention the first Research Assistants of Think Elephants: Dan Brubaker, Rachel Dale, Elsa Loissel, and Lydia Tiller.  These RAs built our group into what it is today, from designing all of our outreach programs to constructing our research site.  After meticulously training the new RAs, they were finally comfortable handing over the reins and moving on to further education and employment.   After arriving in June, the current team of RAs officially took over July.  We can only hope that we have filled the impressive shoes left behind by our predecessors! 

Elsa Loissel, Lydia Tiller, and Dan Brubaker.  Photo by Elise Gilchrist

2013 has been a year of changes and transitions for TEI.  We have grown from our founding as a cognition lab to a conservation group dedicated to research and education.  We have many exciting things to look forward to in 2014: being featured on an episode of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, multiple scientific publications, the expansion of our education program, and new cognition studies.  Thank you to our many fans and followers for your support as we continue to expand!  Without you, we could never achieve our goal of making a positive difference for the wild elephants in Thailand.  When we hear from our supporters on our Facebook page, when you pin a photo on Pinterest, when you sign up for our newsletter, and when you donate to our cause, we know that there are people in the world who are just as passionate and dedicated to protecting elephants as we are. 

We are very proud of our work this past year.  Our thanks also go out to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, and Dr. Cherry and Gae, without whose help we would not be where we are today. 
 We now look forward to 2014 and beyond, to a time when the lives and happiness of elephants, and all wildlife, can be ensured for generations to come.  Consider donating to help us achieve our 2014 goals by clicking here

Here's to 2014!  And don't forget: Think Science, Think Education, Think Elephants!


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