Learn all about studying elephant personalities in this Q&A with Shifra Goldenberg, a research associate with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Conservation Ecology Center.
How did the idea to study elephant personalities come about?
One characteristic that is really apparent with elephants—and with many other species—is that they can exude a wide variety of personalities. They can be bold or shy, laid-back or short-tempered, curious or afraid, and the list goes on. Behavior is the first line of defense that wildlife use when they face a human threat, so understanding how individuals respond to new situations is quite important when considering how to approach conservation issues. These different personalities can have real-word consequences for wildlife.
As conservation challenges become more complex, we need creative solutions for people who live in areas where human-elephant conflict may occur. Across Asia, elephant habitat overlaps in areas where there is a dense human population and agriculture. Where there are farms, there is food—and raiding crops can spell big trouble for elephants and farmers alike. By knowing which elephants are more likely to be bold and take risks, we can be more targeted in our conservation planning and actions.
We are studying the behavior of elephants who currently work in a logging camp but are potential candidates for future release into the wild. If we can differentiate which animals are more likely to crop raid than others using behavioral screening and overlay that with what we learn about their movements from GPS tracking collars, then that information would really be useful for management decisions.