Endangered and beloved Sumatran elephant Yongki killed in apparent ivory poaching

Yongki the Sumatran elephant was found dead in his enclosure. Photo: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

There may be as few as 2400 Sumatran elephants still alive on the planet. One of their tame brethren, who worked with humans to protect wild ones from being killed, was killed on Friday--apparently for his tusks. Indonesian authorities today described the incident as a “murder and a theft,” and called for a criminal investigation. Read the rest

Ivory smuggling route tracked via fake tusks with GPS


National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy commissioned two fake elephant tusks embedded with GPS, then planted them to track ivory smuggling routes from the Central African Republic into Sudan. Read the rest

Elephant remembers electric fence

Filmed at Kruger National Park in South Africa. [Video Link] Read the rest

Elephants get PTSD, too: orphans lack social knowledge they need to survive in the wild

Photograph via National Geographic, by Graeme Shannon

A recent study investigated the impact of culling and relocation on elephant decision-making and cognition decades later. African elephants are highly intelligent and social creatures, and rely on their sophisticated communication skills to survive in the wild. How does the trauma of being separated from "loved ones" and their native terrain change how orphaned elephants think, and cope?

From a recent National Geographic article by Christy Ullrich Barcus: Read the rest

HOWTO survive an elephant charge

And if you don't know, now you know. Read the rest

Killer elephant sought

Gopal Sharma: "Soldiers in Nepal are on the hunt for a wild elephant after it strayed into villages in the southern part of the Himalayan nation and killed four people in three months, officials said on Monday." [Telegraph] Read the rest

Sauropods might have had trunks, but probably didn't

Imagine an apatosaurus with a long, elephant-like snout. Plenty of people have. That's because the nostril placement on sauropod dinosaurs is, in some ways, remarkably similar to that of trunked animals that live today. In both cases, the nostrils are large, and they're located up around what we'd call the forehead, kind of smack between the eyes.

On the one hand, this is one of those things that it's really hard to ever know for certain. We don't have preserved soft tissue, so when we make models of what dinosaurs might have looked like we're really going on clues from the bones and comparisons to living animals with similar bone structure. Because of that, it is somewhat reasonable to suggest that hey, maybe, sauropods really did look like grumpy diplodocus in the image above. It's fun to speculate.

But not all speculations are created equal. In a fascinating post at the Tetrapod Zoology blog, Darren Naish explains why a superficial similarity to trunked animals isn't enough to counteract the much-more prevalent evidence against sauropod trunks. One of the more interesting lines of evidence he points out is the fact that dinosaurs apparently lacked the facial which form the trunk in living animals. We know this partly because muscles leave their signature on bone, and Naish says there's no evidence sauropods had the right facial muscles. It's further bolstered by the fact that the animals most closely related to sauropods don't have those facial muscles, either.

Naish's piece reminds me of the last time we talked about sauropod biology here. Read the rest

Elephant plays harmonica

AP: "An elephant named Shanthi at the Smithsonian's National Zoo is developing her musical talents by playing a harmonica with her trunk." Read the rest

Circusleaks: documents show cruelty to elephants at Ringling Bros.

Mother Jones has published the results of its yearlong investigation that rips the big top off how Ringling Bros. circus treats its elephants. "The Cruelest Show on Earth." Read the rest