This photo is of a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit – photographed in southern Texas. “What big ears you have!” - “All the better to hear you with.” So goes the dialogue in a popular children’s story. However, ears do more than listen. They are also a mechanism to dissipate heat in warm climates. ALLEN’S RULE states: Animals that live close to the equator, have longer appendages & a smaller body mass (greater percent surface area) to get rid of excess heat – ones closer to the poles, have shorter appendages and a larger body mass (less percent surface area) in order to conserve heat.
Tag Archives: science
I received another update email from John Blashford-Snell at the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) basecamp last week. It contained some very exciting news from a Cardiff University scientist who had just returned from Bardia. He had spent a month out there making a documentary for the Discovery Channel.
E. maximus genome project
Although his own research focuses on the conservation of the Baird’s tapir in Honduras, he was particularly taken by Bardia’s giant elephants. As a result he is considering the supervision of a Master student to carry our the analysis that would support a genomic project. By using modern DNA techniques to take a gene-by-gene look at the elephant population, it would be possible to answer almost any question we like about the wild elephants’ ancestry. He has therefore asked our 2012 expedition team to collect some dung samples with which he can carry out an initial survey.
Possible lead on burial site of Raja Gaj
He also included a throwaway remark that has raised many eyebrows among members of the SES who have long believed that the body of Raja Gaj, the original ‘giant elephant’ and star of John’s book ‘Mammoth Hunt‘, must have been washed away by the river when he died.
However, according to this latest email;
“If you speak with Peter Byrne or any of the staff at Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge, they may be able to show you to Raja Gaj’s burial site, which I was shown while I was there.”
This news is highly significant. Especially if a project to trace the genetics of the elephant population does eventually find funding and support.
When I spoke to John by telephone following receipt of this email, he sounded as surprised as I was at this news, which we shall certainly follow up this April.
Tigers, rhinos and pythons also doing well
We were also provided with an update on some other local residents:
“The tiger population is doing well, and at least two females have cubs. I also encountered three different rhinos with babies, which i was delighted about. We came across several very large pythons during our stay too, the largest of which I decided to measure after Peter told me he had never seen such a huge specimen, and found her to be 4.45m long with a 67cm girth.”
During our pending expedition to Bardia, Nepal we aim to find and record the wild elephant population.
How tall is your pachyderm?
To record elephant height in the wild, each elephant must first be photographed in the field using a digital video-camera with a fixed focus distance. Good visibility is crucial and only those photographs with elephants on completely open ground are useful. Using a laser-based optical range-finder, the distance from the camera to the elephant is recorded at the same moment.
Using the same camera used to take the elephant image, a reference photo is taken of a measuring stick at the distance the elephant was recorded.
By comparing the reference image with the elephant digital image, each elephant shoulder height can then be measured in pixels as the height from the top of the shoulder blade to the ground.
In 1992 a Scientific Exploration Society (SES) expedition discovered two of the previously legendary giant elephants of West Nepal living in the Bardia Park. Estimated at 11 feet 3 inches at his shoulder, the largest animal was named Raja Gaj or King Elephant.
“Shown to be the largest known Asian elephant Raja Gaj was a prize to be protected and thus the Nepalese Wildlife Department and the Army guarded Bardia. This in turn led to the conservation of both the Bengal Tiger and the One Horned Indian Rhino in the Park.” From the website of Colonel John-Blashford Snell.
Yesterday afternoon, I spent an interesting few hours behind the stacks at the Natural History Museum.
I was meeting Prof Adrian Lister. And in fact, while we had to walk through the stacks to get there, we ended up in a rather beautiful corner office with windows curving around a large corner of the building with an aspect looking out across the main entrance plaza. I was there to collect some laser range finders, learn about how to measure elephants in the field, and gather as much background I could to support the scientific, data gathering exercise connected with my upcoming expedition to Nepal.
Prof Lister’s office looked so much like my father’s used to I immediately reverted to a fascinated 13-year-old. While my dad’s desks, drawers and shelves had been scattered with lumps of rock and mineral, this Prof’s surfaces were covered in the most stunning fossil’s I have seen in a long time – baring in mind that I still haven’t had time to actually walk round the public galleries of the museum which have the best ones on display of course. And, of course, he had various little elephant photos, models and do-dahs everywhere. Very appealing!
Once I finally managed to sort myself back towards some semblance of adulthood, we settled down over cups of tea and I had the joy of listening to a passionate, well versed man speaking about a subject in which he was expert. As a professor’s daughter, moments like these are always highly cherished. To me, listening to science being communicated with real verve is a homely experience.
Measuring the halls
Having discussed the fine art of gathering useful data and recording elephant populations (and, believe me, there is an art to it – more of which I will share in another blog) I was provided with three laser range finders. We then went into the long stacks so I could be shown how to use them.
I will need to pass this information on to my fellow travellers at this weekend’s briefing day.
What a great meeting! Fascinating.
One for the journal.