Elephants are under siege. In the Congo and Central African Republic in particular, new logging roads have carved up forests that were once remote animal sanctuaries — disrupting the elephant’s habitat, and providing much easier access for poachers.
In Garamba National Park in Congo, 256 elephants were killed in the last three years alone; thirteen park rangers were also shot dead. Many of the poachers are not opportunistic killers, but highly militarized groups who use ivory sales to support armed conflict.
The Elephant Listening Project (ELP) is on a mission to fight poaching and protect elephants. It uses discrete recording units high up in the trees to record elephant vocalizations. The recordings provide crucial data on elephant numbers and behaviour in different forested areas and at different times, helping conservationists to monitor elephant population and movements, as well as assess the impact of oil exploration and logging.
Crucially, the recorders not only capture elephant sounds, but also gunshots, allowing researchers to identify when and where poachers are active. Next, the team wants to develop a real-time system which would send an automatic alert to anti-poaching teams as soon as a gunshot was recorded, signaling where and when the gun had been fired.
It’s an immense – and expensive – challenge with poor cell phone reception, power shortages, and dense rainforest in the Congo, but the team is committed to using technology smartly to help protect the elephants and the environment they live in.