LEARNING FROM AND ABOUT ELEPHANTS

The elephant is the national animal of Laos and has great religious significance in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The three-headed elephant (signifying the Hindu trilogy of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesha) adorned the Laotian flag until 1975. Now these magnificent beasts are endangered because of excessive logging and the subsequent effect this has had on their watering holes.

 

At the Elephant Conservation Center in Laos, we follow the giant animals into the forest,
learning from the experts at the Center how these animals find water through what they eat, as well as why they need copious amounts of water to survive.

 

Learn about the traveling project la Caravane des Eléphants (2002 and 2015; see video above) to educate locals about the need for elephant conservation to preserve the ecology of the area.


During the pre-departure academic sessions, we discuss how:

 

  • Elephants are natural water-diviners. Although it isn’t known exactly how they can detect underground sources of water, in times of drought elephant dig wells and provide a life-saving source of water for themselves and other animals.
     

  • Researchers at the universities of Utah and Chicago have recently discovered that elephants have evolved a superior DNA repair mechanism to get rid of cells that have cancer-causing mutations. This could help scientists develop novel drugs to treat cancer or even prevent it from developing.
     

  • Understanding the mechanics of how the elephant ear detects sounds in the range of 20Hz could inform new hearing-aid designs. Research being conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine has shown the potential for elephant-inspired vibrational hearing aids.
     

  • Not only do elephants have a similar lifespan to humans; they also experience cardiovascular problems and age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis. Elephants are the only animals that have the “extended knee" posture that humans have, as well as a similar heel-to-toe pattern of walking.
     

  • Elephants have been planting trees for thousands of years, depositing partially digested seeds and rich manure every time they produce dung. The seeds of many species must pass through the gut of an elephant in order to germinate. Without elephants, they would disappear.