First Year Completion of Elephant Behavioral Studies in Kuiburi National Park

Direct observational surveys of wild elephants in Thailand’s Kuiburi National Park have been completed for the first year of data collection!

Written by Brooke Friswold. December 2022 

For this first year of data collection, behavioral observations on elephants were carried out during Kuiburi National Park’s annual two-month closure to tourists. During this time, I was accompanied by national park rangers to enter the park in search of elephants and obtain behavioral and demographic data. Despite losing a week’s worth of data due to a bout of Covid-19 I was able to obtain sufficient data during park closure that concluded in:

  • Total number of elephant detections: 203 
  • Total number of 5-minute scan sampling behavioral observations: 37
  • Total number of 14-minute focal sampling behavioral observations: 72 

Five-minute scan sampling observations consist of recording all behavior noted (even if more than one elephant is present) for the first five minutes upon arrival to a sighting. The location of the group or individual elephant at the start and end of the survey is recorded to determine if the group or individual retreated, stayed, or approached. Following the initial five-minute scan sample, 14-minute focal observations were carried out on randomly selected individuals within the group for up to five individuals per sighting. Having the park empty with no tourists around also encouraged other animals to appear and we were often joined by various species of deer, monitor lizards, and the occasional jackal. 

After one month of data collection the park re-opened to tourists which made for a very different data collection experience! I was now observing the elephants’ response to not only my and the ranger’s presence but to the tourist’s presence as well. I initially noticed a marked decrease in elephant detections immediately following the re-opening and then a gradual return of elephants to viewable areas. The first month of open tourist season saw lower elephant detections and thus lower behavioral observations overall: 

  • Total number of elephant detections: 135 
  • Total number of 5 minute scan sampling behavioral observations: 33
  • Total number of 15 minute focal sampling behavioral observations: 71

Overall, the entire study period resulted in: 

  • 338 total elephant detections. 
  • 70 total 5-minute scan samples of group response to human presence and retreat rates. 
  • 143 total 14-minute focal samples on individuals to get baseline behavior and activity budgets. 

This equals up to 2,352 minutes or 39.2 hours of silently staring at elephants for this data collection season in Kuiburi National Park. 

The first year of data collection saw its fair share of trials and tribulations that included weather issues, illness, road conditions within the park, and my research vehicle getting stuck in various places. 

Despite all of that, the perseverance to collect data won in the end, and the data is on track for year one. I am looking forward to the data collection season starting in the Spring of 2023!

Brooke Friswold is conducting her Ph.D. research with KMUTT University based in Bangkok, Thailand as well as in partnership with Bring the Elephant Home as an Elephant Researcher. Brooke will be entering Kuiburi National Park on a regular basis recording elephant behavior including activity budgets (what the elephants are doing: eating, resting, movement) as well as stress responses to humans. 

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