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By: The Elephant Sanctuary

Leading Elephant Scientists Collaborate with The Sanctuary on Special Programs

The Sanctuary welcomed Dr. Caitlin O’Connell, one of the world’s preeminent scientists on African elephant communication and social dynamics, in January. Dr. O'Connell's visit was the first of several planned visits from elephant experts this year, as a part of The Sanctuary's ongoing collaborations with researchers, activists, and educators around the world working to expand our knowledge of elephants and improve their lives.

 Dr. Caitlin O’Connell at The Sanctuary with elephant Care Staff

In February, Sanctuary staff participated in a Skype-discussion with renowned elephant scientist, Joyce Poole, about elephants’ play behaviors and adaptations in the wild. This was part of a special joint project with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). The project is part of a new interdisciplinary course offering at SAIC entitled Design for Nonhuman Kinds, which was kicked off with 14 SAIC students traveling to Hohenwald for two days of service at The Sanctuary. The class challenges students to design and build cognitive tools for elephants that support animal wellness, encourage natural behaviors, stimulate curiosity, initiate play, and actively engage them in problem-solving. Students worked alongside elephant Care Staff to create enrichment devices for the elephants—hay feeders made from tires and fire hoses—with hopes to inspire their own designs back in the classroom. At the end of the course, SAIC will deliver full-scale functional enrichment devices they created to The Sanctuary for the elephants to utilize in their habitats.

SAIC students create enrichment devices for the elephants at The Sanctuary


Expanding The Sanctuary’s international outreach, The Sanctuary supports both Joyce Poole and Dr. Caitlin O’Connell’s ongoing research on elephant communication and social structure. 

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