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Dr. Caitlin O’Connell is a faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine and a world-renowned expert on elephants.  Her twenty years of research has resulted in numerous scientific publications and five popular books, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense. The Elephant Scientist won five awards, including both the Sibert and Horn Book Honors. An Elephant’s Life and A Baby Elephant In The Wild depict the complex social lives of elephants through images. The Elephant Don comes out next spring along with her debut novel, Ivory Ghosts. ELEPHANT KING, a documentary about her research, won the CINE Best Environment & Nature Award.

Caitlin's research into seismic transmission and detection of elephant vocalizations has been funded in part by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.

For more information, visit her nonprofit organization Utopia Scientific website (utopiascientific.org) and her author site at caitlineoconnell.com. She and her husband, Tim Rodwell, write the tumblr blog elephantskinny.tumblr.com. Also follow her on twitter: Mushara

Author photo credit: Max Salomon

Elephant Country Blog 5: Behind the Scenes at Mushara

Every field season has its idiosyncrasies and challenges. This year, nature kept Tim particularly busy maintaining technology in order to keep the camp safe and operational, starting with a humane catch-and-release program for the inordinate number of brazen mice that inhabited our camp and got under foot after such good rains brought much grass seed—and abundance of food. Not only can mice be a nuisance by chewing the corners of each box of long-life milk or juice that they can, they also attract a problematic pursuer—the snake.

Elephant Country Blog 4: The Unseated Ozzie

After ten years of terrorizing Mushara’s male elephant population, nature has made a course correction with a certain young bull, Ozzie. Finally, Ozzie miscalculated and ended up in the same place at the same time as the magnificent, dominant Smokey—a moment I’d been waiting for for a long, long time.

Matriarchs of Mushara

The activity for the night watch team hasn’t slowed as the heavy wind in the past few days has kept the elephants at bay until sunset. Two nights ago, the parade of families started with the Princesses arriving from the south at dusk, followed by the Pharaohs from the west, the Athletes (with Smokey escorting)…

Baby elephants romp with siblings and cousins at Namibia waterhole

Mushara Elephant Update: Everyone waits for the call—a spotting of an elephant family group in the distance for a late afternoon session in the bunker for more i.d. photos. I knew we were probably all thinking the same thing. Could we be so lucky? Much of our family group research has had to take place during night watch from 6 through 10 p.m.

Mushara Elephant Project Celebrates 25 Years With New Season in Namibia

This season marks the 25th year of the Mushara Elephant Project, but the first few days were a little too chaotic to absorb the magnitude of this momentous occasion. We arrived at Mushara the first night of the waxing moon with much to set up before nightfall. A few bulls came and went as we got ourselves situated, allowing ourselves a break at sunset to soak in the beauty of this remote oasis.

Notes From Elephant Country, Part II: Ozzie’s Back!

Mushara Elephant Project, Etosha National Park, Namibia — Ozzie showed up Friday night after three large family groups had come and gone. I recognized the metallic rattling noise he makes with his trunk and turned on the night vision to see what he was up to. There he was, curling his trunk across his face, dribbling urine like…

Notes from Elephant Country (Mushara Elephant Project)

There’s a baby boom in Elephant Country. And while some happily greet the new additions to the family with a pig pile (photograph above) and a wallow (below), others appear to have trouble making room and are resistant to sharing mom’s side (below). Sometimes mom has to intervene with a poke of the tusk (below).…

The Passing of an Elephant Don

It’s been four years now since I’ve seen Greg, the don of the boys’ club and most the dominant elephant bull at Mushara waterhole in the northeast corner of Etosha National Park, Namibia. This morning, I decided that I needed to come to terms with how long it’s been and what that might mean, so I went out to retrace his steps to the waterhole from the northeast elephant path the last time I’d seen him.

Ozzie the Unstoppable Elephant

No one informed Ozzie that he’s too young to go into musth. Somehow the dynamics of Mushara’s male elephant society over the past few years have allowed this young bull’s testosterone spikes to slip through the cracks unsuppressed, resulting in an unholy terror. Ozzie in musth has been unstoppable.

Smokey Still Smokin’ In Elephant Country

The wind is howling today in elephant country. Half way through the season and we’ve been lucky to have had only two such days. The wind is making it difficult to concentrate on data management, but after such an active day yesterday, it’s a necessity. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together is best done…

Elephant Conservation Outside the Box

First Installment   In December, 1991, my boyfriend and I decided to spend a year traveling in Africa in between graduate degrees. But after being seduced by Africa, we never left. And from there, boyfriend became husband, and elephants the subject of my scientific career. While working for the Namibian government in the Caprivi region…

Family Strife

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia – Sunset began with a visit from Paula and Nadia and their fraction of the Athlete family. We saw them break the clearing from the southwest, and I rushed to get two of my volunteers out on their bunker observation rotation, but we were too late. They were coming in fast.

Ozzie on Fire Again

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia — Ozzie was on fire again Thursday, parting a sea of 14 bulls with his parade of musthy pomp until he reached his target—Mike. Mike is one of the largest bulls in our study population, and also one of the least aggressive. Why was he the focus of the young…

The Night Belonged to Ozzie

The world’s largest land creature stood on me last night—two giant feet over my head, putting me at a disturbing eye-level vantage with a dripping elephant phallus in the dark. It has occurred to me over the course of my research that an untimely end could happen to anyone studying these larger-than-life animals, but it’s not something I ever thought I’d live to tell about.

Time Passes at an Elephant’s Pace

Time passes at an elephant’s pace here at Mushara waterhole in the northeast corner of Etosha National Park, Namibia. The mornings are slow to materialize, a few solitary bulls drifting in like a lazy late morning gust from the northeast and then later from the southwest, each gliding through on non-overlapping paths. By early afternoon…