Stanford conducts elephant research with a solar-powered center

Stanford researchers in southern Africa have established a solar-powered seasonal research center for studying elephants.

The center uses revolutionary solar-powered cameras and audio equipment to quietly and effectively monitor elephants in a Mushara waterhole in Namibia’s Etosha National Park.

“One of the really special aspects of solar energy is that it allows us to be in this incredibly remote area that’s closed to tourists and is off the grid,” said Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, the project’s lead researcher and collaborating scientist at Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology, to the Stanford News Service.

“We get to watch elephant society unfold before us in a very quiet environment,” O’Connell-Rodwell said.

Using solar-powered speakers, the center emits low-frequency sounds to gather elephants at the watering hole. The center’s panels also run an elephant dung laboratory, editing equipment for the video crew, power for two 12-volt refrigerators and the team’s computers. Through these means, O’Connell-Rodwell is able to send regular blog posts to the New York Times about the research at Mushara.

To ensure that other animals in the area like rhinos, giraffes and lions would not impede the research at the campsite, the Mushara research center installed a solar-powered electric fence around the waterhole’s perimeter that emits a harmless shock.

“It will just scare them away,” researcher Tim Rodwell said.

All the high-tech electronics in the center are run off solar panels, some batteries and an inverter. The researchers easily dismantled the entire system and returned home for the season but plan to reconstruct the entire center and continue their ongoing elephant studies.

- Liam Kinney

 

A previous version of this article stated that Stanford researchers in South Africa have established a seasonal research center. In fact, the center is in Namibia, in southern Africa. The Daily regrets the error.

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