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GVI participants behaving ethically by keeping their distance from the elephants when observing their behaviours

Data collection is an important part of what we do here, as our project has a better chance of being successful by understanding how the animals behave and if their needs are being met, i.e. displaying normal behaviours.

The type of research we do is called observational research. It is a type of non-experimental research in which the ongoing behaviours of a particular individual or group is studied.  By studying these ongoing behaviours we can begin to understand what an individual or group is doing and why they are doing it. These observations can provide valuable information on social dynamics, conservation, and animal welfare. 

The majority of elephant behavioural research is carried out on African elephants, largely due to their preferred habitat which makes them easier to view! Most of the data collected on Asian elephants is collected on captive populations. By us having semi wild Asian elephants, we can add to the minimal data that is out there which is vital for creating realistic conservation plans for both wild and captive elephants. It also raises the profile of GVI Chiang Mai model of ethical elephant tourism. 

We collect data on each elephant once every two weeks. We collect three different types of data: Activity Budget, Welfare and Health checks, and Behaviour. 

Activity Budget: How do the elephants spend their time? We focus on one elephant and view them over a 90 minute period. We stop every 2 minutes and note what is going on around the elephant and what the elephant is doing. We use a guide called an Ethogram to fill in our data sheets. An Ethogram is a catalogue of behaviours with matching codes which we use to fill in data sheets. What we can learn from this type of data collection is: how much time a particular elephant is spending displaying a certain type of behaviour, are rescued elephants progressively spending more time on natural behaviours, what type of food they are eating, and are they spending time close to their mahouts or other elephants etc.

Welfare and Health check: This data collection gives us a chance to get up close to the elephants to perform an overall health check of them. This is done by assessing the overall body condition of the elephant whilst also looking for any behavioural indicators that may be suggestive of welfare standards. It allows us to see how elephants that have moved to the forest from camps are improving over time, and how their health and body condition changes. 

Behavioural data: We collect three different types of behavioural data-1) Vocalizations and Stereotypies, 2) Interactive Behaviours: interactions and encounters with other elephants, 3) Independent Behaviours: such as exploratory behaviours. Unlike the activity budgets, behavioural data uses a combination of focal animal and focal behaviour sampling. By studying how elephants behave both alone and together, we can hopefully begin to better understand their complex social dynamics and produce more effective conservation strategies. 

What do we do with the data?

Initially the collected data is entered into our data base, this can then be analyzed for any specific trends or significant differences that may be of scientific interest. Once the data has been analyzed the aim is to publish the data and associated reports in scientific papers. It will also provide feedback to our local, national, and international partners.