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Researchers use solar power to study wild elephants in Africa news
By Mark Shwartz
19 October 2012

A team of elephant researchers from Stanford University has transformed a remote corner of southern Africa into a high-tech field camp run entirely on sunlight. The seasonal solar-powered research camp gives scientists a rare opportunity to quietly observe, videotape and photograph wild elephants at Mushara waterhole, an isolated oasis in Etosha National Park in Namibia.

"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 lead researcher Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell, an instructor at the Stanford School of Medicine and a collaborating scientist at Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology.

"We get to watch elephant society unfold before us in a very quiet environment no generators, no people, no vehicles," she added.

O'Connell-Rodwell has been studying elephant communication at Mushara for 20 years. She was the first scientist to demonstrate that low-frequency calls produced by elephants generate powerful vibrations in the ground seismic signals that elephants can feel, and even interpret, via their sensitive trunks and feet.

To identify individual elephants, Stanford undergraduate Patrick Freeman took hundreds of high-resolution photographs using a camera run on solar-powered batteries. His trip to Namibia was supported by a travel grant from the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Stanford.

Solar energy was also used to operate a powerful speaker system that delivered low-frequency sounds to elephants gathered at the waterhole. The solar panels provided enough electricity to run a makeshift elephant dung laboratory, operate camera and editing equipment for a documentary video crew, and power two 12-volt refrigerators stocked with fresh meat, dairy products and beer.
Wildlife on parade





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Researchers use solar power to study wild elephants in Africa