How is elephant poo helping conservationists?

Last updated at 12:18
elephant-poo-collectionThe Zoological Society of London
Poo is collected and put in special sample tubes

The Zoological Society of London, ZSL, at Whipsnade Zoo has been using poo in its conservation efforts.

Not just any old poo, but big, stinking, elephant poo!

The zookeepers over at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo have been collecting fresh samples of elephant dung to help conservationists in Asia and Africa.

They are hoping to get a better understanding of wild elephant movements and population sizes.

keeper-collecting-poo-sampleThe Zoological Society of London
Collecting the poo is a tough job but really important
Why poo?

The elephant keepers over at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo started collecting dung samples after a team of ZSL researcher's working with wild elephants in Asia and Africa noticed a gap in research and knowledge in the scientific community.

In the wild researchers and conservationists often collect dung samples, but they can never be certain how fresh that poo is.

They use the DNA found in the dung to monitor which elephants should be moved, which ones are breeding with each other and which herd needs to be monitored more.

However, there is no clear guidance on how long the poo can be kept and what the best method of keeping it fresh is.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's Elephant Team Leader, Stefan Groeneveld said: "I'm sure running around after elephants to collect and record their dung throughout the day doesn't sound like everyone's idea of fun, but we are delighted to be able to use the resources we have to give our colleagues across Asia and Africa the information they need to prevent elephant extinction."

So how do they do it?

The zoo keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo collect small amounts of poo from the Asian elephant herd at zoo.

The poo varies in freshness, from less than 24 hours old, to 48 hours old or more.

The samples are placed in clearly labelled tubes and sealed to make sure the poo doesn't get mixed up!

specimin-pots-of-pooThe Zoological Society of London
These are the special pots the poo is collected in

The samples are then stored in a few different ways .

They are stored for different lengths of time before being studied in the lab,

The keepers and conservationists collect their findings and share them with other conservationists around the world.

With so much information at our fingertips, we hope that our contribution to the study of elephant faecal (poo)DNA analysis will be invaluable for global conservation efforts."

Stefan Groeneveld , ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's Elephant Team Leader
Where will the studies be helpful?
elephantsThe Zoological Society of London
This is the Asian Elephant heard at ZSL Whipsnade zoo, if you look closely you can see baby Elizabeth. Baby elephants are called calves

The practice of using elephant dung to help understand them better is used across all three species of elephant living in the wild.

These studies are particularly helpful in understanding the needs of elephants living in dense forests.

Currently ZSL conservationists are working to save elephants in Thailand, Nepal, India and Cameroon.

They are under threat from poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict, habitat breakdown and disease.

Its hoped these studies will help the efforts to protect elephants around the world.

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