Mission Statement and Philosophical Approach in Data Collection and Use

The Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AREP), under the umbrella of Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE), is the world’s longest continuous elephant research program. We contribute to and communicate information for enhancing conservation in the Amboseli ecosystem and for protecting regional and global elephant populations.

Our research goals are to contribute to knowledge of large mammal socioecology, and to provide a basis for public understanding and concern for elephants, their welfare, and their ecosystems.

Our philosophy considers elephants as equal stakeholders in the processes and decisions made about ecosystem management and conservation. We primarily work non-invasively through observations, aiming to cause minimal disturbance to or interaction with elephants and their habitats.

All researchers and research partners agree to abide by the mission statement of ATE, and respect ethical practice in research with animals, ecosystems, local partners, and ecosystem residents.

ATE expects all staff and collaborators to be familiar with the Global Code of Conduct for Research which emphasises fairness, equity and resource ownership by the nations and communities where data originate.

Ethical statements about ATE’s research

1. Non-invasive observational research
Our observational research follows the guidelines for the use of animals as published by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (Animal Behaviour Vol 83: 301-309; updated 2012).
ATE’s main study methods are observations on the behaviour of individually recognised elephants, which are made from a vehicle. The elephants have been habituated to tourist and research cars over all or much of their lifespan and seldom respond to the presence of a vehicle. All ATE personnel are trained to constantly observe behaviour when approaching elephants, and if elephants do respond with vigilance, wariness, or threats (assessed by vocalisations, body posture, and gestures), we immediately increase our distance from the animals. Extreme negative responses in Amboseli are wariness or gesture threats such as a “stand tall” posture (see also Elephantvoices) and tend only to occur with adult males in their annual sexually active state of musth who can regard the car as a rival.

The elephants recognise research vehicles, and some will intentionally approach the car, for example to “show off” a newborn calf or to greet or play with the vehicle. These responses suggest that we are not harming the elephants by our presence, but we are of course, altering their behaviour in that they see the research team as part of their social context. This may be inevitable with habituated intelligent animals. Given that elephants use a variety of olfactory, auditory, and visual cues to identify each other and us, we cannot reliably establish a minimum critical distance in order to avoid affecting their behaviour (e.g. as with gorillas or other apes); they can detect and identify individual vehicles and the scent of their occupants from hundreds of metres away. We always approach elephants in a manner that does not cause overt behaviour change and avoid disturbing elephants wherever possible when we finish our observations.

2. Potentially invasive research (collaring, playbacks of vocalisations, presentation of stimuli)
Note: The Kenya Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Training and Research Institute assess, comment on, and approve our detailed proposals for research involving interventions.

(A) Immobilising / Collaring
Elephants wounded /speared by poachers or when crop foraging or in other hazardous activities are treated by KWS vets. ATE provides identification and support in treatments and follow up observational support for vets to determine if further interventions are required. We assist in collaring studies by other ecosystem partners through providing information on the identity and suitability of target individuals, their family background and normal home range.

We have anesthetised and fitted tracking devices (radio/GPS/GSM-satellite) on a small number of elephants [considered in welfare terms as non-trivial handling]. These immobilisations are performed by Kenya Wildlife Service vets with support from other KWS ranger teams and experienced collar fitting partners (Save the Elephants, Savannah Tracking) to ensure smooth deployment. All national protocols on capture and animal handling are followed (see KWS, 2018) We follow procedures to minimise time under anaesthetic and ensuring a good recovery and complete return to social groups. Collars are carefully designed to ensure reasonable fit and a minimal weight (relative to body size) (see New generation collars have a 5-year lifespan and are monitored regularly for collar fit. To date all our collars except one have dropped through wear without requiring immobilisation of the animal for removal. Where we determine that inactive collars deployed by other organisations are compromising welfare, we work with the KWS vet department to ensure those units are safely removed.

Immobilisations do pose risks to the elephants (and human staff) and can leave a residue of distrust among the animals. ATE only collars the absolute minimum number of adult individuals (under the “refine, reduce” rubric of animal welfare interventions), and only when the elephants are in good condition, and for males, not in the sexual state of musth. To date (2023), ATE has not lost an individual during an immobilisation. We share data widely with government and ecosystem partners to ensure each collar reaches maximum impact for elephant conservation in Kenya.
(B) Playbacks or presentation of stimuli in situ
Our team has been engaged in both playbacks of vocalisations and field experiments using the presentation of olfactory or visual stimuli. Potential stressors for the subjects of playbacks, both emotional (prior experience with threats or mortality) and physical (e.g. dangerous habitats), are considered during playback or stimulus presentation design. Food stimuli have not been used.

3. Research with people as participants
ATE follows NIH principles for working with people: to alleviate suffering, to show respect for human beings, to be sensitive to cultural differences, and not to exploit the vulnerable. We aim to take the social, cultural, and economic context of ourselves and our participants into account when carrying out research.

Typical activities consist of community conservation planning and assessment meetings with, for example, Kajiado County officials, other ecosystem participants, group ranch leaders and group ranch members during stakeholder meetings. For activities involving questionnaires, a participant information sheet on the project aims and study purpose, what participation involves, how information will be used, plus a consent form, information about data storage, information on participant withdrawal options and contact details for the lead investigator are provided to participants in either Maa or Swahili, and orally upon request. Ultimately, it should not be possible to identify any participants based upon information provided in questionnaires, so anonymity is maintained; responses are stored as anonymised / coded information only. If interviewees agree to be quoted, they will have the right to review those quotations for accuracy. Recording of participants, in addition to questionnaire responses, only occurs with full prior informed consent in relation to specific defined projects and detailed project aims.

4. Research using remote capture (camera traps, photos)
Research that involves camera trapping ensures that cameras are attached without damage to substrates using non-invasive nylon straps. Local community and residents are notified prior to camera trap placement to ensure awareness and potential cooperation in the maintenance of cameras, as well as the aims for the acquisition of data on elephant behaviour in community areas. Cameras are regularly monitored for image downloads. If any people are inadvertently captured by remote devices, images are immediately deleted during review. People elsewhere are not photographed during research activities unless they agree to having their picture taken and are informed of any potential uses. Images of elephants and of people who have given permission are securely stored.

General data acquisition

Where our research or project uses personal information (e.g. for payment of consolation when livestock owners have suffered losses due to elephants; questionnaire information from participants, scholarship donations), we maintain confidentiality so that no person can be recognised in the absence of their full prior informed consent.

Dissemination policies:
• ATE does not use copyrighted material in any research other than that where copyright is owned by ATE.
• Publication, authorship, and data use are negotiated with collaborators and staff. ATE retains data ownership in all collaborations.
• For work with human participants, feedback takes the form of follow-up community and stakeholder meetings where any outcomes can be discussed, and further actions planned.
• Elephant analyses are disseminated via publications (both popular and peer-reviewed), and meeting presentations to stakeholders and peers.

Dissemination policies

• ATE does not use copyrighted material in any research other than that where copyright is owned by ATE.
• Publication, authorship, and data use are negotiated with collaborators and staff. ATE retains data ownership in all collaborations.
• For work with human participants, feedback takes the form of follow-up community and stakeholder meetings where any outcomes can be discussed, and further actions planned.
• Elephant analyses are disseminated via publications (both popular and peer-reviewed), and meeting presentations to stakeholders and peers.

Data storage policies

• Data storage for hard copies of questionnaires and responses is maintained in secure locked filing cabinets in ATE’s Nairobi office. Data retention duration is planned for 10 years, following best practice general data management policies.
• All digital data are securely stored on a private, password protected devices, with relevant and regular back-up to a secure server. The research process for long term monitoring activities is documented through metadata files that outline the format and structure of data, and statistical analyses may be stored as scripts. Files are organized and named according to standard protocols and stored with index files.
• For pictures and videos, data are stored on secure project laptops accessible only with passwords. Long term elephant data on individuals and ecosystems are stored in a password protected Access database on a secure laptop. Data retention policy is indefinite on elephant data.

Historical Ethical review board approvals:
University of Duke Institutional Review Board (with KWS/ CITES permits for sample export: 1999-2002)
University of Sussex Ethical Review Committee (2000-2011)
University of St Andrews Animal Welfare and Ethics Review Body (2006-2011)
University of Stirling Animal Welfare and Ethics Review Board for elephant field research AWERB/1718/018/ New Non ASPA (2006-2019)
University of Stirling General Ethical Panel (for human participation in co-production of livestock improvements) GUEP 703 (2019)

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