Episode 32 – Nature’s Greatest Masterpiece

Humans have a complex relationship and checkered history with elephants. Once the revered subjects of myths and legends, elephants have increasingly become the objects of economic greed and the victims of habitat loss.

peaceful morning 2014
Peaceful morning in Amboseli. Amboseli lies at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in an area where rolling bushlands are punctuated by a network of swamps fed by the mountain’s forest catchment. This variable and dynamic ecosystem supports a variety of wildlife, including some 1500 elephants. © Phyllis Lee

Episode 32 – Nature’s Greatest Masterpiece-An interview with Phyllis Lee


In this episode of Naturally Speaking Shorts, Laurie Baker (@llbaker1707) is joined by elephant researcher, Prof. Phyllis Lee, Director of Science for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya and Professor of Psychology at the University of Stirling. Phyllis has spent the last 35+ years studying the social relationships and life history of elephants in Amboseli, and boy do those elephants have personality!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Elephants form incredibly strong bonds between their family and friends, however these relationships and the resilience of the community as a whole are threatened by poaching. The long-term nature of their study has allowed Phyllis and her colleagues to begin to explore the effect of these disruptions, but the outlook isn’t good.

“They can recover quite well as long as its normal mortality… Poaching mortality is very different, it takes out too many individuals, it leaves inexperienced orphans, trying to manage relationships and finding food and water in an environment where they have no help.”

In this episode, Phyllis also takes the time to answer some of our young scientists’ burning questions including “How do elephants make such a loud noise?”, “How long can they remember?”, and “How clever are they?”

“They are quite smart about some things and really quite silly about others. Like all animals including humans, they have the capacity to remember and be smart about certain things and just not pay much attention to other things.”

Phyllis’ advice for young scientists hoping to enter this field?

“Be patient. Be persistent. Go for it. But be prepared to wait to get into it. You have to have passion, if you don’t have passion for it you will never get as far as you want to get.”

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Katie, age 7, and Ross, age 11 for helping us with our questions this week!

Want to hear more? Don’t forget you can subscribe to automatically receive all our latest content, or just our podcasts.

Intro and outro music sampled from: “The Curtain Rises” and “Early RiserKevin MacLeod [CC BY 3.0]

One thought on “Episode 32 – Nature’s Greatest Masterpiece

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s