More than 2,000 elephants in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, were slaughtered during the civil war between 1977 and 1992. Around 5% of the population made it through - the number has since increased to between 300-400. Even today many elephants are still wary of people. I am spending almost two weeks with these elephants now in August/September 2011 assessing ways to calm down these traumatised survivors of a gruesome war.

By turning off the car engine when the elephants we meet behave fearfully or aggressively, we show them that we respect them, understand their signals, mean no harm and are not afraid of their bravado. After charging us twice this particular family became relaxed in our presence. Today they were calm.

Joyce, 31 August 2011

The triple tuskless family bunched together as the matriarch decided how to respond to our approach.

The matriarch charges at us and I immediately turn off the engine and we sit quietly. No driving away, revving of the engine, banging on the car, or shouting at her.

The rest of the family, including babies, charge forward as the matriarch stands tall, threatening us.

The triple tuskless family threaten us as I talk to them in a soft, reassuring voice; they calm down and move away. Later that day, and today, when we met them again they were relaxed in our presence.

Learn more about elephants - visit ElephantVoices Gestures Database!

Over many years of studying animals ethologists learn to read the faces and postures of their subjects through a combination of experience and intuition. We unconsciously use this information whenever we're with elephants without really thinking about the process. We know, for example, whether an elephant is frightened, annoyed, excited, or joyful, but attempting to quantify this "sixth sense" into a presentation for others has been an elucidating and sometimes surprising process!

The visual and tactile signals, displays, postures, expressions and gestures described and illustrated in this database have been compiled over a period of many months, even years. We believe you will enjoy visiting it! You can read more about the background of the database here.