Scientists Accidentally Captured the Sound of Poachers Killing an Elephant, And It’s Very, Very Sad

A microphone network meant to eavesdrop on elephants’ conversations ended up hearing something far more gruesome

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In the forests of central Africa, the Elephant Listening Project uses specialized microphones to eavesdrop on forest elephants, a bid to unlock the elephants’ language and understand how they communicate. Part of the listening projects’ goal is to help conservation efforts by providing a non-intrusive way to track elephant behavior. But poachers hunt the elephants of central Africa—for ivory or for meat—and this gruesome reality came to the fore last week when the listening projects’ microphones captured the actual sounds of poachers hunting a forest elephant.

The listening projects’ director, Peter Wrege, talked to Nature about the plight of forest elephants:

Because the enforcement in savannah areas is better, we think that forest elephants are taking the brunt of ivory poaching more and more. Rainforests are difficult places to patrol and protect. I would say that all populations of forest elephants are in deep trouble, and the ones most at risk are those at the edges of their current range — in Cameroon and the Central African Republic. They are almost gone now from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where once more than 60% of all forest elephants lived.

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