January 20, 2011
The spiky, odorous, weighty, and almost impenetrable durian fruit is considered by some to be a fine delicacy, but others a putrid horror. Its taste has been described between a delicious custard and old gym socks. Still, even durian lovers may be uncomfortable with the idea of eating the fruit after it has been consumed and expelled by a wild Asian elephant. But according to the New Straits Times recently wealthy businessmen are willing to pay over $300 for a sample of elephant-ingested durian, which they believe acts as an aphrodisiac.
In order to obtain the elephant-digested durians, members of the Malaysian indigenous group Orang Asli follow a wild elephant, often for hours, after it is observed swallowing durians. Once the elephant passes the fruit, the Orang Asli gather it and sell it for a price that can reach 100 times the price of a regular durian.
In order to find durians, elephants follow its infamous odor. While a variety of species find the durian appetizing, including both tigers and orangutans, only those digested and expelled by an elephant is sought after.
Elephant ingested durian isn't the only costly fecal delicacy in Asia. On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, coffee beans that have been eaten and expelled whole by civets are sold as the world's most expensive coffee.
Durians for sale on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Africa gains new elephant species
(01/19/2011) DNA evidence has shown that the forest elephant-Africa's smaller, shyer pachyderm-is indeed a separate species from the much more well-known savanna elephant. While scientists have long debated the status of the forest elephant (should it be considered a separate population, a subspecies, or a unique species?) a new study in the open-access journal PLoS Biology finds that genetically the forest elephant is unarguably a new species. If conservation authorities accept the new study, it will change elephant conservation efforts throughout Africa.
Using water bodies to track Asian elephants
(12/19/2010) One would think that it would be easy to track Asia's largest land animal, but in fact Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are generally shy, mostly nocturnal, and stick to the forest whenever possible. Yet, it's vital for conservationists to track the herd, if they are to keep them safe from poaching and protect both elephants and locals from potential conflict. However, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has developed a unique strategy to track elephant herds in Sri Lanka by sticking to the water.
Logging concession could extinguish endangered Sumatran elephant population
(11/30/2010) Local conservationists are urging the Indonesian government to halt the destruction of a 42,000 hectare forest in the renowned Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape for a pulpwood plantation. According to researchers, the forest concession—owned by PT Lestari Asri Jaya, a subsidiary of Barito Pacific Group—contains the last population of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) in the Bukit Tigapuluh and approximately 5% of the island's total population. In a letter being sent to the Ministry of Forests, conservationists write that the destruction of the forest "would immediately lead to local extinction of elephants in Bukit Tigapuluh". They argue that given its ecological importance, the PT Lestari Asri Jaya forest concession should be placed under permanent protection.