Using seismic sensors to detect elephants and other large mammals: a potential census technique.

Published online
23 Nov 2005
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Wood, J. D. & O'Connell-Rodwell, C. E. & Klemperer, S. L.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Namibia & Africa South of Sahara


Large mammal populations are difficult to census and monitor in remote areas. In particular, elephant populations in Central Africa are difficult to census due to dense forest, making aerial surveys impractical. Conservation management would be improved by a census technique that was accurate and precise, did not require large efforts in the field, and could record numbers of animals over a period of time. We report a new detection technique that relies on sensing the footfalls of large mammals. A single geophone was used to record the footfalls of elephants and other large mammal species at a waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Temporal patterning of footfalls is evident for some species, but this pattern is lost when there is more than one individual present. We were able to discriminate between species using the spectral content of their footfalls with an 82% accuracy rate. An estimate of the energy created by passing elephants (the area under the amplitude envelope) can be used to estimate the number of elephants passing the geophone. Our best regression line explained 55% of the variance in the data. This could be improved upon by using an array of geophones. Synthesis and applications. This technique, when calibrated to specific sites, could be used to census elephants and other large terrestrial species that are difficult to count. It could also be used to monitor the temporal use of restricted resources, such as remote waterholes, by large terrestrial species.

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