How elephant dung experiment at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire is helping protect the animals' future

The Asian elephant herd at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo helping to look after calf Elizabeth Credit: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

A herd of Asian elephants are contributing to global conservation efforts - simply by producing a ready supply of fresh dung.

Zookeepers at the UK’s largest Zoo, Whipsnade in Bedfordshire, are collecting elephant dung samples to help conservationists across Asia and Africa better understand the population sizes, movements and "genetic fingerprints" of wild elephant herds.

Faecal DNA is also used to select elephants suitable to move and identify inbreeding.   

The keepers will then analyse the results and share their conclusions with elephant conservationists around the world.   

Elephant dung being tested by staff Credit: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Stefan Groeneveld, the zoo’s elephant team leader, said: “We are always finding new ways in which our understanding of our magnificent herd of elephants at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo can benefit their wild counterparts.   

“I’m sure running around after elephants to collect and record their dung throughout the day doesn’t sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but we are delighted to be able to use the resources we have to give our colleagues across Asia and Africa the information they need to prevent elephant extinction.   

“We spend every day with our herd, and know each of them not only by name, but by character.

"This is the sort of research that just couldn’t be done in the wild, where you can’t necessarily know how old a dung-pile is.

"With so much information at our fingertips, we hope that our contribution to the study of elephant faecal DNA analysis will be invaluable for global conservation efforts.”  

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