Conservation biology: its all about crap!

Crap has a profound influence on the lives of us conservation biologists, and thats a true fact. My papers are based on scats. People I know  are reminded of me when they see someone in a movie examining elephant dung in the field. Whereas in reality, I get more excited when I see a fresh pile of tiger turd, because I dont get to see tigers much. We carefully take length and width and girth measurements with vernier calipers; we try to imagine where the tiger came from, why it was facing northwest and not southeast while doing the great deed, why it took a dump next to this tree here and not next to that rock there, did it scratch the ground with its left paw first or right paw, why there are two pieces and not three, and whether we can extract some DNA from it…..


Tiger scat

There are not many things that will dissuade us. We even face dhole diarrhoea without any fuss, holding our breath and trying to identify what caused the indigestion (rotted pig) and what plant it ate after that (no idea, but its green). I sometimes wonder what the producer of said turd would be thinking if it was sitting behind a bush and watching us poke and measure and bag their excreta in ethanol. They may question the sanity of the human species, but probably not if they are dholes. Dholes would be totally understanding and supportive. After all, what better way to strengthen pack bonds than synchronized crapping, and then rolling in each others crap (or worse)…


Dhole communal latrine


Dhole communal latrine

Yes, canid behavior is ‘interesting’. But it is elephant dung that truly sets the gold standard. Imagine one of the 12 to 18 evacuations an elephant makes in a day (upto 80 kg of it). Or even better, look below

Elephant dropping dung


Fresh elephant dung

You might think that is pretty much the end of the story – bombs dropped, move on to better things. But then that dung pile becomes the centre of its own little universe – ‘Sh*t happens to be useful’ (and thats the title of an actual scientific paper!). Frogs nestle in its cool, moist, fragrant shelter. Its also useful to all kinds of interesting looking insects and worms, which then attract jungle fowl:


Jungle fowl foraging in elephant dung

and even the occasional porcupine…


Porcupine foraging in elephant dung

Dholes of course are inevitable!

Dhole adding to the pile of elephant dung

Smaller carnivores (such as jackals) also get very excited and add their own contributions to the top of the pile. This is because it makes their own scat more conspicuous as territorial markings to potential intruders, and the height advantage helps the smell waft better through the air as well.


Elephant dung enhances visibility of small carnivore scat

Elephant dung also offers an excellent opportunity for people to work out in the field. Well that is if you were not already at peak fitness, walking up and down 20 km of mountains every day. Dung is round, heavy and malleable when wet – perfect for use as a dumbbell. Take a sharp stick, spear a suitably robust bolus (or two or three or four) with it on both ends, and you now have your own instant, disposable dumbbell. For safety reasons though, just make sure you dont do a bench press or any other exercise that involves lifting it above your head and looking up….

Elephant dung bench press


10 thoughts on “Conservation biology: its all about crap!

  1. Pingback: Mango-munching sloth bears and waterpipe-chewing wild dogs | Poochaandi

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