The Mighty Elephant: An Osher@Dartmouth Course

In 1930, as many as 10 million wild elephants roamed the African continent.  But decades of poaching and conflict have decimated the African elephant populations, leaving less than 415,000.  In 2016, the International Union of Conservation of Nature reported that Africa’s elephant population had seen its worst decline in 25 years.

Join GrassTrack Safaris owner Dan Hopkins and author Bonnie Fladung for "The Mighty Elephant", a 4 session Osher@Dartmouth course. This class will delve into the world of the mighty elephant.  We will cover elephant anatomy and behavior, the history of big game hunting, the continued demand for ivory, and the dwindling geographic distribution.  The three biggest threats to these animals are poaching for ivory, habitat loss, and human-elephant conflict.

We will explore the successes and failures of current programs.  How have Namibia’s conservancy programs led to the growth of desert elephant populations?  What are the pros and cons of lifting the hunting ban in Botswana?  Has China’s ivory ban deterred demand and sales?  Which elephant conservation organizations are implementing programs that work in the real world?

Join us as we examine the elephant in the room via lectures, film clips and guest speakers.  We will provide a reading packet, links to relevant materials and a list of recommended readings.

Tuesdays, Jan 21-Feb 11 2020, 5-7pm; DOC House, Hanover NH

botswana photography wildlife safari

Here’s the class syllabus:

Class 1 (Jan 21): About the Elephant

Part 1 General Information Overview

  1. Distribution & numbers (global) – show population loss thru history
  2. Anatomy (include differences between savannah, forest and Asian elephants)
  3. Elephants on evolutionary chain
  4. Social behavior, herd makeup, and the phenomenon of musth.
  5. Elephants as a keystone species for environment

Part 2 Ivory and poaching

  1. Demand for ivory through history
  2. Current demand for ivory in China/China’s ivory ban
  3. Poaching trade routes
  4. Long term effects of ivory trade - Loss to gene pool - Emergence of “tuskless” elephants


Class 2 (Jan 28): Elephant Management - Country Overviews

Part 1 Deep Dive Botswana

  1. Insights into Botswana elephant ban and politics.
  2. Q&A with Steve Stockhall, owner of Earth Ark Safaris in Maun, Botswana.  Steve will Skype in from Botswana to discuss a number of topics including the status of elephants, the hunting ban, and the relationship between politics and conservation.

Part 2 Elephant Policies in Countries throughout Africa

  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia
  3. Zimbabwe
  4. Mozambique
  5. Tanzania
  6. Kenya
  7. DRC, Gabon, Nigeria, Chad, Mali


Class 3 (Feb 4): Asia and Forest Elephants

Part 1 Overview Asia/ Deep Dive Cambodia

  1. Guest speaker Dr. Laurel Neme.  Laurel is an author who writes about her experiences on wildlife crime and forensics, animal intelligence, and wildlife rehabilitation.  Read more about Laurel here.
  2. Overview of her work on animal forensics
  3. Update on poaching in Asia
  4.  Cambodia – Laurel will discuss her upcoming book on fitting an elephant with a prosthetic

Part 2 Elephant Communication - Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Elephant Listening Project TENTATIVELY SCHEDULED

  1. Overview of projects of Elephant Communication Projects
  2. How elephants communicate with infrasonic sounds.


Class 4 (Feb 11): Elephant Conservation Organizations

  1. We’ll be giving an overview of numerous organizations throughout Africa working to stop poaching and address difficult issues of elephant communications.


Tuesdays Jan 21 – Feb 11, 2020

5-7pm DOC House, Hanover, NH


For more about Osher@Dartmouth and how to register, visit their website.


Bonnie J. Fladung specializes in nonfiction and adventure travel writing with a focus on nature and wildlife. She studied the art of storytelling in Morocco with the last of the great storytellers, and her work includes research in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. She is the co-author of the award-winning book "When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer" which focuses on African wildlife, community relations, environmental concerns, and the impact of AIDS in Africa. The book was recently selected as "One of the Best Wildlife Books of All Time" by Book Authority, and “What to Read Before You Go” by National Geographic. The first book in her new illustrated picture book series “The Elephant’s Euphonium: A Little Tusker’s Adventures in Africa” brings attention to the plight of the remaining large tuskers in Africa. Bonnie also teaches courses on Africa with a focus on wildlife through the OSHER program at Dartmouth College. She is looking forward to sharing and documenting this unique and life-changing cultural experience with you.  More more information, visit Bonnie's website.


Dan Hopkins is the owner of GrassTrack Safaris, an adventure travel company specializing in creating authentic journeys into the African wilderness.  He first traveled to Africa in the late 1980’s on expedition-style camping safaris and has returned to Africa on over a dozen safaris.  These early trips serve as the inspiration for the safaris he offers clients: a unique, off-the-beaten path experience of the African wilderness.  The safaris Dan creates will appeal to any adventurous traveler looking to experience wild animals in wild places.  Besides organizing safaris for private clients, Dan has taught courses on Africa for the Osher Program at Dartmouth College and has led safaris to Botswana and Namibia for the Osher Program as well as private safaris to South Africa and Tanzania.

What's Calling You to Africa?

An exhilarating trek in search of endangered mountain gorillas?  Experiencing the vast desert wilderness of Namibia?  Following a herd of elephants on foot?  Paddling papyrus lined waterways of the Okavango?  Discover your African adventure on one of our safari packages or we'll help design your own itinerary.

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