Changing Planet

Your Questions for a World-Renowned Elephant Expert

Joyce Poole. Photo credit: Petter Granli/ElephantVoices

After a devastating civil war ravaged Mozambique in 1977, Mozambicans weren’t the only victims of a 16-year-long calamity. Endless warfare wiped out nearly 95 percent of the wildlife living in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, leaving elephants among the hardest hit. Poached for their ivory, their population was reduced from more than 2,000 to just over 100. Today, peace has returned to Mozambique, but the surviving elephants still carry the emotional scars of war.

In a place where elephants must relearn how to trust humans, a brother-and-sister team have made it their mission to help these traumatized animals heal. Their documentary, “War Elephants”, follows siblings Bob Poole and world-renowned elephant scientist Dr. Joyce Poole as they come face-to-face with the largest creatures on Earth in often truly dangerous encounters.

One Tusk, an aggressive female elephant, charges Joyce and Bob’s vehicle. Photo courtesy of Bob Poole.

Part of Joyce’s groundbreaking research includes her work decoding elephant language as well as an additional discovery that may imply elephants across Africa share a common language. Joyce hopes that by communicating with the elephants, she and her brother can move one step closer to helping them recover.

Now you can join Joyce Poole in a live conversation on the National Geographic Facebook page Tuesday, March 13 at 2:30pm ET (7:30pm UTC). Post your questions there or in the comments section of this blog post. Then tune in for the live interview and post more questions as the conversation develops.

War Elephants Premieres Sunday, April 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Nat Geo WILD



Learn more

Watch a clip from the Pooles’ earlier documentary, Coming of Age with Elephants from Bob Poole on Vimeo.

  • Rob Morley

    This figure of 95% of animals lost is utter rubbish and no survey was ever carried out. It is based on some guess work and perhaps one flight. There was massive loss of most species, but any estimate is meaning less.
    Do the elephants really need mental help more than 20 years after the war stopped in Mozambique? Perhaps the resources would be better spent on human mental health in the area.
    Why MUST they learn to trust humans? They still come into conflict with locals. They have also tamed down considerably since the mid 90s when I was posted in Gorongosa.
    Sorry but I would hope for more from both Dr Poole and NGS

  • Liam Cash

    Having been on the side of the angels in arrests in EUrope and Asia back in the late 80’s and 90 in the Military Police, I would think that the loss of animal life is quite large. Perhaps not 95% but also not very far off. Also, studies really aren’t needed as law enforcement worldwide is working tirelessly against poaching, especially for the at risk species, most notably elephants, rhinos, lions, and other indigenous species in Africa.
    These animals DO need to learn to trust *certain* humans as we need to be limiting our contact with them to avoid corrupting their natural instincts.
    I believe Dr. Poole and the MGS are doing a grand job, albeit a bit prone to over-reaction, but I truly believe that their motives and hearts are where they need to be.
    The best weapon society has, right now, is knowledge and information, and I believe broadcasts like the upcoming one mentioned in the article, are a great first step toward the goal of saving wildlife.

  • Henco van den Berg

    I agree with Rob that any estimate is meaningless.I would like to know if there has been any detailed study as to the game ammounts that still exist in Gorongosa.
    I also agree that after 20 years the focus should rather be on further developing the parks infra-structure,helping local communities surrounding the park recover and keeping out all those except paying visitors and staff.To me this would be a much more valuable use of funds. Educating and uplifting the locals,developing park infra-structure,doing proper research on all the wildlife and the status of eco-systems will be to my meaning much more effective and rewarding. The Elephants will calm down by themselves when they no longer come into conflict with locals and only encounter well trained staff and conservation minded visitors.

  • […] Conservationist and scientist Dr. Joyce Poole has been decoding elephant language for years and is now working on a project to help emotionally scarred elephants in Mozambique. Now you can ask her your questions directly in a live conversation on the National Geographic Facebook page Tuesday, March …… […]

  • lore festian

    Wild animals are not supose to trust humans. Human trust can lead to animals that become dependent on that human interaction/are less “wild”. Many animals are being returned to the wild, example: manatees with have had to much human interaction.



  • Kelly Probst

    Dear Joyce,

    I am deeply concerned about the resurgence of the poaching/ivory crisis throughout Africa. I am doing everything I know to do from the US by developing a web site, blog and FB page and discussing the crisis with everyone I know. I am not in the field and I am not a scientist or elephant expert, but I want so deeply to help. Please tell me what can we do as concerned citizens and advocates for the African Elephant?

  • Netphax Car

    Hello, it is very fascinating to me to see how little people understand about trauma.. I myself have lived through multiple severe traumas in my life. I still live with those. Its called PTSD. It is not hard for me to see that animals would have the same issues. Since they themselves are extremely intelligent animals. My questions are: What is being done to help better protect the animals? How are the locals being educated and integrated into the process? Understanding of the importance and intelligence of these animals is extremely important if we truly want to save them. It starts at the root of the issue.. Locals need reasons not to want to kill them. Ivory became a valuable commodity mostly because of its trade value on the FOREIGN markets.. Europe, US and others. Elephants are some of the most misunderstood animals. They are extremely intelligent and should be sacred to the local people.. What is being done to help make these things happen. As far as trusting humans. It would not be such a horrible thing for animals wild or not to trust a human. IF THEY HAD NOTHING TO FEAR. If the intention is PEACEFUL and you are seeking better understanding. A moment with an amazing and magnificent animal. Of any species. there should be no reason why those moments are restricted. IF YOUR INTENTIONS ARE TRULY PEACEFUL the animal has no reason to attack. They sense and understand better than humans think. Dr. Poole thank you for all you are doing. Same to your brother Bob. The Elephants deserve some peaceful attention. If only I didn’t have lupus and my other medical issues. I have always dreamed of what it would be like to better understand these creatures in their true habitat. Not the ones created by man. Thanks again

  • Ana Zinger

    Hi Joyce!
    I was just reading this:
    “Decades of research on cetaceans, and dolphins in particular, has revealed that their brains, while markedly different from humans, are large, complex and capable of sophisticated behaviour. Observations of dolphins have shown that they can recognise themselves, use tools and understand symbols and abstract concepts.
    A group of scientists and ethicists argues there is sufficient evidence of the marine mammals’ intelligence, self-awareness and complex behaviour to enshrine their rights in legislation.
    If incorporated into law, the declaration would bring legal force to bear on whale hunters, and marine parks, aquariums and other entertainment venues would be barred from keeping dolphins, whales or porpoises in captivity.
    The group spoke at the annual meeting in Vancouver of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to raise support for the declaration among scientists and the visiting public. The 10-point declaration sets out a framework to protect cetaceans’ “life, liberty and wellbeing”, including rights to freedom of movement and residence in their natural environment, and protection against “disruption of their cultures”.
    “We’re saying the science has shown that individuality, consciousness and self-awareness are no longer unique human properties. That poses all kinds of challenges,” said Tom White, director of the Centre for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

    “Dolphins are non-human persons. A person needs to be an individual. And if individuals count, then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being. The captivity of beings of this sort, particularly in conditions that would not allow for a decent life, is ethically unacceptable, and commercial whaling is ethically unacceptable,” White said.

    Question: Can this be applied to elephants?

  • Ryan

    I have a crazy idea.Why don’t you stop trying to understand elephants and just leave them be and spend all this money on protecting what’s left.Another made for TV special in my mind.Instead of studying elephants why don’t you study the poacher.I’m glad the elephant is pushing back and if people like you and others get In the way then you deserve what you get.Good idea let this pack of elephants like people again just to be poached in the end.Good work scientists.

  • pavni verma

    hello! i want to work with you guys, i love elephants and i m so passionate about it, please help!

  • bobba frieda


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