Caitlin O’Connell

Every field season has its idiosyncrasies and challenges. This year, nature kept Tim particularly busy maintaining technology in order to keep the camp safe and operational, starting with a humane catch-and-release program for the inordinate number of brazen mice that inhabited our camp and got under foot after such good rains brought much grass seed—and...

After ten years of terrorizing Mushara’s male elephant population, nature has made a course correction with a certain young bull, Ozzie. Finally, Ozzie miscalculated and ended up in the same place at the same time as the magnificent, dominant Smokey—a moment I’d been waiting for for a long, long time. For the past decade, Ozzie...

The activity for the night watch team hasn’t slowed as the heavy wind in the past few days has kept the elephants at bay until sunset. Two nights ago, the parade of families started with the Princesses arriving from the south at dusk, followed by the Pharaohs from the west, the Athletes (with Smokey escorting)...

There’s a late afternoon glow on all the animals at the waterhole. Giraffe bones from a lion kill the previous season glisten white to match the springbok bellies as they spring across the clearing. Scratchy, our resident black rhino and mascot, has just decided to spray our microphone hide, rocks and dry thorn bushes now...

Mushara Elephant Project, Etosha National Park, Namibia — Ozzie showed up Friday night after three large family groups had come and gone. I recognized the metallic rattling noise he makes with his trunk and turned on the night vision to see what he was up to. There he was, curling his trunk across his face, dribbling urine like...

There’s a baby boom in Elephant Country. And while some happily greet the new additions to the family with a pig pile (photograph above) and a wallow (below), others appear to have trouble making room and are resistant to sharing mom’s side (below). Sometimes mom has to intervene with a poke of the tusk (below)....

It’s been four years now since I’ve seen Greg, the don of the boys’ club and most the dominant elephant bull at Mushara waterhole in the northeast corner of Etosha National Park, Namibia. This morning, I decided that I needed to come to terms with how long it’s been and what that might mean, so...

No one informed Ozzie that he’s too young to go into musth. Somehow the dynamics of Mushara’s male elephant society over the past few years have allowed this young bull’s testosterone spikes to slip through the cracks unsuppressed, resulting in an unholy terror. Ozzie in musth has been unstoppable. In contrast to the magnificent Smokey...

The wind is howling today in elephant country. Half way through the season and we’ve been lucky to have had only two such days. The wind is making it difficult to concentrate on data management, but after such an active day yesterday, it’s a necessity. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together is best done...

First Installment   In December, 1991, my boyfriend and I decided to spend a year traveling in Africa in between graduate degrees. But after being seduced by Africa, we never left. And from there, boyfriend became husband, and elephants the subject of my scientific career. While working for the Namibian government in the Caprivi region...

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia – Sunset began with a visit from Paula and Nadia and their fraction of the Athlete family. We saw them break the clearing from the southwest, and I rushed to get two of my volunteers out on their bunker observation rotation, but we were too late. They were coming in...

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia — Ozzie was on fire again Thursday, parting a sea of 14 bulls with his parade of musthy pomp until he reached his target—Mike. Mike is one of the largest bulls in our study population, and also one of the least aggressive. Why was he the focus of the young...

Mushara Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia — The world’s largest land creature stood on me last night—two giant feet over my head, putting me at a disturbing eye-level vantage with a dripping elephant phallus in the dark. It has occurred to me over the course of my research that an untimely end could happen to...

Time passes at an elephant’s pace here at Mushara waterhole in the northeast corner of Etosha National Park, Namibia. The mornings are slow to materialize, a few solitary bulls drifting in like a lazy late morning gust from the northeast and then later from the southwest, each gliding through on non-overlapping paths. By early afternoon...