By Andrew Schulz
Edited by Simon Bakke
Working with animals is one of the most gratifying and frustrating things during experiments. As an elephant researcher, I get to interact up close with the trunk of the African elephant both domestically at Zoo Atlanta and in the field in South Africa. Working with elephants is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I visited South Africa with my mom nearly 10 years ago.
My research involves understanding the capabilities and limitations of what an elephant trunk can accomplish. Elephants can pick up heavy logs and even pick up tortilla chips without breaking them… which I can’t even do. How does the elephant move around this completely muscular trunk, and what precisely can they do? This is one of the goals of my research, and we are studying elephants as they have the largest and longest “muscular hydrostat.”
Unfortunately, researching elephant trunks is immensely difficult. Elephants are strong and super smart, and very often you must go through several iterations of an experiment until you’re able to get the information you need...sometimes they even break or dismantle your experiment!
Through this work I have been able to travel to to Bela Bela, Limpopo in South Africa to meet some elephants of the African Bush. I visited Adventures with Elephants and met a herd of 7 African elephants. In working with these elephants, we also hope to use engineering techniques for mitigating Human-Elephant Conflict.
Andrew Schulz is in his second year of graduate school pursuing a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech.
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