Due to the difficulty of tracking elephants through dense rainforests, counting dung is the most common method currently being used to estimate Asian elephant numbers. By estimating the defecation rate and rate of decay in different environments, researchers can estimate the density of elephants within a specified area.

Dung surveys can also provide additional population information. For instance, dung boli diameters allow for the assignment of ages to elephants that may be converted to population age structures. Analysis of the dung for plant remains can tell you what food plants the elephants used. Dung can also be examined for parasites and for seeds which might be dispersed and germinate.

Essential steps

  1. Decide on the survey area.

  2. Use GPS to map the locations of dung during the walk

  3. Count dung piles

  4. Classify dung piles according to their decay category (A to D)

  5. At each dung pile in categories A to C1 count and measure boli circumference

  6. Investigate plant remains and parasites in the dung to learn about their health and diet

  7. Estimate the number of mature and immature elephants present.

A) dung balls are complete, fresh, moist with odour.

0-2 days old

B) dung balls are complete, dry, with no odour

3-6 days old

C1) more than half the dung balls are complete, may be moist or dry

1 to 3 weeks old

C2) Less than half the dung balls are complete

3 to 6 weeks old

D) All the dung balls are broken up or are a flat mass

6 weeks to 3 months old

E) dung has completely decayed (only known when revisiting a known dung pile)

More than 3 months

Stages of Dung decay

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