EleFact Friday: Informative Scent Trails

For this week’s EleFact, we’ll look at something that might be unexpected: elephant dung. You might be surprised to find out how much can actually be determined by examining waste. Today we’ll be focusing on something researchers have been studying for the last few years: how elephants gain information from the scent trails of dung and urine left by other elephants. 

Studies show that elephants, specifically wild African elephants, traveling across well-used paths, pay close attention to the waste that other elephants left behind. According to scientists, elephants – particularly those traveling solo – are careful to note the trails left by those that came before them. This suggests that the waste creates a natural communication method that acts as a “public information resource.” This information has potential conservation benefits, if it can be properly harnessed by the science and research community. It’s possible that humans may be able to create artificial trails to keep elephants from coming into contact with farms and villages, which can cause devastation to communities and put elephants at risk. 

It is also possible that artificial scent trails could be created with the intent of improving travel routes for the elephants, connecting them between protected areas, or away from areas that could leave them vulnerable to poachers. The more elephants walk a path, the more dung is deposited, and so the messaging continues for any elephants that follow. Alternatively, removing scent paths that lead to areas of potential conflict with humans could allow elephants to be redirected to areas not so densely populated. Redirection could also give elephants the opportunity to follow dung and urine trails to reconnect with other populations of elephants nearby.

For more information about these scent trails, you can read the study here:

Photo of Maia’s behind with Bambi in the background


  1. REPLY
    Carey says

    Thank you Sara, and will read te paper too

  2. REPLY
    Terry says

    Fascinating and simple!!!! There should be ZERO reason not to implement this straight away!!!!

  3. REPLY
    Maryse Christine Rome says

    I can only imagine the lives saved if the elephants are guided away from civilization where they can be harmed by farmers. Please continue with your research and make a difference in the lives of these magnificent beings.

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