Our Researchers

We believe education and conservation go hand in hand and work with several researchers to bring more knowledge into the value of these animals.

Read more about our research fields here

Fiona Stanfield

Fiona studies the ontogeny of the follicle reserve in the elephant ovary, aspects of elephant dentition, elephant population control and human-elephant conflict.

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Jesse s. Jur

Affiliated to : North Carolina State University, Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry & Science

Area of interest : Wearable electronics for innovative platforms to resolve elephant-human conflicts.

Andre Ganswindt

Head of the Section of Physiology, Dept. of Anatomy & Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary Science,

Affiliated to : University of Pretoria, South Africa

Description of research

Study behavioural endocrinology and reproductive science in mammals, reptiles, and birds, to address proximate and ultimate questions concerning regulative endocrine mechanisms which in combination with other factors, like social or ecological changes, influence and control animal behavior.

Developing and validating non-invasive tools for monitoring reproductive function and responses to stressors in captive and free-ranging animals, thereby broadening the spectrum of possible applications of behavioural endocrine research.

Combine the disciplines of physiological-endocrine research, behavioural biology, and wildlife ecology to improve the management and welfare of animals in zoological institutions as well as in the wild.

Ashadee Kay Miller


Highest Academic Qualification: Phd in progress

Affiliated to: University of the Witwatersrand 

Area of interest : Conservation Physiology

Description of work

African Elephants are recognised as having exceptional scenting abilities, and Ashadee is part of the team involved in testing and assessing this modality. Anecdotal evidence of elephants learning to avoid land mine-affected areas within the once war-torn Angola piqued Rory Hensman's interest in whether these animals are able to smell TNT, and if so, to what extent. Ashadee and the team continue this work today. 

Ashadee is also the lead investigator on a project which uses the elephants' keen scenting ability to assess whether certain ambushing snake species are chemically cryptic. Her previous work has shown that at least one species is chemically undetectable to dogs, and now is working to assess whether this "scentless" state holds true when the detector species is changed to an animal with increased smelling ability (i.e., the African elephant). In addition, she is also using AWE's meerkat, Trouble, to assess whether this species have improved detecting ability of these snakes given that meerkats are natural predators of many ambushing snakes.

Further reading


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Franco Schoeman

Highest Academic Qualification: B-Tech, MMus currently being completed. 

Area of research : Elephant infrasound

Description of research 

The project entitled Infrasonorities, is a study of the sound energy frequencies below 20Hz. The research is aimed at incorporating infrasound into musical composition, and draws upon the particularities found in elephant communication. Recordings were made at AWE that serves as compositional concepts developed into a recital, that spreads awareness on conservation and the natural world. 

Further reading


Contact details 


Jan Selfridge


Description of research

With an academic background in animal science, behaviour & welfare, Jan’s specialist McTimoney training enables her to optimise the muskuloskeletal health and well-being of animals through hands-on manipulation and massage. Whilst primarily treating horses and dogs in the UK, she has a particular interest in the comfort and welfare of working animals. She also has a passion for Africa’s native species, especially elephants, which led her to work with AWE/RHERU, initially researching the impact of carrying riders on the gait of elephants and now assessing the potential for manipulative therapy as part of the elephants' husbandry routine.

Melissa Schmitt


Affiliated to: School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg

Area of interest : Elephant food and grazing

Description of research

Melissa is a postgraduate student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. 
She is working to develop an accurate carrying capacity model for elephants in order to predict appropriate population sizes based on a model for built grazers. However, because the food quality of browsers, such as elephants, is influenced by plant secondary metabolites (chemicals in plants that have anti-nutritional effects), she is modifying the model for grazers to include the effects of these chemicals.

In addition, she’s exploring the role of salivary tannin-binding proteins in elephants that could possibly help negate the negative impacts of tannins. To generate her model, she is doing an in-depth study of elephant foraging behaviour with a focus on the negative effects of tannins that may influence elephant carrying capacity.

It is expected that by taking the amount of tannins in their food items into account, as well as the semi-neutralization of the tannins by the elephant saliva, she will be able to more accurately predict how many elephants can actually survive in a reserve without supplement feeding.

Theoretically, this population estimate should be lower than the estimate produced without incorporating the negative aspects of elephant's food items. Upon the completion of her study, she plans to publish her results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, as well as making her model available to game reserves and management bodies to use as a tool to manage their elephant populations.  



Katarina von Durckheim

Conservation Business Africa (Founder & Director)

Katharina is the founder of Conservation Business Africa, and with her two senior co-directors, their company develops business solutions to conservation problems.

Academically, she is currently doing her modular MBA at the Stellenbosch Business School, with a particular focus on investigating the business case for conservation. Her passion for conservation is satisfied by her continued research into elephant ecology (particularly odour-gene covariance), and the role of scent and pheromones in kin recognition.



Laura J. Bottaro

Highest Academic Qualification: Bachelors of Science, University of Central Oklahoma

Affiliated to : Oklahoma City Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Area of research : Area of interest-Animal Behaviour

Description of research

Laura oversees the pachyderm department at the Oklahoma City Zoological and Botanical Gardens. Their collection includes a breeding herd of Asian elephants. She is passionate about the survival of African elephants even though they are not included in our collection at this time.  As an AZA institution they are dedicated to elephants both ex-situ and in-situ. She has had an extensive background in animal behavior and husbandry. Her mission in life is to make changes where she can contribute to the wellness of this planet and the animals that share it with us.

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Angela Stöger-Horwath

Highest Academic qualification: PhD

Affiliated to: Mammal Communication Lab, Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna

Area of research: Animal behaviour, bioacoustics, Vocal communication 


Description of research  

Angela's research focuses on mammal vocal communication and investigates the adaptive function of vocalizations, sound production and perception mechanisms. Furthermore Angela is interested in vocal learning (the ability to imitate complex vocalizations). She leads international teams and students (bachelor to PhD level) in conducting observational research and behavioral/cognitive experiments of captive and free ranging animals such as elephants, Giant pandas, giraffes and felids. 

Her work with elephants currently focuses on two aspects:  

  1. Increasing understanding of the complex vocal communication system of elephants, identifying which acoustic parameters of vocal signals can provide listeners with information on physical and motivational attributes of the callers. Playback experiments are applied to determine the functional relevance of specific acoustic characteristics of elephant vocalizations.

  2. Using this knowledge to significantly contribute to elephant conservation. The alleviation of the human–elephant conflict as well as the fight against poaching requires autonomous systems that monitor elephant populations and their movements. Elephants make extensive use of powerful infrasonic calls (rumbles) that travel distances of up to several kilometers. This makes elephants well-suited for acoustic monitoring because it enables detecting elephants (based on their vocalizations) even if they are out of sight. They are therefore currently establishing the scientific fundamentals for an autonomous elephant call detector for a future acoustic monitoring system for elephants.

Further reading   


Contact details  

Dr. Angela Stoeger
Department of Cognitive Biology
University of Vienna
Email.: angela.stoeger-horwath@univie.ac.at
T +43 1 4277 761 46
F +43 1 4277 9761  

Olga Panagiotopoulou

Head of the Moving Morphology & Functional Mechanics Laboratory. Researcher, advisor and donor funds

Affiliated to : The University of Queensland School of Biomedical Sciences

Description of research

Olga is a lecturer in Anatomy and Head of the Moving Morphology and Functional Mechanics Laboratory at the School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at The University of Queensland, Australia. Her research is focused on assessing the links between anatomy, mechanics and pathogeneses of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system during dynamic activities using state of the art imaging, computer simulation and experimental techniques. She works with humans, non human primates and exotic large mammals from safari parks across the globe. 

Further reading


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Stephen J. lee

Highest Academic Qualification: PhD Chemistry

Affiliated to : University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill - Army Research Office

Area of research : Conservation and Working Dogs

Description of research

Dr. Lee supports research around the world focused on combatting poaching and on security.  The main focus of his efforts is on biomimicry and sensing to include research supporting the optimum use of working dogs in combatting poaching. 

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Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade

Highest Academic qualification: Bachelor’s degree in psychology, Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas; Master’s in experimental psychology, California State University in San Marcos, Calif.; PhD in evolutionary psychology, University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Area of research : trunk biodynamics and laterality, adapted feeding strategies, and seasonal feeding ecology.

Description of research

Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade began her animal care career working with great apes in 1999 and has worked with a variety of mammals since then focusing on applied animal behavior research, positive reinforcement training and animal wellness.  In her present role as Vice President of Living Collections, she oversees a diverse collection including the only all male African elephant herd in North America. Currently she is working with the Adventures with Elephants team to investigate trunk biodynamics and laterality, adapted feeding strategies, and seasonal feeding ecology.