With 49 healthy and fit elephants, much rich forest, and with human expertise ranging from veterinary medicine to classic Thai elephant handling, it is not surprising that the Thai Elephant Conservation Center is Thailand's preeminent venue for exhaustive scientific research into elephants.
Reproduction is a key area of research for the TECC. After years of effort, in 2007 our veterinary team, working with many Thai and overseas associates, produced the world's first calf born of Artificial Insemination (A.I.) outside of Europe or the USA. The handsome calf, fittingly nicknamed "A.I.", was conceived by a female named Mae Khot with semen from a handsome tusker, Chapati. Now boasting a royally bestowed name, Sompob, he is a very healthy 4-year old who performs in the daily show and participates in the Homestay program. The TECC's veterinarians also collaborated in several important scientific papers on genetics, the body chemistry of female elephants, and related subjects.
Locomotion, or the study of movement in animals, is another area where the TECC has played a key role in cutting-edge research. Scientists had long thought that elephants could not run but rather only walk, because their footfall pattern (or gait) does not change with speed. Scientists also thought that elephants could only move very slowly, with the highest accurately measured speed being only 16 kph (10 mph). In 2001 Dr John Hutchinson made the first of three trips to Thailand and the TECC, recording elephants moving as fast as 25 kph (15 mph) or 50% faster than earlier records. Even more exciting, some of the 42 elephants tested showed a "bouncing" movement indicative of running. In 2006, at the TECC two teams conducted research using the world's largest force platform and Qualisys cameras. After exhaustive analysis of massive amounts of data, two landmark scientific papers were published in 2010.
Although elephants are often declared to be one of the most intelligent animals, surprisingly little hard research has been done. The TECC and an American scientist have conducted intensive research on elephant social behavior and intelligence, and the results should be published soon.