IGC Alum, Dr. Sydney Hope, writes a postcard from the field to update us on her postdoctoral research in Thailand!


Tori interviewing a person.
Two elephants at the National Elephant Institute.


Last year, I started a postdoc position at Hunter College (City University of New Yok – CUNY) in the Comparative Cognition for Conservation Lab, led by Dr. Joshua Plotnik. The lab’s main focus is understanding Asian elephant cognition and its applications to conservation. Understanding elephant cognition is important from an evolutionary perspective because they are highly intelligent animals, but are distantly related to other animals with similar intelligence (e.g., primates, corvids). Further, understanding individual differences in behavior and cognition can help to develop new ways to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Asia, where wild elephants often forage on crop fields, endangering lives and livelihoods of farmers.


Tori interviewing a person.
Sydney Hope with an elephant after behavioral trials are done for the day.


In Thailand, one of our lab’s research sites is the National Elephant Institute, which is a facility in northern Thailand owned by the Thai government and has the largest elephant hospital in the country. I came here for the first time last summer and I’m back again for a few months! Here, our lab collaborates with Thai scientists and veterinarians, and on a daily basis I work closely with our lab’s full-time Thai research assistants who are integral for the success of all of our projects. Currently, we’re working on multiple projects investigating elephant collective intelligence, problem-solving, decision-making, memory, and self-control. This past summer, we also had the opportunity to lead an outreach activity to show students how we study elephant behavior.


Hands-on outreach activity demonstrating an elephant food preference experiment
Hands-on outreach activity demonstrating an elephant food preference experiment that Thai research assistant, Sangpa Dittakul, and Sydney Hope carried out at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort.


Working here has been an amazing experience. Not only am I able to investigate questions about the behavior of a super interesting animal, in the context of conservation, but I’m also able to discover a new culture. I look forward to learning something new—whether it’s about behavioral ecology, elephant biology, or Thai culture—every day!


Written by Dr. Sydney Hope.