Dr. M. Philip Kahl (1934-2012)

Marvin Philip Kahl – Phil as he liked to be called – was born September 28, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Having first become interested in birds in a high school biology class, he went on to graduate with a B.S. in Zoology/Botany from Butler University in Indianapolis in 1956. Phil attended the University of Georgia in Athens, obtaining a M.S. in zoology/psychology followed by a Ph.D for research on the Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana). Phil spent the next 35 years studying the behavior of birds across North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Antarctica funded by grants from the National Geographic Society, and fellowships from the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the American Museum of Natural History.

In 1988, Phil was awarded by the prestigious Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially called the ‘MacArthur Genius Grant,’ to spend anyway he liked with no conditions attached which allowed him to switch to the study of elephant behavior. Phil and his companion, Billie Armstrong, spent six seasons from 1991 to 1997 in Africa observing the behavior of elephants and recording their observations on film and tape. Most of their study was on the visual communication displays of wild elephants in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

International Elephant Foundation and Elephant Research Foundation M. Philip Kahl Postdoctoral Fellowship

I am delighted to hear that the International Elephant Foundation has created a Postdoctoral Fellowship to honor Phil Kahl. I knew Phil for about 20 years, during which time I learned that he had graduated from Butler University, where I teach. He is also, to my knowledge, the only Butler graduate to have won the MacArthur Fellowship: The “genius grant.”

Phil was the epitome of a dedicated researcher. He was thorough, organized, creative, persistent and a little bit roguish – in the way an elephant bull would be. When, in a classroom presentation at Butler, a student asked him how often female elephants mated, he responded that they had sex about every four months (adding that this was better than he had done at Butler).

I worked with Phil (and Billie Armstrong) on one large project – the ethogram for the first edition of the Elephant Husbandry Resource Manual. Phil would take good ideas from any source – and give credit for those ideas to that source. He felt that one should either do science the right way – or not do it at all. He was serious about his science. He thrived on work.

Phil also had a considerate, kind attitude – he was generous – although he did not always like that pointed out. For example, his mother was a fanatical fan of the Indiana University (IU) men’s basketball team, and of their controversial coach, Bobby Knight. He took his mother down to IU to watch a practice session as her birthday present, not telling her that he had arranged for her to meet Coach Knight. She was overwhelmed to be able to have a chat with her basketball hero – and Bobby Knight was most gracious (a side of him that not everyone appreciates).

~ Dr. Bruce Schulte


International Elephant Foundation and Elephant Research Foundation M. Philip Kahl Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr. Martin Andimile Mwakajwanga

Andimile Martin grew up in Tanzania, surrounded by wilderness that he is devoting his life to protect. He began his efforts as a conservationist after graduating with a bachelor’s degree at the University of Dar es Salaam in 2005. Since then he has held various conservation positions with various institutions, including the Wami-Mbiki Wildlife Management Area Society, Savannas Forever Tanzania, Nature and Development Care, and the Bushmeat Free Eastern Africa Network.

After completion of a PhD in Ecology at the University of California Davis, Martin was awarded the International Elephant Foundation and Elephant Research Foundation M. Philip Kahl Postdoctoral Fellowship. Supported by this fellowship, he developed a project entitled “Understanding the behavior of African elephants as they move in landscapes with different protection status, habitat types and human influence in the Mahale – Katavi –Lwafi ecosystem of Tanzania”.

Through this project, Martin has become an elephant behavioral researcher and conducted foot transects to determine the geographical distribution of African elephants in the Mahale Katavi and Lwafi ecosystem, map the habitats and migratory routes used by African elephants in the Mahale Katavi and Lwafi ecosystem ecosystem and monitor African elephant groups to determine their activity budgets.

Gaius Wilson grew up in the Nilgiri (Blue Mountains) Hills of Southern India. Having been born and raised in the Niligiris, surrounded by tea plantations, grasslands and sholas (montane forests), it was only natural for him to develop a passion for nature and wildlife. The occasional visits made by leopards, sloth bears, wild boar, jackals, gaur and possibly tigers, around his house only deepened his interest in wild animals. Gaius received a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology at Madras Christian College, Chennai in India after which he helped set up an environmental education camp in Avalanche in the Nilgiris to teach awareness and conservation of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve to school and college students of the Nilgiris and elsewhere. In 2003, he enrolled for his Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology and conducted a 6-month project entitled “Studies on the status of elephant habitats and population estimation in selected forest ranges of Coimbatore Forest Division, Tamil Nadu, South India”, under the guidance of Dr. N. Sivaganesan. His project focused on a high human elephant conflict zone in Southern India and gave a deeper insight into the problems elephants and humans were facing. After successfully completing his Master’s degree (Outstanding), he worked on a camera trapping project in Bandipur Tiger Reserve during which time he met with Asian elephant expert Mr. Ajay A. Desai. Mr. Desai helped Gaius design his PhD proposal to study the impact of invasive weeds on elephants in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Southern India. Gaius completed his PhD from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in 2013.

In 2015, Gaius was awarded the M. Phil Kahl Post-Doctoral Fellowship from the Elephant Research Foundation and the International Elephant Foundation to study the home ranges of the Sumatran elephants in Aceh. His work is currently supported by Indonesian collaborators which include Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh and Aceh Climate Change Initiative. He is also supported by the Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (Nature Conservation Agency) and Pusat Kajian Satwar Liar (Wildlife Ambulance Program) of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Over the last one year, Gaius and his collaborators in his project have successfully collared three elephants in Aceh. Their movements are being followed on a regular basis to study their home range patterns and habitat use, and test an early warning system to help mitigate the Human Elephant Conflict in Aceh. Over the last few years, Gaius has had the opportunity to travel to the world, including to the United States of America, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the United Kingdom, various countries in Europe, and Indonesia for his most recent work. Right now he feels that Indonesia is his home and is looking forward to setting up a long term elephant project.

International Elephant Foundation and Elephant Research Foundation M. Philip Kahl Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr. Gaius Wilson