Join the team
We sometimes have research student and other opportunities available and we also welcome collaborative projects using the data we collect, please send enquiries to virpi.lummaa (at) utu.fi
Principal research staff
Prof. Virpi Lummaa
Virpi is a professor at the University of Turku and the principal investigator in the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project. Her research has focused on the evolution of senescence and life histories, primarily in humans using a large historic genealogical dataset she has collated from her native Finland. She has used this experience to establish the Elephant Project at the University of Turku, Finland, funded by the EU’s Horizon2020 / ERC (European Research Council) Consolidator Grant 648766.
The long-term aim is, in collaboration with the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, to utilise the unique opportunity to establish a longitudinal study on Asian elephants employed in Myanmar timber camps to address questions ranging from demography, social behaviour, welfare and conservation, ageing and life-history patterns to veterinary topics in this endangered species.
Email: virpi.lummaa (at) utu.fi
Tel: +358 50 4382 044
Dr. Khin Than Win
Dr. Khin Than Win is a veterinarian and conservation biologist from Myanmar. She has worked in the wildlife department of the Ministry of Forestry in Myanmar for about 20 years. Khin facilitates all aspects of the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project in Myanmar and liaises between the Finnish and Myanmar teams and the Myanma Timber Enterprise and Government representatives.
Contact: khin.t.win2009 (at) gmail.com
Mu Mu Thein
MuMu is a research assistant from Myanmar. She has worked with the elephants for many years in Myanmar. She is in a key role in collecting field data from the elephants.
Contact: mumuthein95 (at) gmail.com
Thuzar works in the Elephant Project as a research assistant. She has a key role in collecting field data from the elephants.
Thuzar has a long history working with elephant research. She has worked for 13 years in Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, Forest Department in Myanmar, and worked in Smithsonian Institution, Myanmar program office about 6 years for the Smithsonian’s National Elephant survey. Her tasks included collecting elephant census data, interview survey data, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data from protected areas and sanctuaries.
Contact: thwin.tz (at) gmail.com
Postdoctoral research associates
Dr. Mirkka Lahdenperä
Mirkka is a Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Her PhD focused on the benefits and conflicts of family living in humans. Her current research combines this previous expertise on longevity and co-operative breeding in humans with examining the longitudinal dataset on Asian elephants from Myanmar. Asian elephants make a fascinating comparison to humans with lifespans extending to 80 years and social groups containing several generations of breeders.
Contact: mirkka.lahdenpera (at) utu.fi
Dr. Martin Seltmann
Martin is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. For his PhD thesis, he investigated the link between life-history trade-offs, personality, stress physiology, individual quality and nest-site selection in female eiders (Somateria mollissima). Now he is assessing the personality structure of individual elephants via behavioural ratings done by experienced observers, usually the oozies. Martin is interested in the interplay of the elephants’ personality differences, individual quality, their social organization (especially allomothering) and ultimately their life prospects.
Contact: martin.seltmann (at) utu.fi
Dr. Carly Lynsdale
Carly is investigating the host-parasite dynamics in Asian elephants by focusing on associations between infection and host condition, measures of fitness and fecundity. She aims to establish determinants of individual variation in infection re-establishment and outline the effects of co-infection by multiple parasite fauna.
Carly finished her PhD at the University of Sheffield in December 2017. She continues elephant research as a postdoc researcher at the University of Turku, Finland.
Contact: carly.lynsdale (at) utu.fi
Dr. Diogo Santos
Diogo is a veterinarian working as a Post Doctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. During his PhD, he investigated how several life-traits and ecological factors affected elephant health. As he is very passionate about the field of animal health, physiology and conservation, he aims to understand the immunological system of the elephant and factors that affect it, specifically focusing on immunosenescence. He also aims to investigate other factors affecting elephant health from a conservation perspective over a wide range of study areas.
Contact: djfrdo (at) utu.fi
Dr. Sophie Reichert
Sophie is a postdoc researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Sophie finished her Marie Curie postdoc fellowship at the University of Sheffield at the end of 2017, and is now a TCSM Research Fellow at the University of Turku in Finland.
Working at the cross-road ecophysiology and evolutionary ecology, Sophie’s PhD focused on investigating the determinants of telomere dynamics and how these mechanisms are involved in key evolutionary processes. The aim of this work was also to establish telomeres as a health marker. Building on her expertise on studying the mechanisms of ageing, she now aims to examine how different ageing mechanisms interact with lifelong health risks, workload, reproductive history and endocrinological measures of stress and reproductive status in Asian elephants.
Contact: sophie.reichert (at) utu.fi
Dr. Vérane Berger
Vérane is an evolutionary ecologist working as a Post Doctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Her research aims to understand the influence of biotic and abiotic factors in shaping senescence and the consequences on life history strategy. Senescence is a highly complex process that varies across species, population, individuals and traits and investigations are needed to identify factors and understand how they modulate senescence patterns. Do individuals that are helped or born in good year senesce later and/or slower than other individuals?
Vérane has used long-term monitoring in a wild population of Alpine marmots to investigate the influence of sociality on senescence during her PhD at the University of Lyon, France. She is now extending her research by searching what ecological and social factors could explain variation in senescence between cohorts, individuals and traits thanks to extensive longitudinal datasets of the Finnish population and the semi-captive population of Asian elephants in Myanmar.
Vérane is funded by the EU’s Horizon2020, ERC (How elephants grow old / Prof. Virpi Lummaa, 648766 ERC-2014-CoG).
Contact: verane.berger (at) utu.fi
Dr. Robin Cristofari
Robin is a Marie S. Curie individual research fellow at the University of Turku. Specialising in population genomics and bio-informatics, Robin spent his PhD modelling climate-associated past and present demographic patterns in large penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri & patagonicus). At UTU, his main interest now is to understand in elephants the interplay of large-scale evolutionary patterns and fine-scale behavioural, physiological and ecological processes in the lineage leading to that remarkably strange creature.
Contact: robin.cristofari (at) utu.fi
Postgraduate research students
Jennie is a PhD student studying human-elephant interactions. She is studying the unique relationship between the elephants and their handlers, or oozies, how thisancient relationship fares in the modern day, and how various aspects of this relationship impact upon elephant health, behaviour and physiology. She is also interested in the trade off between life history processes, having completed her masters within the project, investigating the relationship between size and reproduction in female Asian elephants.
Jennie started her PhD studies at the University of Turku, Finland, in September 2016. She is funded by the EU’s Horizon2020, ERC (How elephants grow old / Prof. Virpi Lummaa, 648766 ERC-2014-CoG).
Contact: jennifer.a.crawley (at) utu.fi
Simon has completed his Master’s degree at the University of Sheffield. For his project, he investigated how elephant height and weight changes with age, as well as assessing the existing methods and creating new equations for estimation of these body measurements.
Simon works currently in the Human Life History Group at the University of Turku, Finland (www.human-life.history.science). The project is funded by the Academy of Finland. His research is aimed at investigating the evolution of behaviours and life-history traits, in particular the context-dependence of kin help in humans. Using data from the Finnish population, Simon will explore kin effects on human family success in various contexts, and how this might have changed over time with industrialisation.
ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2342-3383
Contact: simon.n.chapman (at) utu.fi
Océane has two degrees, MSc in behavioural ecology (Univ. Tours; France) and MSc in Neurosciences (Univ. Caen; France). She did her last Master’s thesis on mahout elephant relationships within the Lummaa group in 2019. She is interested in studying animal social organisation and cognition.
Océane started her PhD in January 2020 and is now part of the lab. She is funded by the University of Turku and is supervised by Prof. Virpi Lummaa, Dr. Léa Lansade (INRAE France) and Dr. Mirkka Lahdenperä.
With her project, Océane aims to study the ability of animals to adjust in working with humans by assessing personality of working timber elephants. She will investigate the relationship between personality, cognition and stress caused by humans conducting behavioural experimentations as personality tests, learning task and emotional state investigation. The project will bring general neuroscientific knowledge on elephants and offer clear practical suggestions to advance the welfare of working animals.
ORCID ID: 0000-0001-5390-8985
Contact: oceane.liehrmann (at) utu.fi
Pia was a Master student at the University of Oulu, Finland, where her studies are focusing on biosciences and genetics. She was doing her Master’s degree related internship in the Elephant Project at the University of Turku, supervised by Dr. Robin Cristofari and Dr. Sophie Reichert. Her Bachelor’s thesis was also about elephants and the tumor suppressor p53 in their genome.
Susanna was an undergraduate student at the University of Turku, Finland. She specialized in evolutionary genetics and data analysis. Her graduate thesis focuses on the effects of seasonal variation on physiological markers of stress in the Asian elephant population from Myanmar. Susanna is currently working as a PhD student in Human Life History Group at the University of Turku.
Contact: susanna.ukonaho (at) utu.fi
Matleena has finished her Master’s Thesis in the Elephant Project.
Laura is a Master’s student at the University of Lyon, France, where she is studying ecology, evolution and statistics. She is doing her internship in the Elephant Project at the University of Turku, supervised by Dr. Carly Lynsdale on the association between nematode parasite infection and hormonal activity (stress and reproductive hormones) within a semi-captive population of about 300 timber elephants.
Laura is a Master’s student in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution at the University of Aix Marseille in France. She is doing her internship in the Elephant Project group at the University of Turku in Finland, supervised by Dr’s Emily Lynch, Carly Lynsdale, Martin Seltmann and Prof. Virpi Lummaa. Her research project focuses on the influence of the social environment on parasitic infection in the Asian elephant. What is the influence of the characteristics of the composition of a working group on parasitic infection?
Lucas is an international Master’s student in Behavioral Ecology and Wildlife Management at the University of Dijon, France. Supervised by Dr. Vérane Berger and Dr. Michael Briga, he is now completing his master’s research internship at the University of Turku, Finland. His research project involves the link between social factors during early-life and senescence in the Myanmar semi-captive Asian elephants population. Does growing in a rich social environment allow to delay or slower patterns of senescence?
Héloïse is a Master’s student in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution at Sorbonne University, France. She is doing her Master’s internship at the University of Turku, Finland, supervised by Prof. Virpi Lummaa and Dr. Sophie Reichert. Her research project focuses on testosterone, a steroid hormone involved in different fitness components such as survival and reproduction. More precisely, she is investigating the determinants of testosterone variations and their implication in life-history trade-offs on a semi-captive Asian elephant population of Myanmar.
Veera is a Master’s student at the University of Turku, Finland, where she is studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is doing her Master’s thesis as a part of Adjunct Professor Sonja Koski’s (University of Helsinki) research project on horse personality. Her Master’s thesis project focuses on the social aspect of personality in young horses, and how that affects their early training. Her work is supervised by both Adj. Prof. Sonja Koski and Prof. Virpi Lummaa.
Shérine holds a Master’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rouen (France), and is now a Master’s student at the Sorbonne Paris-Nord University, where she is studying Ethology. She is currently doing her internship in the Myanmar Timber Elephant group, supervised by Dr. Martin Seltmann, MSc Océane Liehrmann and Prof. Virpi Lummaa. Her Master’s thesis project focuses on factors affecting behavioural differences in semi-captive Asian elephants during a novel object test.
A team of local veterinarians are actively involved in our projects and research by collecting data, providing updates of events in the field and administering veterinary care.
Dr. Win Htut
Dr. Win Htut is a Chief Veterinarian in Saggaing Region, MTE, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC).
Dr. Htoo Htoo Aung
Dr. Htoo Htoo Aung is a Veterinary Inspector (Vet) in Katha, MTE (MONREC).
Dr. Nay Oo Mon
Dr. Nay Oo Mon assisted the Elephant Project in parasite research. She works as a Deputy Township Veterinary Officer in Yangon, at Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department, Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Irrigation.
U San Win
U San Win works as a Veterinary Inspector (Diploma in VET) in Kawlin, MTE (MONREC).
Dr. Kyaw Nyein
Dr. Kyaw Nyein works as an Assistant Manager (Vet) in MTE, Kawlin (MONREC).
Ohnmar Win is an upper clerk of MTE in Kawlin. She works with the elephant register.
Dr. Hnin Nandar
Dr. Hnin Nandar is a Veterinary Inspector (Vet) in MTE Headquarters, Yangon, Myanmar (MONREC).
U Myo Zaw Win
U Myo Zaw Win works as a Veterinary Inspector (Certificate in Vet) in Kawlin, MTE (MONREC).
Dr. John Jackson
John was a NERC ACCE DTP funded PhD student at the University of Sheffield. John developed evidence-based conservation strategies for Asian elephants in Myanmar. In order to achieve this, he investigated the variation of timber elephant population performance and demographic structure through space and time, reviewing the current management strategies for timber elephants, namely wild-capture, and elaborating on the status of wild elephants in Myanmar and their contribution to the timber elephants.
Dr. Hannah Mumby
Hannah is a Draper’s company junior research fellow, Pembroke college Cambridge and a Branco Weiss fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge. She researches how ecology and environment affect the survival, reproduction and stress levels of elephants. She is also interested in how elephants get so big and measures how the elephants grow and what factors influence their growth and maturation. Fieldtrips to Myanmar have fuelled Hannah’s interest in protecting Myanmar’s elephants and the helping the people who live and work with them.
Dr. Adam Hayward
Adam is a research Fellow at the University of Stirling. Adam’s research aims to determine the causes and consequences of variation in life-history traits in natural populations, using a variety of study systems. He is particularly interested in the drivers of variation between individuals in defence against parasite infection and the effects on individual health and fitness and disease transmission. He is also interested in the evolutionary biology of ageing and how early-life events can impact upon later life-history.
Prof. Janine Brown
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, U.S.A. Janine is a wildlife endocrinologist and an expert in methods for measuring stress and sex hormones from faecal and hair samples.
Prof. Susan Mikota
Elephant Care International, U.S.A. Susan is a world expert in elephant biology and medicine, and collaborates with us on elephant parasitology, tuberculosis in Myanmar elephants, and other health-related topics.
Prof. Chatchote Thitaram
Chiang Mai University, Thailand. We collaborate with Chatchote on endocrinological topics such as measuring stress and sex hormones from faecal and hair samples.
Prof. Nikorn Thongtip
Kasetsart University, Thailand. We collaborate with Nikorn on male reproductive function related topics.
Dr. Emily Lynch
Emily was a Post Doctoral researcher at the University of Turku, Finland. Her work focused on the influence of kinship on individual health, fertility, and behavior. Relationships with kin play an important role in the social lives of long-lived mammals, but the adaptive consequences of these interactions remain unclear. For her PhD work (Rutgers University, USA), Emily examined kin-biased social and foraging behaviors among wild olive baboons. Emily explored similar effects in Asian elephants, testing links between kin networks, hormonal stress profiles, health, and reproductive patterns. This work enhanced our understanding of how changes in demographic conditions affect population dynamics and is likely to guide conservation initiatives and captive management protocols.
Emily was funded by the Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation.
Contact: elynch1859 (at) gmail.com
Jonathan is a PhD student studying comparative cognition with the Animal Minds Lab at the University of Auckland. By conducting research across several species (including Asian elephants, kea, jumping spiders and New Caledonian crows), his project aims to help further our understanding of how intelligence and various components of cognition, such as numerical ability, have evolved across different animal lineages.
For his Master’s degree, Jonathan studied the relationship between elephant behaviour, stress and personality at the University of Sheffield.
Contact: jonathan.wb (at) outlook.com