How Far Do Elephants Walk in One Day?

Posted at 12:02 pm July 14, 2008 by Fred Bercovitch

 elephant musi with GPS collarIt depends. In Africa, elephants can cover over 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a day, if food is scarce, but rarely walk that far. More often they cover a few miles during the day, and sometimes spend most of their time near a water source. The distance that elephant herds travel seems to change during the year. So how about at the Wild Animal Park? How far do our elephants walk in a day?

We’re going to be measuring that. When you come to the Park, you’ll probably see the elephants with a gigantic collar around their necks (as seen above on Musi). The collar doesn’t bother them; in fact, they get used to it quite quickly in the same way that people sometimes forget that they are wearing a ring or watch, or that your dog gets used to wearing a collar.

On the top of the collar is a leather pocket that houses a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. The gadget sends signals to satellites circling the Earth, and the signals bounce back to the GPS unit. Inside the unit is a tiny computer that receives the signals and figures out where the elephant is located. You might have seen a similar device in some cars that helps drivers navigate city streets. Once the computer collects the data on a regular basis about where Musi, our first animal to wear a collar, has been all day long, we download the data and figure out how far he walked in one day.

 elephant pedometerThe elephants might also have a bit more “bling” on their legs; look for a leather anklet (pictured at left). It contains a matchbook-sized gadget that records animal movement and works in the same way that a pedometer works for people. Using this information, and comparing it to information from wild elephants, helps us to maintain a healthy herd.

Since our last blog (see Busy Elephant Calves), quite a few questions have popped up, so we’ll answer some of them here:

I’ve watched elephant shows that tell about male elephants going into “musk?” How does this affect Mabu?

When male elephants go into “musth,” their reproductive hormones are at a high level, and they are anxious to find a mate!

I’m glad to hear that Lungile is doing better physically, but how is she doing emotionally? Did she go though a grieving process right after her baby passed away?

Lungile has recuperated from her lost calf. She was able to rejoin her friends in the herd without any problem, and that probably helped her adjust to the loss of her baby. She was unable to produce enough milk to sustain the calf, and the baby was uninterested in drinking from a bottle. We are still monitoring the reproductive state of the elephant cows, and Umngani could be pregnant again. We continue to monitor Swazi’s reproductive state, but do not know why she has not become pregnant.

 Punga and KamileYesterday, I was on the elephant cam and saw that huge pool with a lot of water in it, then today, it was empty! What’s up with that?

Elephants love to splash in the water, especially those growing babies! Our rambunctious youngsters are frolicking about in the pond, but we are hesitant to fill the pond completely because we don’t want the little guys to drown while playing! We also need to sometimes drain the water and clean the area, so if you are watching Elephant Cam and the pond is empty, that’s probably because we need to clean it.

How do the babies know who their mom is? By smell? Or do they recognize them by sight?

We are not sure how elephant babies and mothers do recognize each other, but we are trying to see if they somehow figure it out using infrasound, or sounds that we cannot hear but the elephants can.

Fred Bercovitch is the head of the San Diego Zoo’s Behavioral Biology Division.

Jeff Andrews is an animal care manager at the Wild Animal Park.

Watch the Park’s elephants daily on Elephant Cam…

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14 Responses to “How Far Do Elephants Walk in One Day?”

  1. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for this recent blog. I was VERY happy to see my questions had been answered!

  2. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Fred for the updates. Will you be keeping both Musi and Punga at the WAP? Or, will you have to send them to another home to keep the genes more diverse, and to keep from having potential bull elephant fights? Three bull elephants is a lot to manage, even in a large area like they have at WAP?

    How many Asian elephants do you have there now? Do you have any plans to ” swap” any of the elephants with the ones at SDZ?

  3. barbara says:

    Fred and Jeff, thanks for the great blog and answering some questions. I always find the elephants interesting, especially the little ones when they play in the water. Thank you for all the interesting info on the herd.

  4. Carole says:

    What a fascinating species they are. No wonder so many love elephants. Thank you for the update. Will you allow Lungile to have another calf?

  5. Daniel says:

    Can we expect another pregnancy from Ndula either?

  6. george Middleton says:

    When will the Asin Elephants move to the Zoo and after that how long will it be before the African elephants can ” spread out”

    Moderator’s note: We don’t have an exact date yet, but the Asian elephants will move to the Zoo prior to the opening of the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey habitat, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2009.

  7. Joan says:

    Thank you so much for the update! It’s great to know Lungile has recuperated and is feeling well. We bloggers become quite attached to our animals and truly look forward to the updates.

  8. Diane says:

    Thanks for the update !

  9. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi, you all! Thanks for getting us updated about the elephant herd and the interesting walking study that you are doing on the elephants. I’m surprised that you chose Moose to wear the collar! He looks like that he’s a little bit on the rambunctious side from what I’ve read about him in past updates. I guess being the biggest brother gave him honor of being the guinea pig for this project! Let us know what you were able to get from the walking data. You answered some of the questions, but you didn’t say anything new about the 3 young calves–Khosi, Punga, Kamile. I know that Kamile’s one year birthday is coming up this September. Hope that you will get some pics of her birthday party up on the picture gallery! The picture gallery is still missing pics of Punga’s first birthday and Moose’s 3rd birthday. We also would like for you to update the 3 calves profiles and pics. The info on those 3 calves are a little bit outdated! Hoping that Umngani is pregnant again, and I’m hoping that Swazi will become pregnant soon. I’m also wondering whether you will let Lungile get pregnant again after losing her calf earlier this year. I do hope that you and the vets were able to diagnose why Lungile was not able to produce enough milk for her calf. Maybe once you all have those answers, you can be able to help Lungile in some way so that she will have enough milk for her next calf. That will be a huge plus if you all can do that for her!

    For all of the elephant fans out there, Atlanta Zoo and Memphis Zoo will be having elephant babies sometime in 2009. Both zoos have Asian female elephants, and both of the girls–one from each zoo–are now pregnant! Memphis will be having their first baby elephant ever in their 102 year history! Both zoos are very excited about their momma elephants! National Zoo’s African elephant, Shanthi, had 2 AI procedures done in Jan., 2008, and they are waiting to see whether that took or not and whether Shanthi is pregnant. Will probably hear something about that news by this fall when they finally do an ultrasound on her. If she is pregnant, they will be expecting Shanthi to have her baby elephant by late 2009/early 2010. Keep your fingers crossed, do some praying for Shanthi, you all! NZ is also in the middle of totally redoing their elephant habitats called Elephant Trails for the last year and a half. It is scheduled to be totally done by late 2010 or sometime in 2011. They did have 3 elephant cams online, but they are offline right now due to the construction. I’m hoping that they will have those cams back on before Shanthi has her baby! This will be Shanthi’s 2nd baby elephant if she is pregnant; she had Kandula in 2001 who will be 7 years old this November.

    Well, gonna go. I also have been doing some panda watching on the cams lately. NZ’s panda, Mei Xiang, and Atlanta’s panda, Lun Lun, maybe pregnant, so all of us pandafans are hoping for baby pandas in the next week or so!


    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  10. Taylor says:

    Does the Wild Animal Park use a free contact system or a protected contact system when working with the elephants?? I am just curious to know.

    Moderator’s note: We use a protected contact system and positive reinforcement training when working with our elephants and many other species at both the Wild Animal Park and the San Diego Zoo.

  11. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi, elephant lovers! How are things with all of the elephants at WAP? Anything new about Umngani’s pregnancy and if Swazi has a chance of being pregnant? Let us know about them and about the 3 youngest calves, ok?

    Well, got some bad news to tell you about Shanthi, the Asian elephant at the National Zoo that had 2 AI procedures done back in Jan., 2008. SHANTHI IS NOT PREGNANT! BUMMER!!! I sure was hoping that she would have another baby elephant in late 2009/early 2010, but that won’t be the case right now. Hopefully, they will try again later on this year or early next year. I guess it’s back to the drawing board for the elephant keepers and the vets. Her first elephant baby, Kandula (born in Nov., 2001), is now close to 7 years old and is becoming pretty independent now. He was the miracle birth for Shanthi, the mom! NZ’s elephant staff is working towards establishing an Asian elephant herd at the zoo, and Shanthi’s nonpregnancy makes this the 2nd straight year that the AI procedures did not work. They are also building an expanded, new elephant habitat called Elephant Trails that is due to be completed by 2011. They have another female elephant named Akimba(?), and she’ll be celebrating 60 years old this month. They’re planning a big birthday party for her.

    Well, gonna go and get back to watching pandacams. There is a momma panda named Mei Xiang that could be very close to having a baby panda cub if everything works out right! Been watching her alot over several days on the NZ cams.

    Let us know what’s up with all of the elephants, and the results of the walking study that you are doing.

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  12. nancy from michigan says:

    interesting information always! lots of credit to chari mercier of st. pete floridafor the mountains of research and information, and questions. you are truly a devoted animal zoo lover. you should have gone

    into a career field that has something to do with animals! this remark is a compliment chari! I get a kick out of reading your remarks on the elephants, the polar bears, and of course, the beloved panda bears. you always seem to know where to find all the information and web sites that are available to us. thanks! you must spend alot of time discovering so much information and ask questions about the things you can’t find.

    kudos to you. by the way I love st. pete. I read all the blogs with pleasure. nancy

  13. justin says:

    so that how they walck ion one day

  14. Betsy says:

    Thanks so much for all your blogs and the info on them. I have a question. It is Sunday the 5th of October and one of the baby elephants is in the circle that is fenced in with doors that open when someone opens it . There is a baby in there and the mother is outside,how long till the door is open so the baby can get to its mother? It is 6:25 and it has been in there for a while. Is there water in there to drink for the baby? I worry if the baby is nursing. Thanks Betsy in PA