It 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.
The 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.
Yesterday, 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.
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