3rd April 2012... Research conducted by Busch Gardens Tampa and leading thermal biologists Dr Esther Finegan and Brandon Laforest MSc, has shown that Asian elephants lose most of their body heat, built up during the day, from the surface of their trunks overnight, in contrast to African elephants who cool off after sunset from the surface of their large ears.
Using state-of-the-art FLIR thermal-imaging cameras, a team of scientists and keepers at Busch Gardens were able to undergo an in-depth study into which surface areas of the elephants remained hottest throughout the night, and thus from which areas most heat was lost back into the cool night sky.
Thermoregulation, which is the process by which animals maintain a fairly stable core body temperature despite fluctuations in their environment, is essential for all creatures, but may be particularly challenging for very large mammals such as elephants, who have the smallest surface area, compared to their volume of body tissues, over which heat can be lost.
Otto Fad, Assistant Curator, Elephants, Busch Gardens comments; “Understanding how elephants dissipate stored body heat overnight provides an informed basis for determining under what specific weather conditions elephants should be sheltered inside, while validating our management philosophy that they should sleep outside under the stars the majority of the time. The findings of this ongoing work will have ramifications in elephant management policies and habitat design as we continue to seek the highest levels possible of animal welfare for our elephants.”
Dr Finegan from the University of Guelph, Canada, who studies thermoregulation in a number of mammal species, and who headed up the study with Busch Gardens comments: “The conservation aim of the study was to start investigating what elephants need in order to be thermally comfortable. Subsequent parts of this research study are assessing the importance of shade and water during daylight hours in allowing the elephants to remain comfortably cool during the summer. Previous studies have shown that some mammals may eat less during hot weather, while others do not breed successfully in hot weather.”
Thermal imaging has been used for a number of years in both biological and veterinary studies, with early studies of zoo animals and their outdoor enclosures dating back to the early 1990’s. The current research highlights the potential value of thermal imaging in the low-stress study of exotic and endangered animals, initially in zoological settings.
Notes to Editors
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