Wits University has just completed studies on how elephants cope with high African temperatures and how that influences their behaviour. In African savannahs, elephants are exposed to high environmental heat loads during the day and low ambient temperatures at night and yet these animals are able to cope quite adequately.

Temperature plays such a big role in their natural behaviour and researchers are hoping that these findings may serve as a stepping stone in finding alternative ways of controlling the ever-growing elephant population.

Infrared pictures

Thermography is used to measure temperature through infrared pictures. The aim of using the infrared pictures is to determine how the elephant heats up and dispenses of that heat. The infrared picture comes up in different colours where red is extremely hot and blue is cold. This technology was first developed by the military.

Because elephants are such big animals they heat up quickly and their ability to dispense of that heat will determine where one would find them. It was found that the elephant calf just like a human baby, heats up very quickly. “We suspect that probably out in the wild populations, the herd may well be determined by the babies’ temperature. When babies’ temperature is really hot, they then need to got to water,” says Phillipa Hidden, a masters student at the school of physiology at Wits University.

Studies also found that the elephant’s feet are very hot, enabling them to walk on high temperatures without sustaining any injuries.

Hidden says that this research may hopefully later be combined in studies to understand the animal better and address issues like population control.