Do Elephants Count Calories When They Climb

© Roger de la Harpe
Despite the fact that there might be lush vegetation growing on the slopes of hills, researchers in Kenya have discovered that elephants are reluctant to climb hills, even for a good meal.In the correspondence section of the journal Current Biology, Jake Wall, Iain Douglas-Hamilton and Fritz Vollrath look at data gathered from elephants fitted with satellite tracking devices. From the data it is obvious that elephants seldom climb hills and generally avoid gradients, which has implications for the creation of conservation corridors to link up elephant management areas.

The researchers say that while the elephants might avoid hills to avoid risks such as overheating, injury, lack of water or unsuitable vegetation to eat, they are more convinced that energy considerations are a major factor.

They estimate that in climbing, a four tonne elephant uses 40 times as much energy than it does in walking. Muscle efficiency also has to be taken into account, and so they estimate that an elephant climbing a hill versus walking costs an elephant about 2500 percent more calories.

Based on how much food an elephant eats each day in its 16-18 hours of foraging, they estimate that to climb 100 metres an elephant would have to spend an extra half hour each day eating, explaining why elephant prefer not to climb hills.

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