CZAAWE Resource Article

Thermoregulation in African elephants (Loxodonta africana)
Publication Type 
Year of publication 
Four young adult elephant bulls aged 21-23 in the Letsatsing Game Reserve, a private reserve near Pilanesbury NP in South Africa, were the subjects of this study focused on body temperature. The elephant were trained to carry people were engaged in short term daily programmes for tourist or public education groups and normally spend the remainder of the daytime moving freely through the 800 ha reserve. The internal body temperature was recorded by ingested data loggers (i-Button DS19221, Maxim Integrated Products, California, USA) 'set to record the temperature every five minute intervals to determine the 24 hour pattern of body temperature as well as the magnitude and frequency of short-term variation in body temperature'. The data loggers were given to the elephants by placing it by hand towards the back of the tongue and suppyling a constant stream of water from a hosepipe until th e data logger was swallowed. The data loggers were retrieved from the faeces. Mean body temperature over the July 2006-November 2007 study period was about 36.4 +/-0.03 degrees C and mean daily amplitude was about 1.2 0.04 degrees C. Body temperature appeared to be largely independent from the environmenal temperature which ranges form -1 to 52 degrees C. Large short term changes of >0.3 degrees seemed to be associated with ingestion of water, but either swimming or spashing caused a drop in temperature on a consistent basis. It appeared the elephants engaged in these latter behaviours for thermal comfort or pleasure rather than lowering body temperature. Higher than average body temperature was not associted with higher that average ear flapping, but the rate flappng increased with the increase in enviromnental temperature. 'I conclude that despite their large size, African elephtants, with access to water, regulate their body temperture within narrow limits, with a 24 hour pattern similar to that seen in other medium- to large-sized mammals.