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Elephant Exercise in Zoos

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, researchers are using elephant collars and GPS data to study the movements of elephants in their habitat. Scientists are hoping that their findings will help caregivers and exhibit designers to better understand elephants’ needs for exercise.

Elephants have a lot of opportunity to walk long distances in the wild, especially in dry environments where they have to search far and wide for water. We are taking advantage of data from our GPS-recording collars to shed light on elephant activity in our naturalistic exhibits. We can determine elephant activity levels, daily walking distance, and use of resources within the exhibits. We found that our elephants walk about 3 - 4 kilometers a day in our exhibits.

We also found that our elephants use their exhibit space differently. Low ranking elephants avoided areas where they could be trapped by dominant animals. Also, every animal was able to take advantage of resources in the exhibit, such as the watering hole and mud wallow, but high ranking animals were able to use the watering hole more than low ranking ones were. This type of information is important if we are to determine exactly how our collection animals interact with the environments we provide them.

This map shows our elephant exhibits and some of the features found within them. An example of a partial travel path is shown for one of our females, Fiki, as determined by GPS data:

In the future, we will evaluate the effects of management practices on elephant activity and walking distance. For example, we can determine if the temporal and spatial placement of food has an effect on elephant use of exhibit space and walking rate.

To learn more about Elephant Communication please visit the links below:

Learn more about the history of elephant communication research at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Recording Elephant Vocalizations and Behavior
Check out our elephant collar audio-recording system

African elephant vocalizations and behavior

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Something to Buzz About: Elephants and Bees
Learn how researchers are using bees to protect elephants and people in Northern Kenya


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Elephant Information
Updated: July 26, 2012