From The FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton

Released: 11-Jul-2014 3:00 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – African elephants in captivity are getting fat. (We know that feelng…) While the thought of a pudgy pachyderm might produce a chuckle, it is a situation with potentially serious consequences for the species.

“Obesity affects about 40 percent of African elephants in captivity,” said Daniella Chusyd, M.A., a doctoral student in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Nutrition Sciences.

“Much as we see in humans, excess fat in elephants contributes to the development of heart disease, arthritis, a shorter lifespan and infertility.”

Infertility is the aspect that may be most troubling to Chusyd and colleagues. Nearly half of zoo African female elephants exhibit abnormal ovarian cycles, which is strongly correlated with a high body mass index, said Chusyd. According to a 2011 report by scientists at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, zoos in the United States need to average about six births each year to maintain a stable elephant population. But the current average is only around three births a year.

“Low birth rate is connected to abnormal ovarian cycles in elephants and virtually all large mammals, including humans,” said Tim Nagy, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences and Chusyd’s mentor. “At the current birth rate, the findings of the Lincoln Park Zoo report suggest that the African elephant could be gone from U.S. zoos within 50 years.”

With elephants in the wild continually threatened by diminished habitat, ivory hunting, war and political instability, zoos may provide the last bastion for preserving the species, said Chusyd. To better understand the link between obesity and infertility in zoo elephants, she has launched a study looking at body composition and inflammation in these animals.

“In humans, inflammation is a common feature in the effects of obesity such as heart disease and infertility, and we know obesity leads to a chronic state of inflammation,” she said.

“What we do not know is the relationship in elephants between inflammation and obesity with abnormal reproductive function.”

UAB, particularly Nagy’s laboratory, is internationally known for studies of the effects of body composition and obesity. Chusyd’s project to assess female African elephants in U.S. zoos is funded by the Eppley Foundation for Research and includes collaborators at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the University of Aberdeen and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Her analysis, measuring total body water using a stable isotope called deuterium and mass spectroscopy, will determine the amount of lean tissue versus the amount of fat tissue in these elephants.

“It  is difficult to gauge obesity in an animal as large as an elephant,” said Nagy. “The gold standard is a body condition score based on visual assessment, which is very subjective. This study will give us a much more reliable measure to determine which of these animals are obese.”

Chusyd said comparison of the obesity measure against whether the elephant maintains a regular ovarian cycle will shed important information on the link between fertility and obesity and could suggest strategies to reduce obesity and increase fertility.

“It may be that zoos will need to rethink how they house and feed elephants to reduce the incidence of overweight,” said Chusyd. “And not just elephants, as we hypothesize that a relationship between obesity, inflammation and infertility is present in many large mammals, including other imperiled African animals such as the rhinoceros and the gorilla.”

The test is easily done, said Chusyd. It is based on two simple blood samples, and zoo workers who are accustomed to working with the animals will conduct the blood draws and provide the samples to Chusyd for analysis.

For her, this project blends her passion for African animals with her career goals in nutrition science.

“I developed a profound respect and admiration for these animals while engaged in research in Tanzania following undergraduate school,” she said.

“And I am fascinated by the role of obesity on human and animal health. There are similarities between obese animals and obese humans in terms of onset of puberty, onset of menopause and overall life span, among other variables.”

Chusyd will test the validity of the deuterium measurement on a male elephant in the Birmingham zoo this summer. Data collection at U.S. zoos should get underway by fall.

About UAB
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center and the state of Alabama’s largest employer, with some 23,000 employees and an economic impact exceeding $5 billion annually on the state. The five pillars of UAB’s mission deliver knowledge that will change your world: the education of students, who are exposed to multidisciplinary learning and a new world of diversity; research, the creation of new knowledge; patient care, the outcome of ‘bench-to-bedside’ translational knowledge; service to the community at home and around the globe, from free clinics in local neighborhoods to the transformational experience of the arts; and the economic development of Birmingham and Alabama.

My comments


More elephant news, At Boise, Idaho the zookeepers are worries about the waistline of Maggie, an African elephant.

An article in the Ludington Daily News said that the keepers at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage were installing the first pudgy pachyderm treadmill to help Maggie to lose weight. A local engineering company Conveyor Engineering offered to build Maggi’s  large treadmill.

It seems African elephants spend around 16 hours every day looking for food and water . In the cold winters Maggie, who would normally live in a hot climate, is kept indoors and misses the exercise.

When the £100,000 custom treadmill was built, Maggi decided she did not like  the idea. She put two feet on the treadmill and that was enough. Persuading an overweight elephant to do something she does not want to do, is a losing battle. Eventually she was persuaded with treats but only when it suited Maggie. The keepers say sometimes she wants to train and other days she is not interested.   Maggie has lived at the zoo since 1983 when she arrived as a baby. Her mother and other elephants had been killed leaving her an orphan elephant. The staff have faith and believe in time Maggie will be happy to use the treadmill regularly.


Pregnant pudgy pachyderm Tess in Houston, an Asian elephant, has just been put on a diet to lose 500 pounds with an exercise and weight loss regime in preparation for the birth of her new baby. Weighing in at 7,700 pounds Tess has been was put on a low calorie diet, taken for a brisk two mile walk each morning and does leg exercises to improve her muscle tone. Staff called this elephant yoga. This news was posted June 9th 2014. so Tess has a long way to go with her weight loss programme – about year before the birth.


In Twycross Zoo, Warwickshire UK, they have a rare baby elephant. Lovely pictures posted on Twitter 29 March 2014 The endangered baby elephant must now be 5 months old but still a delight to see. Look at the different size feet….look on the Internet for Twycross baby elephant and see the Twitter picture.

And to think I am worried about my waistline. If I had to lose 500 pounds there would be nothing left of me. Bad enough giving birth to an 8 pound baby – what must it be like giving delivering a 250 pound  baby elephant. It does not bear thinking about.


Then there is the lovable child’s  toy called Nellie  the elephant who packed her trunk, said goodbye to  the circus. Off she went trumpety, trump, trump, trump.

If you want to hear it or read the words try Always goes down well with  little children.


An adult male savannah elephant — the largest land mammal in the world — weighs about 12,000 pounds and stands roughly 10 feet tall at the shoulder. The smaller forest elephant weighs 10,000 pounds at most. And unlike savannah elephants’ curved tusks, forest dwellers’ are small and straight, designed for negotiating routes through dense foliage. Both elephants do possess the same tough hide (the Latin name for elephant is “pachyderm,” or “thick-skinned”). But while their skin may be durable, elephants still need protection from insects and the hot African sun. Wallowing in a mud bath cools down an elephant as well as provides an extra layer of cover.

Regardless of where elephants live, their social behaviors and social structures remain largely the same. Cynthia Moss has dedicated her life to understanding the biology, ecology, and society of the herds that roam the savannahs of Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Here, in the open landscape, biologists can spot a group miles away and approach by car to observe. From their vehicles, Moss and her colleagues in East Africa have unlocked the mysteries of how these enormous animals learn as youngsters, raise their young, survive as adults, and communicate with family members.

Elephant females guard the young. An elephant calf is usually born into an extended family, headed by an older female elephant who serves as matriarch. Families are cohesive groups of females and their young. Adult males leave the herd at 14 years of age, and either range alone or join other bull elephants in “bachelor herds,” rejoining females only at breeding times. The mother is responsible for providing the 250-pound newborn with milk. But when it comes to caretaking and protecting babies from predators, the whole herd pitches in.

The mother receives help from aunts, sisters, and cousins who serve as nannies. Known as “allomothers,” these baby-sitters are young female elephants learning how to care for babies. Teaching a potential mother how to rear her child is an important task, since the calves’ survival depends on it. And since elephants bear young only once every few years, each baby is essential to the herd’s ultimate survival.

After five years of rearing this young elephant, the mother gives birth to a new infant, weaning the now adolescent calf at the same time. By then, the young elephant weighs nearly a ton and has learned how to forage on available vegetation. Males tend to leave their mothers earlier than females, with young bulls beginning to wander beyond the protective family circle at the early age of six.

As a young elephant grows, it learns how to become independent by watching and mimicking others. A calf will begin to experiment with its trunk, using it to grasp grass and other solid food, at about four months of age. But it takes a lot of practice to master the more than 40,000 muscles that give an elephant’s long snout so much dexterity.


With the two finger-like points on the end of its trunk, an African elephant can pick up fruit the size of a marble — or a branch a foot thick. This elongated proboscis is an incredibly versatile tool: it provides a means for smelling, breathing, and touching, not to mention drinking and eating. Mothers caress their young with their trunks; infants use theirs to investigate everything from plants to playmates.
The trunk also acts as a hose, whether for a drink or a dust bath. (A coating of dust, like mud, repels sun and insects). To drink, an elephant sucks water into its trunk, pokes the open end in its mouth, and releases the water to let it drain down its gullet.

During the dry season, when water is low, an elephant will dig holes to find underground springs, drawing as much as two gallons at a time with its trunk. The water holes also give elephants access to important mineral sources buried deep below the surface.

While these open wells provide a water source for thirsty elephants, other wildlife also depend on them for survival. After elephants leave an area, smaller creatures rush to the watering holes dug by the elephants. Throughout their daily lives, elephants are the landscape architects essential for creating worn paths through the thick forests, excavating trees in the open savannahs, and unearthing water wherever it is needed.

Plucking fruit from trees with their flexible trunks, elephants feed themselves — and help forests regenerate. After having walked many miles, the elephants excrete the seeds of the fruit, which sprout in fertile dung piles and create new trees in other parts of the forest. Recent studies have shown that 90 different tree species depend on hungry elephants in order to prosper. Without elephants, Africa would look vastly different.


Between 1979 and 1989, the worldwide demand for ivory caused elephant populations to decline to dangerously low levels. During this time period, poachings fueled by ivory sales cut Africa’s elephant population in half. Since they were big targets and sported the largest tusks, savannah elephants took the worst hit. But as soon as these elephants began to vanish, hunters moved into the forests in search of the elephants’ smaller kin. In 1977, 1.3 million elephants lived in Africa; by 1997, only 600,000 remained.

Elephant tusks are still prized. Recently, that number has stabilized, due in large part to the 1990 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ban on international ivory sales.

But in June, 1997, CITES voted partially to lift trade sanctions and to allow Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia to sell stockpiled ivory to Japan, where there is a major ivory market. Many conservation groups fear that this slight loosening of the ivory ban will rekindle poaching throughout the elephants’ range.

Even though it is illegal to kill an elephant in Africa, people continue to slaughter the mammoth beasts — if not for ivory, then for revenge. Whether forest or savannah dwellers, roaming elephant herds have begun butting up against sprawling human populations in most regions. While Masai herdsmen coexist with elephants by leaving their livestock unfenced and letting the animals walk through their land, farmers who try to barricade their crops from migrating wildlife create trouble for themselves.

To a farmer, an elephant can be an irritating five-ton garden pest — or an active danger to his life. If a hungry beast destroys the season’s crop, the culprit (or sometimes just the nearest elephant, guilty or not) may be hunted down and forced to pay the price of the damage with its life.

Scientists are working on remedies to suit both parties. One has developed a pepper-spray bomb that wards off elephants by attacking their sensitive eyes with airborne pepper molecules. The elephant recovers soon after, having learned to stay clear of the fields.

Still, elephant poaching remains a problem in some parts of Africa. In September, 1996, Michael Fay, an elephant researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, was flying his small airplane over a remote forest clearing just outside the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo when he spotted a cluster of elephant carcasses.

Deciding to investigate further, Fay returned the next day by helicopter, accompanied by a television camera crew.
Fay, who had worked with Cynthia Moss and the African Wildlife Foundation to help establish the park in 1993, found a scene of slaughter: there lay more than 300 elephant bodies, all with their tusks hacked off. Cows, calves, and juveniles had been indiscriminately left to die by poachers supplying the illegal ivory trade. Two months later, Fay found the remains of 1,000 more dead elephants nearby.

Poachers killed whole families of elephants. Taking action into his own hands, Fay chased poachers out of the forest by destroying their camps. He also met with the local village leaders to solicit their help in ending the killings. By the spring of 1997, Fay and his colleagues had stopped illegal hunting of elephants in the Nouabale-Ndoki region.

He and Andrea Turkalo, another researcher for the Wildlife Conservation Society, continue to monitor and protect elephants in the Congo basin.

As urban sprawl continues to block migration routes in and out of these protected areas, elephants rely on the open corridors provided by traditional Masai land use. Dr. David Western, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, believes the best way to alleviate human-wildlife conflicts is to give people a reason to keep the local wildlife alive and healthy. For instance, eco-tourism in Amboseli National Park and its neighbor Nairobi National Park puts money directly back into the local Masai communities. Rather than a burden, the elephants become an important part of the local economy.

If you  and our family would like to learn  lot more about elephants and their habitat the following sites  will be of interest to you.

This information is provided courtesy of   This is an interesting site  about the lives of  elephants thanks to Cynthia Moss,  Diana C. Ross, Michael Fay, an elephant researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Andrea Turkalo, another researcher. This NATURE site also includes  more information about these dellghtful creatures.

Most children have a cuddly teddy bear –  I wonder how many have a cuddly elephant called Nellie.  It is thought that in the  future there will no longer be elephants in zoos.  So hurry and take the family to see the baby elephant at Twycross Zoo and take some pictures..

The Amboseli Trust for Elephants
The Amboseli Trust for Elephants aims to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants. The Trust funds the Amboseli Elephant Research Project.

Elephant Network
Get the latest news from the field about the people and the elephants in the Amboseli Elephant Research Project.

WikiProject: Amboseli Biosphere Reserve
A indepth view of the Amboseli ecosystem

Shamwari Game Reserve
A wildlife conservation area in South Africa, with a photo gallery and information about local sights.

The Elephant Information Repository
Everything about elephants, from anatomy to culture.

Amboseli National Park
Information about the park from the Great Outdoor Recreation Pages, with travel tips and links to other parks in Kenya and Africa.

African Wildlife Foundation: Amboseli Elephant Research Project
Information about Cynthia Moss’s projects, elephant conservation, and ways to get involved.

World Wildlife Fund: African Elephant
An entry in the World Wildlife Fund’s encyclopedia of endangered animals, including the African Elephant’s distribution, population, and legal status.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have. See you soon. Jeanne.

Back tomorrow Jeanne




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