Swimming comes naturally to many animals. One animal that many people do not think can swim are elephants. People believe that they are unable to swim due to their enormous size. However, African and Asian elephants are some of the few mammals that have learned how to swim.
Although these animals do not use swimming to catch prey, they rely on swimming for an excellent reason. Our South African elephant conservation team wants to share with you how elephants are able to swim and why they do it.
Can elephants swim?
Contrary to popular belief, elephants, in fact, can swim. Although African elephants can weigh up to 2.5 to 7 tons, these mammals are natural swimmers. How are elephants able to swim? Their body mass plays an important part in keeping them afloat. It gives them enough buoyancy to float and submerge underwater if needed.
As elephants use their feet for swimming, they keep their face above water and keep their mouth below. Elephants use their trunks as a snorkel to breathe underwater. This allows them to swim for long periods of time without needing to completely emerge from the water.
How far can an elephant swim for?
Elephants like to keep moving no matter where they are. On land, elephants walk on average, 25 km (about 15 and a half miles) per day. However, if needed, elephants walk up to 195 km. When elephants are in the water, they can also rank up some major miles. They are able to swim up to 480 km - that is about 300 miles.
When do elephants learn to swim?
Although elephants are natural swimmers, they do not know how to swim as babies. South African elephant conservation researchers found that baby elephants (calves) do not learn how to swim until they are several months old. The mother elephants will stay with them when they are near water.
Baby elephants like to play in the water, and this helps them learn how to use their trunks. When elephants are very young, they do not know how to control their trunks. Many times they bend down their heads to drink water instead of using their trunks.
Why do elephants swim?
You are probably wondering why elephants even need to swim? Elephants do not swim to catch a meal but to stay cool. These massive animals live in locations that have very warm temperatures like the African savannas and Asian forests. Elephants do not sweat, so they need a way to cool their huge bodies.
They regulate their body temperatures through rolling in mud or taking a swim. How does this work? When an elephant gets into water or mud, they store that material in their skin. This helps their bodies stay cool, protects them from the sun and keeps parasites away. That is one of the reasons why you tend to see elephants around watering holes.
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Although we know a lot about elephants, we still need to learn a lot more to help them survive in zoos and the wild. You can help save the elephants by supporting our research! Sign-up for our “Herds of Heroes” to make a monthly donation. Also, register to our newsletter down below to get updates on all our research efforts!