Aside from being swimmers, elephants are also travelers. Asian elephants, African forest elephants and African savanna elephants love to walk. These large animals are often seen on the move across their different habitats.
Just recently, in 2021, a herd of Asian elephants took the internet by storm. These elephants left their protected area in China and began walking. After traveling around 310 miles (500 kilometers), these elephants made their way back to their protected area. Millions of people were left wondering why these elephants traveled so far and how far do elephants travel in a day.
This week our team wants to answer these questions about why elephants walk so much and how African elephant conservation groups are working to increase exercise in zoo elephants.
How far do elephants travel in a day?
In the wild, elephants can travel between 1.9 to 7.4 miles (3.2 to 12.0 kilometers) a day. Things are a little different for elephants in zoos. These elephants only walk an average of 3.2 miles (5.2 kilometers per day).
Why do wild elephants walk a lot?
Walking is more than a hobby for elephants. It is a survival skill. Elephants walk long distances to find food and water. The first thing you need to know is that elephants eat and drink a lot. Their enormous bodies need lots of food to power them.
How much food do they require? On average, an adult elephant eats up to 300 pounds of food a day. And they can drink up to 59.43 gallons (225 liters) of water in a day. Sometimes they are able to find their resources without having to travel so far.
However, there are seasons where these resources become limited. Elephants migrate to new locations to survive - for example, savannas in Africa experience dry seasons between June and November. During this season, African savanna elephants migrate to areas near rivers or water sources that do not dry up so easily.
Why do zoo elephants walk less?
Zoo elephants walk relatively less than wild elephants. The reason behind this number is because zookeepers provide elephants with all their resources. In the wild, elephants need to travel for their next meal. Zoo elephants are fed throughout the day by their zookeepers. The typical meals of zoo elephants consist of hay, browse, pellets, fruits and vegetables.
Although this situation might sound beneficial, it can also affect elephants. Just like humans, if elephants do not get enough exercise, their body weight may increase and lead to developing health issues. For example, increased body weight in female elephants can increase their risk of infertility.
Luckily, there are African elephant conservation groups, like us, who are working with zoos to improve the living conditions of elephants. We research wild African elephants to understand elephant biology better and then share that information with zoo management and exhibits to better reflect an elephant’s natural habitat.
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