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Overweight elephant posed by model. shutterstock/elephant outside
jumbo dumbo

Junk in that trunk: The weight problem facing elephants

It’s not as funny as it sounds.

HUMANS AREN’T THE only species battling the bulge. New research has shown that obesity is a serious issue amongst elephants in captivity.

Around 40% of African elephants in captivity were found to be overweight, an issue which can have serious health implications. Much the same as humans, obesity in elephants can lead to heart disease, arthritis, and a shorter lifespan.

The biggest concern for elephants in captivity is the issue of infertility.

Daniella Chusyd, a Masters student involved in the study, said that zoos were integral in preserving the animals:

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.

According to a study by scientists at Lincoln Park Zoo in 2011, six elephants births a year are needed in the United States to keep the population steady. The average number of births is three.

The study was carried out at the University of Alabama in the Birmingham Department of Nutrition Sciences, and found that low birth rates were related to abnormal ovarian cycles associated with obesity amongst the species. Speaking on the issue, Tim Nagy, a professor at the university, said:

Low birth rate is connected to abnormal ovarian cycles in elephants and virtually all large mammals, including humans.

This is not the first time elephants have displayed human characteristics. In 2006, it was found that elephants were one of only a few species able to recognise their own appearances.


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