by Mag. Nicole Weissenboeck, Dr. Harald M. Schwammer


Background to elephants´ thermo physiology:
Because of the elephants´ size, they produce great amounts of metabolic heat which must be dissipated. Besides, they gain heat throughout the day from the environment. As well as their great mass, their low surface to volume ratio and their nearly hairless condition confer unusual problems related to heat balance and dehydration of the integument. In addition, elephants meet with troubles concerning the natural environment conditions. Because of high prevailing air temperatures and often high humidity the opportunities of dissipating heat are reduced. The question is how elephants can manage these difficult circumstances?

The project:
This research project is devoted to thermoregulation in Asian elephants. For one and a half year now, Nicole Weissenboeck has been working as a research assistant at Schoenbrunn Zoo. Her work involved deploying a modern IR camera (FLIR INC.) to measure surface temperatures and to draw up thermo profiles of the elephants.
Nicole has just completed her Diploma thesis with honours and was already busy working in Pinnawala in February 2006, studying the thermo regulative behaviour of the 75 animals there with the aim to gather information about how elephants can handle the hot conditions they encounter. First IR images of wild elephants at the Udwalawe National Park had been succeeded as well.

The staffs of Dehiwala Zoo and Pinnawala Orphanage are involved working feverishly on this project. We are particularly proud of the trust that the colleagues from Sri Lanka have placed in us.

Relevance of the project:
This present study will provide new insights into elephants´ physiology, especially thermo-regulation. It will also be expedient to understand the force of elephants in reacting with their environment. This might help to guarantee species-appropriate zoo management and might contribute to settle the animal–man–conflict in habitat use.
Nicole is now planning her Ph.D. work with the aim to deepen the study in elephants´ thermoregulation. For this, she will visit Sri Lanka again to measure elephants´ body core and surface temperatures under hot climate conditions. Nicole got a DOC-FFORTE scholarship of the Austrian Academy of Science to carry out the project. Her Ph.D. work is supervised from the Research Institute of Wildlife ecology at the University of Veterinary medicine, Vienna.