Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Elephants Are So Cute...And Heavy

So elephants don’t like to walk uphills. Why am I not surprised? I’ve never in my life met a big runner who liked hills. It simply requires too much extra work to lift the body uphill. And the bigger you are, the harder it is. It’s like the difference between pushing a 100-lb barbell over your head vs a 200-lb barbell.

In northern Kenya, a group of British researchers recently tracked elephant amblings by attaching a GPS system to the elephants. In an area with about 5,400 elephants, not to mention lots of mountainous terrain, the scientists found that the hills weren’t alive with the sound of elephant braying. The pachyderms kept to the lowlands. They did this because an 8,000 pound elephant that wandered uphill even a mere 100 meters would require so much extra energy that he’d have to spend an extra 30 minutes foraging for food. Or lose weight. Neither is a very good alternative. So elephants stick to the flatlands.

That’s what big runners like to do, too. Conversely, when an overweight runner loses a few pounds, he feels the difference first on the hills. They’re so much easier after you’ve slimmed down a bit.

Elephants in the wild don’t have weight problems, but those in captivity occasionally need to attend Weight Watchers. In 2004, the Anchorage Alaska zoo made some news when it announced that it was going to buy a treadmill for Maggie the Elephant, because she was tipping the scales at 9,120 pounds. Maggie’s zookeepers wanted her to lose 1,000 pounds, and they figured a treadmill would help. After all, exercise is important to healthy weight control, right?

Somebody forgot to tell Maggie. The Zoo ordered up its treadmill, for something over $100,000, and it arrived last September. Next they only had to get Maggie onto it. The zookeepers tried all her favorite snacks—apples, carrots, peanuts—but none worked. If she were in Kenya, Maggie wouldn’t be walking the hills. In Anchorage, she ain’t getting on no damn treadmill. “We have to be patient,” a zoo employee said. “The treadmill didn’t come with an instructional video.”
More on Maggie, the overweight but recalcitrant elephant


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