Thick-skinned and mammoth in size elephants are always suffering from the heat as they spend a lot of time baking in the hot South African sun. The produce a lot of body heat due to their large size, daily activity and consumption of large amounts of food. Elephants have a metabolism that burns through roughly 300kg of food a day. For a fully-grown elephant, you can imagine how hot they must be.
Elephants have different methods to help cool themselves down. The easiest of course is to stand in the shade but with the African sun that doesn’t always help. They also use their ears as a cooling mechanism. A lot of people think that if an elephant is flapping its ears it’s aggressive but most of the time it’s just a way to keep the body cool. Through ear flapping, they cool the body in two ways. Firstly the movement of the ears creates a breeze that blows across the body to help them cool down. But more interesting is that with those large ears they pump blood through the ear. The flapping motion cools the blood that then gets circulated back through the body to reduce their body temperature. The ear has been recorded to be up to 6′ C cooler than the rest of the body.
They also use dust, dirt and mud to cover their body’s to protect their skin from the harsh African sun. In addition, an elephant’s favourite way to cool off is by taking a dip.
In addition, an elephant’s favourite way to cool off is by taking a dip. Elephants are natural-born swimmers. They can swim completely submerged underwater, using their trunks as a snorkel to breathe. Swimming is a great way for an elephant to cool off while having fun at the same time. Water is a great way to cool off especially as they can submerge their whole body into it.
If an elephant is hot they seldom resist taking a swim. It cools them down and helps take some weight off the feet. Their massive bodies allow them to easily float and thereby rest—making it nearly impossible for them to drown! They enjoy the time in the water which can last for a few minutes up to a few hours. You will often find them playing with each other, falling over and diving deep when they are in larger dams. They use this as a bit of downtime after a long feeding session in the hot African sun.
Story and photos by: Buffalo Camp Ranger Chris Reiners