Question Your World: Why Are Scientists Using Fit Bits On Elephants? | Community Idea Stations


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Question Your World: Why Are Scientists Using Fit Bits On Elephants?

There are still many mysteries left to solve in the world of science. Occasionally we get to see consumer technology help answer some big questions. This occurrence is a great opportunity to see how some common day to day items are helping sharpen our knowledge about our world. For example, recently scientists have been studying elephants using fit bits. This naturally brings up the first obvious question, why are scientists using fit bits on elephants? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Thus far nearly everything we know about elephants has been studied in captivity. Elephants have been evolving on Earth for nearly 55 million years. The first elephant born in a zoo only dates back to 1962. Clearly the behaviors of wild elephants and captive elephants would be very different. In order to better understand some of the sleeping habits of these giant creatures, scientists needed a way to track them in the wild. Then only could we get a true sense of what these creatures are doing while not being distracted by feedings, the public, and daily zoo rituals.

For this study scientists observed the motions of two elephants for 35 days. These elephants walked through the wild with the fit bits in their trunks and gave scientists some interesting information through out the study. If the trunk was monitored with no motion for five minutes or more then scientists assumed that is when the elephant was sleeping.

Currently we’ve seen that elephants sleep for about 4 to 6 hours while in captivity. Interestingly enough these two wild elephants only seemed to sleep for about 2 hours a day on average. Also, when threatened by a poacher or predator, these elephants seemed to walk nearly twenty miles at a time and would forgo sleeping for nearly 48 hours as well.

So, why study the sleep habits of these animals? Elephants are constantly stressed with poaching and human habitat encroachment. In order for us to better protect these animals and ensure the healthy biodiversity needed for that ecosystem we must know more about the creatures themselves. The fact that these animals have really only been studied in captivity gives scientists the chance to get brand new information on their habits in their natural settings. Furthermore, sleep is still a pretty big mystery to us. This research further showed that elephants don’t get to the point in their sleep cycles where they hit REM. For us humans, this is when we dream. Apparently, these elephants probably are not dreaming. So, why is that we dream? Dolphins and whales are also intelligent mammals that don’t dream. This survey used a very small sample size of two elephants, but is still giving us an interesting window into their world while also raising many questions about ourselves as well.

Despite the fact that this is a small sample size, this is still a great example of how consumer technology sometimes meets the needs of researchers. The sleeping habits of elephants have been a mystery to us, but thanks to mobile tracking devices like this we can get a sharper focus on how these giant animals rest. Understanding this information will help us better protect them in the wild while also allowing us to better understand the greater topic of mammalian sleep.

More research will be needed to get a more comprehensive understanding of sleep for humans and elephants both, but regardless this is a really interesting research project and considering their memory, one that these elephants will remember.