Project Title: Dusting Elephants
Student: Kelly Summers ’17
Mentor: Dr. Shala Hankison
Elephants, like all animals, rely on behavioral adaptations in order to protect themselves from seasonal variations in the environment. Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), in particular, inhibit topical biomes, which requires their performance of unique, voluntary behaviors to combat the intense climate. One such behavior includes the act of dust bathing, in which elephants use their trunk to gather substrate into a pile, grasp the material, and flinging it abruptly overhead or use air to propel the material onto its underside. Performing dusting can prevent the transmission of diseases through parasites, the development of infections in open wounds, and the spike of elephant body temperature. In previous studies, factors such as increased environmental temperature have been known to influence the frequency of the performance of elephant dust bathing. Additionally, individual exhibition of dusting may cause other elephants to perform the same behavior in a group setting. These findings present important implications for cultural transmission of Asian elephant dusting behavior. Four subjects, home to the Columbus Zoo, were observed over a period of fifteen weeks. Several factors that could influence the frequency of elephant dusting were measured. I hope my findings will better our understanding of captive animal behaviors, the influence of different environmental factors on dust bathing, and explain the triggers and necessity of its performance.