Yes, you read that right: elephants are enrolling in a fitness tracking project. The program is called Elephant Welfare Initiative, which was introduced earlier this year and is determined to improve the wellbeing of captive elephants across the U.S. More than 40 zoos have jumped on board, designating caretakers to log the elephants’ behavior and activity each day. They then are given a report card that suggests ways to further enrich the animals’ atmosphere and routine.

An Asian elephant from Fresno, Shaunzi, found the program to be a success in helping her lose some extra weight. She was put on a new exercise routine and is now at an ideal weight for her age and size, around 6,000 pounds after a 2,000-pound loss. This was great news for the initiative’s hopefuls. In past years, their zoo elephants suffered greatly from obesity, foot issues, and reproductive complications, and on a much greater scale than any of the other animals. “We really feel this is what they call a lifestyle change in the elephant community,” said Vernon Presley, the Fresno zoo’s head elephant curator.

How Did This All Come to Be?

Fitness tracking has been all the rage—among humans that is. But how did it evolve into a program for zoo animals? The project emerged after certain scientific studies were published in the journal PLOS One, which detailed research that examined more than 250 elephants. This was a rare, overarching data, considering research on captive animals is pretty limited. The team committed themselves to the study, collecting blood and fecal matter, watching hours of video, and reading up on veterinary reports. They also used GPS data in order to measure the elephants’ daily walking distances. By the end of the study, a few clear observations were made and results emerged.

Elephants Jump on the Bandwagon and Start Fitness Tracking!

First, enclosures with soft soil or sand made for healthier feet and joints—no surprise there. Second, and more surprisingly, bigger enclosures did not appear to make for healthier elephants. And one of the most important findings: more social engagement equals a healthier, happier animal.

These observations, as well as the rest of the team’s findings, are the backbone of the Elephant Welfare Initiative. And so far, they’re proving to increase the overall health and happiness of captive elephants across the country. Let’s take a look back at Shaunzi, the elephant from Fresno. Every morning at breakfast time, she is challenged with a jumbled system of chains and other hanging objects. She has to work her trunk around and through them in order to shake a barrel of hay and is rewarded with a shower of it. This was adapted into Shaunzi’s routine after the research revealed that puzzles make female elephants healthier.

While there is still much controversy about the captivity of elephants at all, zookeepers are utilizing the new research into their methods of care, with the goal of benefitting their elephants. This includes helping the elephants reach a healthy weight, varying their feeding routines, and introducing more social opportunities.

Fitness Technology

Fitness technology has taken over in recent years. Not only are people splurging to buy the latest iPhone or iPad, but the newest fitness watch or smart shoes. People have developed a new healthy obsession with tracking their steps, monitoring their heart rate and sleep patterns, and counting their calories each day. Whether they’re simply fascinated with the new technology, feel the need to hop on the bandwagon, or genuinely care about their health, this equipment is certainly capable of helping them improve their wellbeing! Which is exactly why zoos across the country implemented a fitness tracking project for their elephants. Now, let’s take a look at the latest fitness gadgets; you’ve probably already seen them strapped onto your friend’s wrist or tied on their feet, and hey—maybe you’ll even see one of them hanging on an elephant’s trunk the next time you go to a zoo!

  • Fitbit: Fitbit is a popular fitness watch, which tracks an individual’s steps, heart rate, and overall daily health habits. However, its latest designs also measure sleep using the heart rate technology to estimate your time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep; its purpose is to better understand your sleep quality and improve it moving forward.
  • Under Armour Smart Shoes: Under Armour recently released its Gemini 3 RE smart shoes, a smart alternative to wearing a Fitbit if you’re prone to misplacing small, loose objects. These shoes have a fitness tracker embedded into the soles, which allows you to be a more inconspicuous fitness-tracking fanatic. This technology records running metrics and is even capable of measuring how ready your body is to run.
  • JBL UA Sport Wireless Heart Rate Headphones: These guys are already great for allowing a workout free of long, tangled, annoying cords. But they also have a heart rate monitor built in! They work by connecting to the company’s workout app and also give audio updates on your pace and distance. Pretty neat, huh? And perhaps the best part about these headphones: they actually stay in your ear.