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Elephants 'walk like Land Rovers', say scientists - PHOTO

31 March 2010 [18:17] - TODAY.AZ
Elephants have a 'four-leg-drive' system of walking that work much like the wheels of a Land Rover, scientists have found.
While all other four-footed animals are thought to be designed with 'rear-leg-drive' - meaning they tend to accelerate with the hind limbs while using their forelegs more for braking - scientists have found that in elephants, power is applied independently to each limb.

The researchers analysed the movements of six juvenile Asian elephants using an advanced 3D motion-capture technique, placing reflective markers at strategic points on the elephants' bodies were filmed by seven infrared cameras.

The elephants were ridden or guided by their mahouts across their whole range of speeds along a walkway rigged with force-sensitive platforms.

Measurements of forces on the animals' legs at walking and running speeds showed that each limb was used both for accelerating and braking.

Elephants' legs were also shown to be slightly compliant, or 'bouncy', especially when running at faster speeds - which was also a surprise, as experts had previously assumed elephants would need rigid, pillar-like legs to support their weight. Bounciness made their legs two to three times less mechanically efficient than expected, putting them on a par with those of humans.

Study leader Dr John Hutchinson, from the Royal Veterinary College, London, said: 'We have developed some new techniques for looking at animal movement that may change the way that we view the locomotion of other animals.

'We have shown that elephant legs function in very strange and probably unique ways. We even overturned some of our own previous ideas about elephants, which is always initially disheartening but ultimately exhilarating for a scientist.

'Our measurements have also provided basic data that will be useful in clinical studies of elephants, such as common lameness problems.'


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