Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 182, Issue 2, pp 311–319 | Cite as

Taking the heat: thermoregulation in Asian elephants under different climatic conditions

  • Nicole M. WeissenböckEmail author
  • Walter Arnold
  • Thomas Ruf
Original Paper


Some mammals indigenous to desert environments, such as camels, cope with high heat load by tolerating an increase in body temperature (T b) during the hot day, and by dissipating excess heat during the cooler night hours, i.e., heterothermy. Because diurnal heat storage mechanisms should be favoured by large body size, we investigated whether this response also exists in Asian elephants when exposed to warm environmental conditions of their natural habitat. We compared daily cycles of intestinal T b of 11 adult Asian elephants living under natural ambient temperatures (T a) in Thailand (mean T a ~ 30°C) and in 6 Asian elephants exposed to cooler conditions (mean T a ~ 21°C) in Germany. Elephants in Thailand had mean daily ranges of T b oscillations (1.15°C) that were significantly larger than in animals kept in Germany (0.51°C). This was due to both increased maximum T b during the day and decreased minimum T b at late night. Elephant’s minimum T b lowered daily as T a increased and hence entered the day with a thermal reserve for additional heat storage, very similar to arid-zone ungulates. We conclude that these responses show all characteristics of heterothermy, and that this thermoregulatory strategy is not restricted to desert mammals, but is also employed by Asian elephants.


Core body temperature rhythms Elephas maximus Heat storage Heterothermy Large body size 



N.M.W. was sponsored by a DOC-fFORTE scholarship from the Austrian Academy of Science. Further financial aid was provided by the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna and the Tierpark Hellabrunn, Munich. We thank P. Ratanakorn from the Mahidol University Thailand and the management from the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo as well as the Zoo Hellabrunn for providing access to the elephants. We thank C. Weiss and the mahouts from the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo for their assistance with data collection. Thanks also to G. Fluch for the production of the temperature data loggers and for technical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole M. Weissenböck
    • 1
    Email author
  • Walter Arnold
    • 1
  • Thomas Ruf
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Integrative Biology and EvolutionResearch Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary MedicineViennaAustria

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