Elephants move like 4x4s: scientists

March 30, 2010
African Bush Elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. Taken by Oliver Wright, via Wikipedia.

Elephants' legs work like a four-wheel drive vehicle, making them probably unique in the animal kingdom, scientists said Tuesday.

Their "four-leg-drive" system means power is applied independently to each limb.

All other four-legged animals are thought to have "rear-leg-drive", in which the hind are used for acceleration while the front legs are used more for braking.

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

"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.

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

The researchers studied the movements of six young Asian elephants, using three-dimensional motion-capture technology.

The elephants were ridden at different speeds along a walkway rigged with force-sensitive platforms.

The scientists found that each limb was used for both braking and accelerating.

Their legs were shown to be slightly "bouncy", especially when running fast, which made their legs two to three times less mechanically efficient than expected -- and therefore slower than many other animals.

"Surprisingly, use their forelimbs and hindlimbs in similar braking and propulsive roles, not dividing these functions among limbs as was previously assumed or as in other quadrupeds," the scientists wrote in the journal .

"Thus, their limb function is analogous to four-wheel-drive vehicles."

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not rated yet Mar 30, 2010
its a big animal -- you walk up to in and saw -- hey your are being very ineffecient -- I have a study that shows .. Hey stop nibbling on ME!!

it would have been nice to compare the gait of the elephant to other large land vertebrates such as the hippo , giraffe, bear, moose, and yak... they issue of weight might be the biggest issue.
not rated yet Mar 30, 2010
giraffe, bear, moose and yak move similarly to most other quadrupeds they gallop, trot etc cannot think of another animal with independent suspension and 4 leg locomotion like the elephant though. Maybe there is a small mouse sized creature with the same locomotion technique - but I doubt it.

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