How do elephants stay warm in winter?
As the weather cools and the leaves begin to fall, the elephant care team is often asked how the elephants handle the cold. The answer to this question is quite interesting. African elephants are exposed to both cold and hot temperatures in the wild. In Botswana, home to the largest wild elephant populations in the world, the temperatures can drop into the low 40s at night. These temperatures do not seem to bother the elephants. With the females averaging around 8,000 pounds, and males reaching 12,000 pounds and up, their large size allows them to retain body heat for extended amounts of time. If the elephants have ample opportunities during the day to warm themselves in the sun, they can stay warm throughout the evening even if it gets chilly.
At Zoo Atlanta, the African elephants receive a great deal of choice throughout the winter months regarding their location. If the conditions during the day are calm and sunny, the elephants will often have access to both their habitat and their indoor care facility, even when temperatures are down in the 40s. The term “access” simply means that the elephants have the choice to either enter the indoor area on their own or walk outside. Usually, the elephants choose to remain outdoors.
The indoor area is equipped with large sand beds that provide a soft place for the elephants to sleep when they are inside. Additionally, large industrial freezer flaps hang over the elephants’ door to the outside. With these, even when the weather gets cold, the barn can stay at 68 degrees or warmer. If you are considering visiting the Zoo this fall or winter, you should be able to see the elephants. Look for them both in their indoor area as well as out in the habitat on colder days.
Lead Keeper, Elephants and Elephant Program Manager