ELEPHANTS - CAN THEY RUN OR DO THEY JUST WALK FAST?
Can elephants run? This is a question that has been puzzling both children and scientists alike for over a century. Although they are quite capable of moving at high speeds – up to 11 mph – are they truly running, or is it that they are just capable of walking very, very fast?
This fundamental question arises from the elephant’s awkward, lumbering gait, but scientists now believe that they have an answer. Using high-speed cameras, a research team observed a number of Indian elephants as they moved across a specially built track. Furthermore, the track that was able to precisely measure the forces exerted with each elephant step.
By comparing the measurements from the sensitive force-measuring platform with each frame of the footage, the scientists were able to look at every tiny movement the elephants were making.
Below is a segment of film that was used in this research.
Professor Heglund - one of the scientists on the team - had this explanation of the results:
‘...the running gait, in most animals, is a bouncing mechanism. In this case, the potential and kinetic energy are in phase, they both hit a maximum at the same time and a minimum at the same time, so they cannot be transferred back and forth...’
‘...when an elephant goes at higher and higher speeds, the kinetic and potential energy shift and start to become more in phase, but when we looked in detail, we see that the animal appears to be running - bouncing - with the front legs, and walking with the back legs. It is as if he is getting up to a transition speed where he wants to transition from a walk to a run, but he can’t quite do it. It's like he can't quite get up into second gear...’
So what does this all mean? Well the answer is simple. Elephants run with their front legs and walk with their hind legs – be it a fast walk. Question solved!
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