Putting tags on animals to help track and observe them is nothing new, particularly if the species is endangered or threatened. Scientists have even used GPS trackers to chart migratory patterns of everything from eagles to giant tortoises.
Recently, though, a team from South Africa, Botswana, and UCLA implanted an Actiwatch Spectrum into the trunks of two wild African elephants for about a month. The watches use a piezoaccelerometer to track motion. In this case, the motion of the elephant’s trunk, and from that, make estimates about the elephant’s sleep cycles. This data was complemented with an accelerometer and GPS on a collar, as well as a stationary weather station. Their specific goal is to study the sleeping patterns of the animals, and to try and understand better how sleep in general works.
Their findings were perhaps surprising; they found that the elephants slept for an average of two hours a day, most of that standing up, and it appears that they very rarely entered REM sleep as we understand it. You can read the team’s full paper here.
Increasingly, smart wearable technology is being used to study animals, not only in the wild but also in captivity. Recently, zookeepers at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California have been using similar equipment to monitor their captive elephants and watch for particular habits and behaviors that could point to everything from joint and foot problems to anxiety or loneliness. Armed with this data, zookeepers can better understand what the animals need to be as healthy and happy as possible in captivity.
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