We all feel stressed from time to time. Exams, work, money – they can all cause us worry. These seem bad enough to us but wild animals have more important concerns, like finding enough to eat or drink!
A team of researchers in India decided to find out how stressed the country’s elephants were – but how could they go about it? Well, when animals (including humans) feel anxious their bodies produce stress hormones. These are carried along in the bloodstream, so measuring them isn’t easy – it’s not really ethical either.
Taking blood samples from an elephant would involve tranquilising it first which would cause the animal stress. Not only would this affect the results, it’s also not very kind! But the researchers found another way to measure the hormones – by looking at elephant poo.
The stress hormones in our blood come out when we go to the toilet, so analysing dung is a good way to check how anxious elephants are. But you have to be quick – poo is broken down by microbes within a matter of hours. So how could the scientists study it before it was too late? They had an ingenious idea – freeze-dry it. Fresh samples were frozen and then stored at temperatures of -20° Celsius. This stopped any breakdown and allowed a full analysis to take place.
So what did the study discover? Well, unsurprisingly, elephants are more stressed during India’s dry season. That’s because food is scarce at that time of year and what is available is less nutritious. They also found that female elephants were more prone to worry than their male counterparts. Why this should be is a mystery. Perhaps they worry for the wellbeing of their children – but that’s not known for sure.
So, next time you feel stressed-out, spare a thought for the Indian elephant. At least now you know that you’re not the only one with troubles on their mind.
If you are feeling anxious about the upcoming return to school, then take a look at our free guide on the subject in the Knowledge Bank. It’s full of tips and advice which will help you to cope.