Sunday 1 May 2016

Why Can't Elephants Jump?

by Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | April 30, 2016 09:48am

Elephants have many admirable qualities: They have an excellent sense of smell, rarely get cancer and have complex social lives. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, they can't jump.

It's hard to say why that is, largely because scientists haven't specifically studied why elephants can't jump. But it's likely because of the animals' enormous heft, and because they have relatively weak leg muscles 
and fairly inflexible ankles, said John Hutchinson, a professor of evolutionary biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

"Animals that jump need really flexile ankles and really strong Achilles tendons and calf muscles, and elephants have really wimpy lower-leg muscles and not very flexible ankles," Hutchinson told Live Science.

Hutchinson has made it part of his life's work to study elephant locomotion. The animals typically walk long distances, but they seldom run, and only do so for short distances, Hutchinson and his colleagues wrote in a 2010 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is probably because elephants have poor endurance for running, he said.

Moreover, the animals seem unable to go faster than 15 mph (about 24 km/h) when they run, the researchers wrote in the study. Hutchinson has also observed that when adult and baby elephants run, they do not go airborne. That means that they always have at least one foot on the ground, he said.

In contrast, other large animals do go airborne while running, he said. For instance, the rhinoceros does, and it's not entirely clear why. "There must be something about rhinos that makes them stronger [than elephants]," Hutchinson said.

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