Chaffee Zoo keepers get high-tech help to keep elephants healthy

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Shanzi and Kara were two of 255 elephants at 68 zoos across the US that were monitored to see how zoo practices affected elephant welfare. (KFSN)

Whether it's the latest smart phone, tablet or fitness tracker, tech trends are making their way into our daily lives and now they're heading to the zoo. Keepers are now using that technology to monitor the elephants at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo as part of a new elephant welfare initiative.

Elephants Shanzi and Kara weigh a combined 15,500 pounds. The Asian Elephants are no strangers to getting a workout here at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. In fact, they were part of a nationwide research project conducted by The Aware Institute who monitors the health of zoo elephants.

"It monitored body conditions, weight and things like that," lead elephant keeper Janelle Lundin said.

As for how it worked, think of a Fitbit or the Apple Watch. Nowadays, people are able to monitor their heart rate, movements and sleep cycles right on our wrist. They took that concept and put it on an elephant.

For a year, Shanzi and Kara wore fitness trackers around their ankles. They were two of 255 elephants at 68 zoos across the US that were monitored to see how zoo practices affected elephant welfare. The study started in 2012 and results came out this year.

"They actually found that it wasn't necessarily the size of the enclosure or how far they were walking everyday affecting their welfare, it was their social interactions and other aspects that they weren't expecting," Lundin explained.

Keepers even learned about information they can apply to their wild counterparts.

"They learned that different foraging strategies by a female can effect their reproductive help," Lundin said.

Now all five of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo elephants will be involved in a new animal welfare initiative.

"It's really important that we inspire people to care about conservation and to care about these animals," Lundin said.

This one will be monitored from a tablet. Though there's no set start date, zoo keepers will soon be trained on the program to keep a log of the elephants daily activity.

"So where they're going to be, who they're going to be with, how long they're going to be in certain areas, as well as any events that happen that day including training, feeding, enrichment, husbandry, medical all of that," Lundin said.

The data will be compared to zoo practices nationwide and keepers will receive a daily report card with suggestions on how to improve elephant care.
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