OSB archive
OSB archive

Telling an elephant's tail

Pete Wilton

A six-year history of the diet and behaviour of four elephants in Kenya has been compiled by scientists analysing their tail hair.

As BBC Online report the team, which includes Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a Research Associate at Oxford's Department of Zoology and founder of the charity Save the Elephants, has shown that ratios of carbon isotopes found in tail hair correlate strongly with satellite measurements of the kind of vegetation available for elephants to eat at different times of year.

Coupled with GPS observations of elephant movements, this technique gives scientists the chance to see how they, and other animals, might be changing their foraging habits in response to changing climatic and environmental conditions.

In the future it could make it possible to reconstruct past climate events - such as droughts or flooding - through the eyes of a wandering pack of pachyderms. 

A report of the research is published in PNAS