Foot pressure distributions during walking in African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

Panagiotopoulou, O and Pataky, T C and Day, M and Hensman, S and Hutchinson, J R and Clemente, C J (2016) Foot pressure distributions during walking in African elephants (Loxodonta africana). Royal Society Open Science, 3 (10). p. 160203.

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Elephants, the largest living land mammals, have evolved a specialized foot morphology to help reduce locomotor pressures while supporting their large body mass. Peak pressures that could cause tissue damage are mitigated passively by the anatomy of elephants' feet, yet this mechanism does not seem to work well for some captive animals. This study tests how foot pressures vary among African and Asian elephants from habitats where natural substrates predominate but where foot care protocols differ. Variations in pressure patterns might be related to differences in husbandry, including but not limited to trimming and the substrates that elephants typically stand and move on. Both species' samples exhibited the highest concentration of peak pressures on the lateral digits of their feet (which tend to develop more disease in elephants) and lower pressures around the heel. The trajectories of the foot's centre of pressure were also similar, confirming that when walking at similar speeds, both species load their feet laterally at impact and then shift their weight medially throughout the step until toe-off. Overall, we found evidence of variations in foot pressure patterns that might be attributable to husbandry and other causes, deserving further examination using broader, more comparable samples.

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