[zoo1] Human treadmills are so five years ago. Now our slightly larger counterparts, the elephants, are using this piece of exercise equipment to shed those last few pounds before beach season is upon us all.
However, elephant treadmills are only one more installment in a series of animal exercise equipment. “All kinds of species have [exercise equipment],” Dr. Frederik Derksen, DVM, professor of large animal clinical sciences, said. “Both sled dogs and horses have walkers, which is a form of artificial exercise.”
Elephants in an Alaskan zoo will be treated to an enormous form of the treadmill, to increase exercise and improve health, and hopefully, for our sake, getting rid of that unsightly extra baggage they have put on throughout years of confinement.
Elephants are not the only animals to enjoy the immense pleasures only an exercise apparatus can bring. Racing horses, as well, use large conveyer belt-like treadmills to condition their bodies and to keep in shape.
Although people may be apprehensive toward treadmills, “[H]orses have no anxiety,” Derksen said. “They don’t think of this as kind of strange or anticipate trouble.”
[dr] Lucky they don’t think so, because an elephant falling would be quite painful to watch, and even more painful to be under. “I mean, I’ve tripped on the treadmill and almost fallen down, and I’m not a 1,500-pound animal, nor do I have a trunk or tusks,” Sarah Gray, animal science sophomore, said.
What kind of significance is placed on these treadmills, and why am I writing this piece?
Well, first of all, we should all care about the health and well-being of our not-so healthy animal friends. Sure, those in the wild can roam free, like buffalos on the range. But we can’t forget about the ones confined to small spaces.
“What we found is that we have horses that we put on it repeatedly, and they really love it,” Derksen said. “It seems like they enjoy it, and to be able to put them on a treadmill is probably a good thing.”
Do these horses really ‘enjoy’ it, or do we need to ‘exercise’ caution when discussing confined animals? (Please, forgive my puns.)
“I think that if they were just allowed to run loose, like in a field or pasture, the animals might enjoy the exercise more,” Gray said.
It seems more natural that horses and elephants, along with other animals from all over the world, just get some good old-fashioned exercise and run around outdoors. However, when you have limited space, the treadmill is the easiest and most sensible.
[molly]“The difference [between artificial and real exercise] is that there is no wind resistance, so it’s easier to run on the treadmill,” Derksen said. “But then, there is less cooling, so we have to use fans to blow air onto the horses.”
Maybe, to ease the animal into regular treadmill use, we could bring their natural habitat to them. My personal suggestion is to incorporate a few live plants, make the treadmill out of dirt or other natural substances, and play easy-listening tapes of wild animal calls and easy ocean breezes to really set the mood. “You could put a picture of an elephant in front of the treadmill,” Derksen said, and it might make the animal feel like it’s following one of its own.
But what about the safety? “I can see horror stories involving zoo employees being injured by the flapping trunk of an elephant by standing too close while it’s running on the treadmill,” Gray said.
What is one minor injury to an employee when you can make an animal happy with exercise? The endorphins are much more important, when you really think of it.
In the end, the plight of such confined animals such as elephants and horses is an important one to be aware of. If we didn’t have such animals, we wouldn’t have heard ‘The British are coming’ from Paul Revere, who famously rode a horse through Boston, and survivors of the tsunami wouldn’t have ridden to safe higher ground without elephants. Basically, we need these animals to work out and stay in shape…so we don’t have to.

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