Monday, 26 December 2011

Elephant No. 85: Snow Footprints

It snowed quite a lot here yesterday, so I had originally wanted to make a snowman-type elephant today. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of snow that sticks together. I tried tossing a small snowball at a birdfeeder-raiding squirrel, but it fell apart before it could get anywhere near the little rascal.

It's lovely fresh snow, however, so I decided to try "drawing" an elephant in a clean blanket of snow in my driveway. Although I've made snow angels before, I've never tried something like this.

I thought the whole elephant would take me about five minutes, but drawing with your feet is actually harder than I expected. If you don't want lines running off to the side, you have to jump into what you hope is an appropriate spot to start off your drawing. And you have to try not to lose your balance and fall over—a challenge for me, it seems.

I started out by making a vague outline, which is also a bit difficult. Because you can't see the big picture, it's partly guesswork to figure out where your footprints should go next. It's also surprisingly awkward to walk with one foot directly in front of the other.

Although I had originally thought I'd just do an outline,  I screwed up a bit around the mouth, so I decided I needed to stamp down some extra snow in that part of the elephant.

It was also quite hard to photograph the whole thing from the ground. My husband—who was shovelling the snow off the driveway, but was forbidden to come near my drawing—kindly brought me a ladder to try for an overhead shot. Any way you look at it, however, it's a bit distorted.

I don't mind the final result, but I'd like to try it again sometime—with a bigger "canvas", a better idea of what it should look like, and a better vantage point to see the big picture.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Despite the fact that snow is not found in the modern elephant's natural environment, elephants love to play in the snow. This is due partly to the fact that elephants don't lose their body heat as fast as smaller mammals do, so they don't feel the cold, despite going directly from a warm environment to the snowy outdoors.

At the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C., they have a number of rules about when and how their elephants are allowed outside during the winter. They are not allowed outside after their morning baths, for example, until they are completely dry. They are not allowed outside if the temperature drops too far below freezing.

Precipitation is also an important factor, because elephants are not good skaters. Like horses and many other animals, elephants like the footing to be solid. They will avoid icy areas—unless they think they might find food on the other side of the ice. In that case, they will carefully cross the icy area, but then will not want to cross back to the warmth of their barn. This means that keepers spend a great deal of time during the winter checking the elephant enclosures for patches of ice larger than a metre in diameter. They also make sure that there are always plenty of cleared pathways through the enclosures, so that the elephants never feel trapped.

So, while elephants generally love the first snow of winter, just like us, they are less thrilled when there is a lot of snow and ice on the ground—also just like us.

Kandula enjoying the snow at the Smithsonian National
Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Courtney Janney/NZP

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund  
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)

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