Poo is vital to life, a faecal fact and a bold statement to start with but it’s absolutely true. There’s no getting away from it. For rich, healthy biodiversity, our world starts and ends with poo. It’s quite a beautiful thing really, from fungi to invertebrates, birds to mammals, poo is at the centre of it all.
Who produces the most poo?
The only contender for biggest poo producer on land is the African elephant. As the largest living land mammal it probably comes as no surprise that they create rather large amounts of faeces. For the most part, we spend our time shovelling it up and taking it away but there are those among us here at Knowsley Safari that want poo for other purposes. Those individuals want to delve deeper, and take a very, very close look. Hold onto your stomach contents, we’re going in…
Why are our elephant team poo obsessed?
Poo can reveal a lot of information so seemed a great material for our research. Poo samples enable scientists to monitor levels of hormones such as progesterone and glucocorticoids. Progesterone levels reveal information about an individuals’ reproductive status, whereas glucocorticoids are associated with levels of stress. This is especially important for us to monitor when undertaking a move as we want them to be comfortable for their training and journey. By keeping an eye on these levels over time, matching them up with behaviours observed by the keepers, we can closely monitor the effects of any changes to routine that have been made, gaining a better understanding of why the elephants may be acting in certain way. Like everything we do with our elephants we try to make things as non-invasive as possible. There is no better method than using dung for this very reason.
How close do you want to get?
Our scientist friends at Chester Zoo Wildlife Endocrinology Lab are looking at poo on the molecular level. As part of our health and wellbeing monitoring process, we send our elephant poo to them for analysis. This sophisticated analysis alongside veterinary checks and daily observations from our animal keeping team allows us to build up a detailed profile of our elephants. You would be surprised how much information you can get out of poo! Together with Chester Zoo Wildlife Endocrinology Lab, we’re already getting some very interesting results.
Not just analysing but swapping too
Well it just so happens that analysis hasn’t been the only thing we’ve been doing with poo lately. We’ve been swapping poo with France, amicably of course. As part of the move we’ve been introducing our elephants to the poo of their new herd members and the same vice versa. A sort of elephant social network so they all get to know each other before they meet. You can read more about the poo swapping in our blog.
We’ll be continuing to sniff out some more fascinating faecal facts over the coming months. We’ll keep you posted.