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Researcher Part of Study on Elephant’s Nervous System

For Immediate Release – Monday, October 9, 2023

BOYS TOWN, Neb. -- A new study led by Dr. Max Kurz of Boys Town National Research Hospital’s Institute for

Human Neuroscience and Dr. John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College has shed light on the role of

vision in elephant locomotion. Published in the journal Biology Letters, the study is the first to demonstrate

that the nervous system plays a crucial role in the precision of elephants' steps.

Elephants are the largest land animals in the world, and their size and relatively slow speed make it essential

for them to maintain a stable gait. The study found that elephants rely on sensory feedback to control foot

placement and sequencing, and that vision plays a crucial role in this process.

The team worked with four trained adult Asian elephants, which were comfortable wearing a blindfold when

led by another friendly elephant. The elephants then walked with and without a blindfold on, across a flat

trackway with a GPS device attached to their torso and an accelerometer attached to their hindfoot. The

findings suggest that vision prevents inconsistency in their stride over time.

Dr. Kurz, a senior research scientist at Boys Town National Research Hospital who primarily studies the

neurophysiology of children and adults with movement disabilities, said “This study is a breakthrough in our

understanding of how elephants walk. It shows that the nervous system plays a crucial role in their precise

foot placement, and that vision is an important component of this process.”

The study's findings show the blindfolded elephants display inconsistency in their stride over time. At a time

when the conservation of elephants is more critical than ever, this study provides valuable insights into the

behavior and physiology of these magnificent animals. The team's work highlights the importance of

interdisciplinary research in advancing our understanding of the natural world.

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