The vets at the STEF hospital are used to treating elephants with a wide range of conditions, including such debilitating problems as vision impairment and lameness. Both of these issues can hinder an elephant’s movement and how they are able to interact with their environment and others of their species, drastically impacting their welfare.

A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College, UK and Boys Town National Research Hospital, USA looked at the importance of visual feedback and how the elephants process sensory information to help them move steadily and safely. As elephants often move around at night, this information is particularly valuable to help us understand the part eyesight plays in the elephant’s movement and how we can better cater for animals with these issues.

The study used four adult, Asian elephants who were comfortable wearing blindfolds and being led by another elephant around the study area. The results showed a marked inconsistency in the elephant’s stride when blindfolded, suggesting vision is important for controlling and maintaining a consistent stride and therefore efficient movement.

It is far more important for a larger animal to avoid a dangerous fall than a smaller anima, and when elephants have illnesses or ailments that hinder their sight this could lead to stumbles or falls. The results from this study will help elephant caregivers all over the world to care for their elephants and improve their welfare, especially when dealing with illnesses or injuries affecting their sight or movement.

Original article by Georgina Mills in the Veterinary Record