Elephant Exercise at the Zoo

We take the health and well-being of our animals incredibly seriously at the Houston Zoo.  Throughout our Zoo, each of our 6,000 animals is constantly monitored by top veterinary staff and world-class keepers.  Each animal is on an individualized care program that includes specialty diets and targeted exercise.

For example, with our elephants it’s really no different than when a person goes to a gym to set up an exercise program. They each have a specialized, balanced diet of grain, produce, and hay that was developed with the help of nutritionists. We set goals for each of our elephants individually and design exercise routines for them.  Baylor and Tucker prefer the pool, so the keepers encourage them to swim every afternoon.  With Thai, our large male elephant, we play frisbee for added activity.  For Tess, we’ve designed a walking element as a part of her fitness and wellness program. And like humans, we evaluate the success of all of the elephant fitness/exercise programs and modify them as needed.


Tess’ walking portion of her fitness routine is brand-new as she is 6% overweight and veterinary experts have decided that she needs to lose the extra weight.  That’s like if a 200-pound man wanted to shed 12 pounds.  This is especially important for Tess because she is preparing for an exciting event.  Our Tess is pregnant!  The experts have also found good evidence that obesity is associated with difficult births, which can be caused by over-sized calves or ineffective labor.

The elephant staff has worked hard for quite a while to train Tess to walk in the habitat yard with the keepers encouraging her from outside the fence. And now it’s time to increase her distance. Tess needs the type of cardiovascular exercise that will increase her heart rate. It is thought that walking her at a brisk pace for up to two miles a day is what is needed to shed the pounds and keep it off through the duration of her pregnancy. Tess will be taken on her walks each day before the Zoo opens to guests.

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