If you want to know when it’s going to rain, ask an elephant. Apparently, they just know. That’s according to new research suggesting the lumbering giants can sense when a storm is coming, even if the ominous clouds are gathering a long way off.
A team from Texas A&M, the University of Virginia, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Utah wanted to learn more about the sudden movements of elephant herds during seasonal shifts, suspecting that migrations near the end of dry seasons were somehow related to faraway thunderstorms the creatures could perhaps detect.
Using GPS trackers, the researchers analyzed the movements of 14 elephants in Africa’s Namibia region over 7 years, matching weather data with herd movements. When all of the data was crunched, they found something striking: The elephants seemed to be able to “sense” storms happening up to 150 miles away, and that was the direction in which they pointed their trunks for migration.
“We don’t know if they can actually hear the thunder or if they are detecting other low-frequency sounds generated by the storms that humans can’t hear. But there is no doubt they know what direction the rain is,” said Oliver Frauenfeld, assistant professor in the geography department at Texas A&M, in a statement.
The Namibia region has a short, distinct rainy season, lasting only a few weeks. Luckily, it seems, for the elephants, they are able to get some inside information on where all of that cool, life-sustaining water will be.
While the researchers aren’t yet certain what specifically sets off the elephants’ keen weather-sense, one side benefit is clear: If wildlife officials tasked with protecting elephants from poachers can use weather data to make predictions about where elephants will go, they have a better chance of protecting the herds.