Because elephants only sleep three to four hours a night, and frequently wake during that time, their sleep is a precious commodity.
That’s why George Mason University senior Eva Noroski has spent a month this semester assisting 2017 Mason alumna and Elephant Trails keeper Ashley Fortner at the National Zoo, researching how these massive mammals can get optimal sleep.
“Sleep is super important for the elephants because they don’t actually do a lot of it,” said Fortner, who studied for a year at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC).
“Eva’s work is actually directly, every day, impacting how we take care of the elephants.”
Noroski has been accessing footage from the Smithsonian’s camera system to monitor the elephants from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m., and logging what she observes. In particular, she’s tracking Kamala, a female elephant who has arthritis, which causes her difficulty in laying down and getting up.
“I’m trying to determine which elephants she sleeps best with, if she sleeps best by herself, if there are any social dynamics that appear during the night that I can let the keepers know about,” said Noroski, an environmental science major and conservation studies minor. “That’s all really significant information because their sleep is important to their health, and if any mammal is losing sleep, they could become more susceptible to illness.”