White elephant caught in Burma ‘is omen of political change’
A rare white elephant, historically considered an omen of political change, has been captured in the west of military-ruled Burma, state media reported Tuesday.
Published: 10:57AM BST 29 Jun 2010
The announcements of the discoveries of white elephants in 2001 and 2002 in Burma was seen by opposition leaders as bolstering support for their parties Photo: http://www.myanmar.gov
The female elephant was captured by officials on Saturday in the coastal town of Maungtaw in Rakhine state, according to news reports in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
She is aged about 38 years old and seven feet four inches tall, the English-language New Light of Myanmar said, although it did not mention where she would be kept.
White elephants are often depicted as snow white, but are in fact grey or reddish-brown in colour, turning light pink when wet. They have fair eyelashes and toenails.
Kings and leaders in Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country, have traditionally treasured white elephants, whose rare appearances in the country are believed to herald political change and good fortune.
The announcements of the discoveries of white elephants in 2001 and 2002 in Burma was seen by opposition leaders as bolstering support for their parties.
The South-East Asian country, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, is due to hold its first elections for two decades later this year, although a date has not yet been announced.
Earlier this month, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and Burmese opposition leader, marked her 65th birthday under house arrest in Yangon.
The military regime has kept Ms Suu Kyi in detention for almost 15 years and she has been barred from running in upcoming elections that critics White elephant caught in Burma ‘is omen of political change’ have denounced as a sham aimed at entrenching the generals’ power.
Pictures of the day: 10 June 2010
Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth has adopted four albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles that were donated to them by a student when she left university. The turtles have extremely long necks and tube-like nostrils which they use like a snorkel
Picture: MIKAEL BUCK / SOLENT
Maths formula proves giraffes can swim
Mathematics has proven that giraffes can swim – even though they wouldn’t be very good at it and nobody has ever seen them do it.
The new study, published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, examines what happened when scientists placed a ‘digital giraffe’ in ‘digital water’ Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Whereas most large animal are extremely good swimmers, it has often been said that giraffes are unable to swim or wade.
The authors of the new study hoped to test this oft-quoted theory by using a digital giraffe rather than a real one.
Dr Donald Henderson, of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada, and Dr Darren Naish, of the University of Portsmouth, decided to investigate whether or not giraffes could swim after Dr Naish took part in an online debate on the subject.
In previous work, Dr Henderson had created a digital model of a giraffe, and had also tested the buoyancy of various computer generated models of animals.
The new study, published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, examines what happened when scientists placed a ‘digital giraffe’ in ‘digital water’.
Dr Naish said: "Many previous studies have claimed that giraffes cannot swim and that they avoid water like the plague, even in an emergency, but we wanted to put the theory to the test in proper controlled experiments."
Creating a digital giraffe involved numerous calculations on weight, mass, size, shape, lung capacity and centre of gravity.
Calculations were made to discover rotation dynamics, flotation dynamics and the external surface area of both a giraffe and – for control purposes – a horse.
The authors found that a full-sized adult giraffe would become buoyant in 2.8metres of water. Giraffes can wade across bodies of water that are shallower.
Dr Henderson said: "The idea that giraffes are poor waders or will not cross rivers is untrue and there are no obvious reasons why giraffes might be more prone to sinking than other animals."
But after becoming buoyant, a giraffe would be unstable in the water due to its long, heavy legs, short body and long neck.
The unusual shape of the giraffe meant that it floated in a peculiar manner, with the long front limbs pulling the body downwards.
This forced the neck to be held horizontally and mostly underneath the water surface, so the animal would have to hold its head upwards at an uncomfortable angle.
Giraffes have other handicaps in the water. Horses tend to swim by trotting in the water, similar to the way they move on land.
But giraffes move on land in an unusual way, moving their neck up and down in time with their limbs, and this important neck movement is not possible in the water.
This means that giraffes are probably very poor swimmers.
Giraffes also have 13 per cent more surface area than a horse, mostly because of their longer legs, leading to greater drag.
A further complication is that larger animals have slower muscle contractions, making it difficult for a giraffe to paddle fast enough to move forward.
Dr Naish said: "Our models show that while it’s feasible for a giraffe to swim, it is much harder than it is for a horse. It is fair to say that giraffes might be hesitant to enter the water knowing that they are at a decided disadvantage compared to being on solid ground."
While this research is unlikely to have many practical applications, the authors says it emphasises the point that computer simulations of animals – rather than real animals – can sometimes be used to answer interesting questions.