Temperature management and contentment

Sabi Sand | February 2018

A subject that has been on my mind a great deal is the connection between good temperature management and contentment. I believe that it is something that affects us all… referring not only to humans, but to different classes of animals too.

Let us first consider humans and some of the ways in which proper temperature management affects our moods. When I get up early in the morning I like to first have a hot shower and if, for some reason, my hot water supply is not working it immediately becomes an issue. If I then go on to have a lukewarm cup of coffee I’m guaranteed to be rather grumpy!

Similarly, later in the day, and especially after a hot day and some physical activity, the idea of a gin and tonic might be a highly attractive one. Without ice the gin and tonic would be too warm to be properly enjoyed. Then I might decide to go back to my air-conditioned room to cool down. Imagine now finding that somebody has turned the air-conditioner unit onto heating mode. This too would really affect my mood negatively!

Food needs to be enjoyed at the right temperature too. Hot food needs to be sufficiently hot, and should not be allowed to stand for several minutes on a cold plate before being served. Chilled soups need to be properly chilled, not just served at room temperature. Well, this is my opinion, anyway. I am quite particular about my coffee being hot, my hot food being suitably hot, my beer, gin and tonic or soft drink being ice-cold, and my wine being served at just the right temperature.

Keeping a comfortable body temperature is also something which affects our state of contentment. Wearing an extra layer is sometimes appropriate at the beginning of an early morning drive, particularly in the autumn and winter months. This can easily be shed later in the day, as it warms up. Guests really appreciate the comfort of a hot water bottle at the beginning of a morning game drive in winter. This can easily be discarded later. On a sweltering summer day, when feeling somewhat hot and bothered, the simple act of taking off your shoes can immediately bring relief and make you feel a whole lot better. This feeling of relief or contentment can be further enhanced by putting your feet in the cool water of your plunge pool. Some might opt to plunge right into the pool, possibly to enjoy an ice-cold gin and tonic there. How could one’s mood not improve, doing just that?

So what about the animals and their management of temperature? At the outset, it must be said that, for the most part, animals are a good deal more accepting of the conditions they face than humans are. They make themselves as comfortable as they can, and get on with life! Obviously animals do have various ways of managing either their actual body temperature, or how they react to significant increases or decreases in the temperature of their immediate surroundings. On a cold, damp morning, lions will often huddle together for warmth, each one benefiting from the body heat if its neighbour. Impalas and other species of antelope fluff up their coats so that they don’t reflect the sun’s rays, and birds do the same with their feathers. This allows the layer of air that is trapped close to their skins to be warmed up by their own body warmth. Reptiles, of course, need external sources of heat to warm their bodies, which is why crocodiles and monitor lizards will often lie basking in the sun at the water’s edge for hours at a time.

Cooling down can be achieved in a number of different ways, such as panting, ventilation, moving into the shade or by direct cooling through the use of water or mud. This article is about how thermoregulation affects state of contentment. Watch the obvious delight in the eyes of a warthog when it gets into a muddy wallow on a hot day. Sheer bliss! Buffalo bulls, which have a reputation of being inclined to be cantankerous, look very contented when they lie in a cool stream, where they sometimes remain for a good couple of hours while ruminating. Even at mud wallows, the usually serious bulls sometimes lose themselves completely in the blissful, youthful abandon of enjoyment that comes with the cooling, comforting mud. Elephants swimming… that must be one of the most obvious exhibitions of mood enhancement as a result of good temperature management.

When it comes to the temperature of food or liquid that they consume, this is probably less significant in terms of affecting the mood of wild animals, than managing their body temperatures. Having said that, though, some animals certainly do have a preference for water that is cooler, which is one reason why elephants often dig holes in the sand for water… this water that they reach through digging is not only cooler, but may also be cleaner, through the effects of filtering by sand.