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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Elephants get a kick from soccer
Gay the Asian elephant with her football
Mammoth of the match: Gay the Asian elephant
As most of England's human population is swept up in the current football fever there are signs it is spreading to the animal kingdom too.

Two female elephants at a Devon zoo have also begun to show an interest in the beautiful game.

Paignton Zoo's Duchess and Gay, who each weigh about four tonnes, regularly enjoy a kick-about in their enclosure.

Their ball, which weighs 15kg, is made of old hosepipe donated by Devon Fire and Rescue.

'Environmental enrichment'

According to staff at the zoo, the pair have differing approaches to the game; while 35-year-old Duchess sniffs the ball and pushes it around with her tusks, Gay, 34, tends to pick it up with her trunk, throw it around, squash it with her foot and kick it.

Elephant keeper Amanda Hendy said: "Duchess is more interested if there is food inside, while Gay will play with it as a toy."

The ball is just one of many so-called enrichment devices used at Paignton Zoo; use is also made of a number of other devices including puzzle feeders, and wind chimes.

Research Associate Vicky Melfi said: "This (the ball) is an excellent form of environmental enrichment, the ball stimulates the elephants to play and as the keepers hide dry pellets inside - also provides a fascinating source of food."

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