Next Article in Journal
Myostatin (MSTN) Gene Indel Variation and Its Associations with Body Traits in Shaanbei White Cashmere Goat
Next Article in Special Issue
Play in Elephants: Wellbeing, Welfare or Distraction?
Previous Article in Journal
Effect of Total Dissolved Gas Supersaturation on the Survival of Bighead Carp (Hypophthalmichthys Nobilis)
Previous Article in Special Issue
Faecal Glucocorticoid Metabolites and H/L Ratio Are Related Markers of Stress in Semi-Captive Asian Timber Elephants
Open AccessArticle

Evaluating the Reliability of Non-Specialist Observers in the Behavioural Assessment of Semi-Captive Asian Elephant Welfare

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
School of Psychology, University of Auckland, 23 Symonds Street, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
Department of Biology, University of Turku, 20500 Turku, Finland
UFR des Sciences, University of Caen, 14000 Caen, France
Myanma Timber Enterprise, Gyogone Forest Compound, Bayint Naung Road, Insein Township, Yangon 11011, Myanmar
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(1), 167;
Received: 29 November 2019 / Revised: 8 January 2020 / Accepted: 10 January 2020 / Published: 18 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
It is essential that elephant workers monitor the stress levels of their animals to uphold high standards of welfare. This can be done quickly and efficiently by observing elephant behaviour, however, the consistency of this approach is likely to vary between workers. While this variation has been tested in zoo elephants when observations were carried out by experienced observers, the consistency of observations made by non-experienced observers on the much larger population of Asian elephants working in Southeast Asia has yet to be explored. By constructing a list of elephant working behaviours, we employed three volunteer observers with no experience of elephant research to record the behaviour of Asian elephants working in Myanmar. We then tested the similarity between observations collected by the three observers, as well as the consistency that individual observers could repeatedly recognise the same behaviour. Overall, observers recognised the same behaviour from the videos and were highly consistent across repeated observations. These results suggest that the behaviours tested may represent useful indicators for welfare assessment, and that non-experienced observers can meaningfully contribute to the monitoring of elephant welfare.
Recognising stress is an important component in maintaining the welfare of captive animal populations, and behavioural observation provides a rapid and non-invasive method to do this. Despite substantial testing in zoo elephants, there has been relatively little interest in the application of behavioural assessments to the much larger working populations of Asian elephants across Southeast Asia, which are managed by workers possessing a broad range of behavioural knowledge. Here, we developed a new ethogram of potential stress- and work-related behaviour for a semi-captive population of Asian elephants. We then used this to collect observations from video footage of over 100 elephants and evaluated the reliability of behavioural welfare assessments carried out by non-specialist observers. From observations carried out by different raters with no prior experience of elephant research or management, we tested the reliability of observations between-observers, to assess the general inter-observer agreement, and within-observers, to assess the consistency in behaviour identification. The majority of ethogram behaviours were highly reliable both between- and within-observers, suggesting that overall, behaviour was highly objective and could represent easily recognisable markers for behavioural assessments. Finally, we analysed the repeatability of individual elephant behaviour across behavioural contexts, demonstrating the importance of incorporating a personality element in welfare assessments. Our findings highlight the potential of non-expert observers to contribute to the reliable monitoring of Asian elephant welfare across large captive working populations, which may help to both improve elephant wellbeing and safeguard human workers. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare; ethogram; behavioural assessment; stress; reliability; observational study animal welfare; ethogram; behavioural assessment; stress; reliability; observational study
MDPI and ACS Style

Webb, J.L.; Crawley, J.A.H.; Seltmann, M.W.; Liehrmann, O.; Hemmings, N.; Nyein, U.K.; Aung, H.H.; Htut, W.; Lummaa, V.; Lahdenperä, M. Evaluating the Reliability of Non-Specialist Observers in the Behavioural Assessment of Semi-Captive Asian Elephant Welfare. Animals 2020, 10, 167.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats
Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Article Access Map by Country/Region

Back to TopTop