Assessing the Psychological Priorities for Optimising Captive Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Welfare
School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Southwell NG25 0QF, UK
Received: 21 October 2019 / Revised: 17 December 2019 / Accepted: 20 December 2019 / Published: 23 December 2019
The welfare of elephants in captivity is of significant public interest and the cause of considerable debate amongst the scientific, legislative, zoo and animal welfare advocacy communities. A tool capable of identifying what elephants need to experience to have good welfare would not only help bring clarity to this debate, it could also direct elephant welfare policy and management to more effectively optimise welfare and provide a valuable reference tool by which elephant welfare could be assessed. To that end, a systematic process is trialed to identify the welfare priorities for Asian elephants. These pilot assessments demonstrate the importance of providing species-appropriate feeding, social and mental opportunities to protect elephant welfare and suggest that the current priorities established in husbandry guidelines do not accurately reflect the psychological needs of elephants; in particular, they appear to underestimate the importance of behaviours and mental processes associated with acquiring food.