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Open AccessArticle

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
Animals 2020, 10(1), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010039
Received: 21 October 2019 / Revised: 17 December 2019 / Accepted: 20 December 2019 / Published: 23 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
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.
The welfare status of elephants under human care has been a contentious issue for two decades or more in numerous western countries. Much effort has gone into assessing the welfare of captive elephants at individual and population levels with little consensus having been achieved in relation to both the welfare requirements of captive elephants, or their absolute welfare status. A methodology capable of identifying the psychological priorities of elephants would greatly assist in both managing and assessing captive elephant welfare. Here, a Delphi-based Animal Welfare Priority Identification System© (APWIS©) is trialled to evaluate the reliability of the methodology and to determine the welfare significance of individual behaviours and cognitive processes for Asian elephants (Elaphus maximus). APWIS© examines the motivational characteristics, evolutionary significance and established welfare impacts of individual behaviours and cognitive processes of each species being assessed. The assessment carried out here indicates appetitive behaviours essential for survival in the wild, together species-specific social and cognitive opportunities are likely to be important to the welfare of Asian elephant in captivity. The output of this assessment, for the first time, provides comprehensive species-specific psychological/welfare priorities for Asian elephants that should be used to inform husbandry guidelines, habitat design and management strategies and can also provide a valuable reference tool for Asian elephant welfare assessment. The effective application of these insights could lead to substantive improvements in captive Asian elephant welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare; appetitive; Asian elephant; AWPIS©; behavioural needs; cognition; motivation; psychological priorities; zoo animal welfare; appetitive; Asian elephant; AWPIS©; behavioural needs; cognition; motivation; psychological priorities; zoo
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Veasey, J.S. Assessing the Psychological Priorities for Optimising Captive Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Welfare. Animals 2020, 10, 39.

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