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Article

Impact of Weight Carriage on Joint Kinematics in Asian Elephants Used for Riding

1
Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Associated Medical Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
2
Center of Elephant and Wildlife Health and Research, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
3
Center for Species Survival, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA
4
Department of Companion Animals and Wildlife Clinics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
5
Department of Radiologic Technology, Faculty of Associated Medical Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2021, 11(8), 2423; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082423
Received: 8 June 2021 / Revised: 25 July 2021 / Accepted: 8 August 2021 / Published: 17 August 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Zoo Animals)
Riding elephants is one of the most controversial activities in the tourist industry, with concerns over whether load carrying is physically harmful. Here, we used an empirical approach to test how carrying loads up to 15% of the elephant’s body mass affected gait parameters. The maximal angles of fore- and hindlimb joints of elephants walking at a normal, self-selected speed carrying a mahout only were first evaluated and then compared to those walking with a saddle carrying two people plus added weight to reach a 15% body mass load. Data were analyzed using a computerized three-dimensional inertial measurement system. There were no significant differences between movement angles, including flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction of the fore- or hindlimbs between these two riding conditions. Thus, we found no evidence that carrying two people in a saddle causes significant changes in gait patterns or potentially affects musculoskeletal function. More studies are needed to further test longer durations of riding on different types of terrain to develop appropriate working guidelines for captive elephants. Nevertheless, elephants appear capable of carrying significant amounts of weight on the back without showing signs of physical distress.
Background: Elephants in Thailand have changed their roles from working in the logging industry to tourism over the past two decades. In 2020, there were approximately 2700 captive elephants participating in activities such as riding and trekking. During work hours, riding elephants carry one or two people in a saddle on the back with a mahout on the neck several hours a day and over varying terrain. A concern is that this form of riding can cause serious injuries to the musculoskeletal system, although to date there have been no empirical studies to determine the influence of weight carriage on kinematics in elephants. Methods: Eight Asian elephants from a camp in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, aged between 21 and 41 years with a mean body mass of 3265 ± 140.2 kg, were evaluated under two conditions: walking at a normal speed without a saddle and with a 15% body mass load (saddle and two persons plus additional weights). Gait kinematics, including the maximal angles of fore- and hindlimb joints, were determined using a novel three-dimensional inertial measurement system with wireless sensors. Results: There were no statistical differences between movement angles and a range of motion of the fore- and hindlimbs, when an additional 15% of body mass was added. Conclusion: There is no evidence that carrying a 15% body mass load causes significant changes in elephant gait patterns. Thus, carrying two people in a saddle may have minimal effects on musculoskeletal function. More studies are needed to further test longer durations of riding on different types of terrain to develop appropriate working guidelines for captive elephants. Nevertheless, elephants appear capable of carrying significant amounts of weight on the back without showing signs of physical distress. View Full-Text
Keywords: elephant; tourism; riding; weight carriage; gait; saddle; kinematics; gait elephant; tourism; riding; weight carriage; gait; saddle; kinematics; gait
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MDPI and ACS Style

Kongsawasdi, S.; Brown, J.L.; Boonprasert, K.; Pongsopawijit, P.; Wantanajittikul, K.; Khammesri, S.; Tajarernmuang, T.; Thonglorm, N.; Kanta-In, R.; Thitaram, C. Impact of Weight Carriage on Joint Kinematics in Asian Elephants Used for Riding. Animals 2021, 11, 2423. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082423

AMA Style

Kongsawasdi S, Brown JL, Boonprasert K, Pongsopawijit P, Wantanajittikul K, Khammesri S, Tajarernmuang T, Thonglorm N, Kanta-In R, Thitaram C. Impact of Weight Carriage on Joint Kinematics in Asian Elephants Used for Riding. Animals. 2021; 11(8):2423. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082423

Chicago/Turabian Style

Kongsawasdi, Siriphan, Janine L. Brown, Khajohnpat Boonprasert, Pornsawan Pongsopawijit, Kittichai Wantanajittikul, Siripat Khammesri, Tanapong Tajarernmuang, Nipaporn Thonglorm, Rungtiwa Kanta-In, and Chatchote Thitaram. 2021. "Impact of Weight Carriage on Joint Kinematics in Asian Elephants Used for Riding" Animals 11, no. 8: 2423. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082423

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