Supporting Zoo Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Welfare and Herd Dynamics with a More Complex and Expanded Habitat
Oregon Zoo, 4001 SW Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221, USA
Center for Species Survival, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA
Department of Biology, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530, USA
ABQ BioPark, 903 10th St. SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Eluned Price
Received: 30 June 2021
Revised: 25 August 2021
Accepted: 26 August 2021
Published: 31 August 2021
Ensuring good health and welfare is an increasingly important consideration for conservation of endangered species, whether free-ranging or managed to varying degrees under human care. The welfare-based design of a new habitat for Asian elephants focused on meeting the elephants’ physical, physiological, psychological, and social needs 24 h a day and across life stages. In this study, multiple elephant health and welfare indicators measured throughout transition and acclimation from the previous habitat to this new habitat provided evidence that the complexity, flexibility, space, and resource distribution of the new habitat was effective in improving overall welfare. The elephants were more active and walked farther on a daily basis in the new habitat, with an average walking distance of over 15 km per day. Disbursement of food with less temporal and spatial predictability increased foraging opportunities, which is important for psychological well-being of this species. All individuals showed adaptive and normal adrenal responses to the changes and challenges throughout the construction period and subsequent acclimation to a novel environment. They demonstrated social dynamics of a healthy herd in both habitats with transitions of individuals through life stages; however, in the new habitat they exhibited more autonomy in choosing whom to associate with socially, suggesting increased social equity for individuals.