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Animals 2018, 8(8), 132; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8080132

Social Interactions in Two Groups of Zoo-Housed Adult Female Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) that Differ in Relatedness

School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham, Leicestershire, LE12 5RD, UK
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Received: 29 June 2018 / Revised: 26 July 2018 / Accepted: 30 July 2018 / Published: 1 August 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Zoo Animal Welfare)
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Simple Summary

The chance to experience positive social interactions is important for captive animals. The amount of positive or negative social interactions that occur within groups of captive animals can be used to evaluate the welfare of the group and determine how compatible the individuals may, or may not, be. In the wild, elephants live in related, multigenerational herds that consist of mainly mothers, daughters, and their offspring. However, in captivity, they are often kept in groups of unrelated individuals, which could reduce the quality of their social interactions, and thus their welfare. Here, we recorded the social interactions between elephants in two groups of four captive female Asian elephants; in one group, all of the individuals were related to one another, whilst in the other, only two out of four individuals were related. We observed more affiliative (friendly) interactions and fewer aggressive interactions in the all-related group. We also observed elephants freely giving way to others more in the related group, with daughters giving way to their mothers and aunts, which is evidence of an established, family-based rank system that allows them to avoid escalation to aggression. These findings support the recommendation that for optimal welfare, elephants should be managed in multigenerational family herds.

Abstract

Opportunities for positive social interaction are important in captive animals, and social interactions can be used as a welfare indicator. Wild elephants live in related multigenerational herds; however, in captivity they are often managed in less related groups, which could impact the quality of their social interactions, and thus their welfare. Here, we used a limited social network analysis to investigate the social interactions in two groups of four female captive Asian elephants, one of which contained individuals that were all related to one another, whilst the other was a mix of related and unrelated individuals. Data on pairwise social interactions was collected from eight days of video footage using an all-occurrence sampling technique. More affiliative, and fewer agonistic interactions were observed in the related elephant group. Additionally, non-contact displacement was observed at a higher frequency in the related elephant group, which we theorise represents an established functioning hierarchy, avoiding the need for overt aggression over resources. Although kinship is not likely to be the only factor affecting captive elephant social behaviour, these findings support the recommendation that for optimal welfare, elephants should be managed in multigenerational family herds. Evaluations of social interactions such as those conducted here would have wider applicability for aiding the management of any captive social species to identify when groups might be incompatible. View Full-Text
Keywords: elephants; zoo animals; social behaviour; affiliative; relatedness; welfare; hierachy elephants; zoo animals; social behaviour; affiliative; relatedness; welfare; hierachy
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Harvey, N.D.; Daly, C.; Clark, N.; Ransford, E.; Wallace, S.; Yon, L. Social Interactions in Two Groups of Zoo-Housed Adult Female Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) that Differ in Relatedness. Animals 2018, 8, 132.

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