Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2019) | Viewed by 66303

Special Issue Editors

Dogs Trust, 17 Wakley St, London EC1V 7RQ, UK
Interests: animal behavior; animal welfare; animal health; companion animals; dogs; elephants; rabbits; cats
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham, Leicestershire LE12 5RD, UK
Interests: animal health; animal welfare; wildlife conservation; elephants; impact anthropogenic contaminants on wildlife and environmental health; human/domestic animal/wildlife interface

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Elephants are an iconic species, not only are they the largest living land animal but they are widely recognized as cognitively complex, and are arguably an emotionally aware species with rich social lives. These aspects of their life history make them fascinating to many humans, but also put them into frequent conflict with humans in their range countries. Elephants have been entwined with human life for thousands of years and have played important religious and working roles in many cultures. Despite this centuries-long history of living and working side-by-side with elephants, efforts to understand the natural behaviour of the species and how to best measure and evaluate their welfare when under human management is a relatively recent development. Additionally, there have been surprisingly few detailed studies of their cognition.  Moreover, much of what we know about elephant social behaviour comes from a detailed and long-term study of African elephants (Loxodonta africana); there are considerable gaps in our knowledge of the social behaviour of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), including whether this species may have differing welfare needs. Many questions have been raised about our ability to meet the needs of elephants when they are kept in captivity; however, many of the wild populations are under continued and increasing threat from habitat loss and poaching, and captive elephants may soon be the only population of elephants continuing to exist. Asian elephants are of particular concern; they are listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered, and have a smaller population than their African counterparts, but both species are in decline, and there are concerns that both species may disappear from the wild within the next few decades.

In this special issue we invite contributions on the latest scientific findings in relation to captive (i.e. under human care) elephant behaviour and welfare. The scope of this SI is wide, and original manuscripts are invited that address this topic, including but not limited to: methods of measuring welfare in captive elephant populations, cognition (with specific focus on perception, memory and comprehension), social behaviour, communication, health and welfare challenges in caring for captive elephants, personality, and human-elephant relationships.

Dr. Naomi Harvey
Dr. Lisa Yon
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Animals is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • elephant
  • behaviour
  • welfare
  • cognition
  • communication
  • human–animal interactions

Published Papers (11 papers)

Order results
Result details
Select all
Export citation of selected articles as:

Research

Jump to: Review

17 pages, 924 KiB  
Article
Behaviour and Welfare Impacts of Releasing Elephants from Overnight Tethers: A Zimbabwean Case Study
Animals 2022, 12(15), 1933; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12151933 - 29 Jul 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2507
Abstract
Within the southern African elephant tourism industry, chaining or tethering elephants is still a relatively routine practice, despite the known negative impacts. Cited reasons for chaining include fear of aggressive interactions between elephants when handlers are absent, or a general increase in expression [...] Read more.
Within the southern African elephant tourism industry, chaining or tethering elephants is still a relatively routine practice, despite the known negative impacts. Cited reasons for chaining include fear of aggressive interactions between elephants when handlers are absent, or a general increase in expression of aggressive behaviours (both to other elephants and to their human handlers). In Zimbabwe, concerns expressed include the danger of elephants escaping and entering human-inhabited areas. Four male semi-captive elephants at a Zimbabwe tourist facility were taken off overnight (~12 h) tethers and were placed in small pens (‘bomas’), approximate sizes from 110 m2 to 310 m2), as part of a strategy to improve elephant welfare. Behavioural data were collected from overnight videos from December 2019 to March 2020, between 18:00 to 06:00, using focal, instantaneous sampling (5-min interval). Data were collected for three nights at three time periods: (i) Tethered; (ii) approximately four weeks post-release; (iii) approximately eight weeks post-release. Behavioural change over these time points was analysed using general linear models with quasibinomial error structures. Behavioural changes indicative of improved welfare were observed following these management changes, and no significant increases in aggression were observed either between elephants, or towards their human handlers. Proportion of time engaging in lying rest was higher in the first month after release from tethering (mean ± SD, 50 ± 14%) than when elephants were tethered (20 ± 18%) (p < 0.05). Additionally, although not statistically significant, stereotypies were reduced when elephants were no longer tethered (4 ± 6% observations tethered compared to 2 ± 2% off tethers), and positive social behaviour also increased (1 ± 1% on tethers, 2 ± 2% off tethers), with the greatest improvements seen in the pair-housed elephants. To improve elephant welfare in southern African tourism facilities we strongly advocate that less restrictive management practices which enable greater choice and freedom of movement overnight are implemented. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

19 pages, 1388 KiB  
Article
Play in Elephants: Wellbeing, Welfare or Distraction?
Animals 2020, 10(2), 305; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020305 - 14 Feb 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 6154
Abstract
We explore elephant play behaviour since (a) play has been proposed to represent a potential welfare indicator; and (b) play has been associated with long-term survival in the wild. We categorised play into four types, and investigate both social (gentle, escalated-contact) and non-social [...] Read more.
We explore elephant play behaviour since (a) play has been proposed to represent a potential welfare indicator; and (b) play has been associated with long-term survival in the wild. We categorised play into four types, and investigate both social (gentle, escalated-contact) and non-social (lone-locomotor, exploratory-object) play from observations made on wild (Asian N = 101; African N = 130) and captive (Asian N = 8; African N = 7) elephant calves ranging in age from birth to five years. Social play was the most frequent type of play among immature elephants, accounting for an average of 3%–9% of active time. Non-social play accounted for an additional 1%–11% of time. The most time spent in play was seen in captive Asian calves, particularly at the ages of 1–6 months, while wild African calves spent the least time in play overall, even though they had the greatest number and most diverse range of play partners available. We assessed calf energetics using time spent suckling, resting, moving and independent feeding. Time spent playing was unrelated to time spent suckling but negatively associated with time spent independently feeding. There were no associations with time spent moving or resting. Maternal energy via lactation was unrelated to play early in life, but energy acquired independently may constrain or enable play. Play, while a potential indicator of compromised welfare for many species when absent, can act as a highly stimulating activity for captive elephants in the absence of other forms of arousal. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Graphical abstract

14 pages, 265 KiB  
Article
Evaluating the Reliability of Non-Specialist Observers in the Behavioural Assessment of Semi-Captive Asian Elephant Welfare
Animals 2020, 10(1), 167; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010167 - 18 Jan 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 5700
Abstract
Recognising stress is an important component in maintaining the welfare of captive animal populations, and behavioural observation provides a rapid and non-invasive method to do this. Despite substantial testing in zoo elephants, there has been relatively little interest in the application of behavioural [...] Read more.
Recognising stress is an important component in maintaining the welfare of captive animal populations, and behavioural observation provides a rapid and non-invasive method to do this. Despite substantial testing in zoo elephants, there has been relatively little interest in the application of behavioural assessments to the much larger working populations of Asian elephants across Southeast Asia, which are managed by workers possessing a broad range of behavioural knowledge. Here, we developed a new ethogram of potential stress- and work-related behaviour for a semi-captive population of Asian elephants. We then used this to collect observations from video footage of over 100 elephants and evaluated the reliability of behavioural welfare assessments carried out by non-specialist observers. From observations carried out by different raters with no prior experience of elephant research or management, we tested the reliability of observations between-observers, to assess the general inter-observer agreement, and within-observers, to assess the consistency in behaviour identification. The majority of ethogram behaviours were highly reliable both between- and within-observers, suggesting that overall, behaviour was highly objective and could represent easily recognisable markers for behavioural assessments. Finally, we analysed the repeatability of individual elephant behaviour across behavioural contexts, demonstrating the importance of incorporating a personality element in welfare assessments. Our findings highlight the potential of non-expert observers to contribute to the reliable monitoring of Asian elephant welfare across large captive working populations, which may help to both improve elephant wellbeing and safeguard human workers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
16 pages, 1182 KiB  
Article
Faecal Glucocorticoid Metabolites and H/L Ratio Are Related Markers of Stress in Semi-Captive Asian Timber Elephants
Animals 2020, 10(1), 94; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010094 - 06 Jan 2020
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 3725
Abstract
Animals are kept in captivity for various reasons, but species with a slower pace of life may adapt to captive environments less easily, leading to welfare concerns and the need to assess stress reliably in order to develop effective interventions. Our aim was [...] Read more.
Animals are kept in captivity for various reasons, but species with a slower pace of life may adapt to captive environments less easily, leading to welfare concerns and the need to assess stress reliably in order to develop effective interventions. Our aim was to assess welfare of semi-captive timber elephants from Myanmar by investigating the relationship between two physiological markers of stress commonly used as proxies for welfare, faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations (FGM) and heterophil/lymphocyte ratios (H/L), and link these measures to changes in body condition (determined by body weight). We further assessed how robustly these two markers of stress performed in animals of different age or sex, or in different ecological contexts. We measured FGM concentrations and H/L ratios between 2016 and 2018 from 316 samples of 75 females and 49 males ranging in age from 4 to 68. We found a positive and consistent link between FGMs and H/L ratios in Asian elephants, irrespective of their sex, age, or ecological context. Our results will help to inform managers of (semi-) captive elephants about using heterophil/lymphocyte ratio data from blood smears on site as a potentially cheaper and faster alternative to determining stress than measuring faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations in the laboratory. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

13 pages, 1299 KiB  
Article
Assessing the Psychological Priorities for Optimising Captive Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Welfare
Animals 2020, 10(1), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010039 - 23 Dec 2019
Cited by 22 | Viewed by 7733
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

15 pages, 569 KiB  
Article
Mahout Perspectives on Asian Elephants and Their Living Conditions
Animals 2019, 9(11), 879; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110879 - 29 Oct 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 4738
Abstract
The skills, knowledge, and expertise of mahouts have been recognized by organizations and individual managers who are responsible for captive elephants and by academics, where they have been a source of studies from the ethnographic to animal behavior research. In this study, I [...] Read more.
The skills, knowledge, and expertise of mahouts have been recognized by organizations and individual managers who are responsible for captive elephants and by academics, where they have been a source of studies from the ethnographic to animal behavior research. In this study, I used semi-structured interviews in local languages to explore individual experiences of mahouts in Nepal. I also investigated perspectives on elephant welfare, including the use of corral (fenced) enclosures. I undertook a further key informant interview in English to gain more discursive perspectives on the topics. Our results revealed that mahouts at the study site are unlikely to come from multi-generational families of mahouts. All mahouts referenced the religious significance of elephants in their country when describing broader local perspectives. Many mahouts explained both positive and negative implications for differing strategies in housing captive elephants, often balanced the competing interests of elephant welfare with their own need for elephants to follow verbal communication, and their responsibility for the safety of the elephants, other staff, and tourists. The fine-balancing perspectives of mahouts, taking both humans and elephants into account, underlines their role as an important source of knowledge of captive Asian elephants in range countries, and their potential role as co-producers of research linked to welfare. This approach could also be of relevance to the welfare of ex-situ Asian elephants. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

27 pages, 340 KiB  
Article
Scientific and Ethical Issues in Exporting Welfare Findings to Different Animal Subpopulations: The Case of Semi-Captive Elephants Involved in Animal-Visitor Interactions (AVI) in South Africa
Animals 2019, 9(10), 831; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100831 - 19 Oct 2019
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3685
Abstract
Elephants are charismatic, cognitively highly-developed animals, whose management conditions can vary along a “wild–captive continuum.” Several protocols have been proposed for the assessment of zoo elephants’ welfare. It is important to investigate the possible limitations, if any, of extending findings from zoo elephants [...] Read more.
Elephants are charismatic, cognitively highly-developed animals, whose management conditions can vary along a “wild–captive continuum.” Several protocols have been proposed for the assessment of zoo elephants’ welfare. It is important to investigate the possible limitations, if any, of extending findings from zoo elephants to conspecifics in a different dynamic in said “wild–captive continuum.” In this paper, findings regarding two issues will be discussed: those regarding the external validity and those regarding the acceptability of management procedures as applied to semi-captive (i.e., able to roam freely for part of the day) elephants involved in visitor-interaction programs in South Africa. In a questionnaire-based survey, half of the responding experts stated that at least some of the welfare issues they ranked as the five most important in captive elephants’ management had a different relevance for semi-captive individuals, resulting in 23.6% of the issues being rated differently. Moreover, there was no agreement among the experts on the ethical acceptability of any of the investigated procedures used in the management of semi-captive elephants involved in visitor-interaction programs. Caution is thus needed when exporting findings from one subpopulation of animals to another kept in different conditions and more scientific and ethical research is needed on the topic. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
19 pages, 853 KiB  
Article
Social Interactions in Zoo-Housed Elephants: Factors Affecting Social Relationships
Animals 2019, 9(10), 747; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100747 - 29 Sep 2019
Cited by 16 | Viewed by 8738
Abstract
Elephants have complex social systems that are predominantly driven by ecological factors in situ. Within zoos, elephants are held in relatively static social groups and the factors observed driving social relationships in the wild are largely absent. Little research has investigated the effect [...] Read more.
Elephants have complex social systems that are predominantly driven by ecological factors in situ. Within zoos, elephants are held in relatively static social groups and the factors observed driving social relationships in the wild are largely absent. Little research has investigated the effect of social group factors in zoos on elephant social interactions. The aim of this research was to establish whether there is a relationship between social group factors and social behaviour, in order to identify factors that make elephant herds more or less likely to be compatible. Results will facilitate recommendations for optimum social groupings for zoo elephants. Behavioural data quantifying social interactions were collected between January 2016 and February 2017 at seven UK and Irish zoos and safari parks from 10 African and 22 Asian elephants. Social interactions were split into four categories: positive physical, positive non-physical, negative physical and negative non-physical. Social interactions were related to age (positive physical higher and negative non-physical lower in calves than adults), personality (elephants with higher sociability scores engaged in more positive interactions and less negative interactions), presence of calves in the herd (herds with calves had more positive non-physical), relatedness to other elephants in the herd (positive non-physical were higher when relatives were in the group and negative non-physical were higher between unrelated elephants) and species (Asian elephants engaged in more positive non-physical than African elephants). A greater understanding of factors that may contribute to the success of zoo-elephant social groups is important for individual and herd welfare as it will enable evidence-based decisions which have minimal impact on social structures to be executed. This knowledge will enable proactive management approaches to be undertaken and will thus be paramount in ensuring optimal welfare for elephant herds moving forwards. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

12 pages, 673 KiB  
Article
Non-Invasive Assessment of Physiological Stress in Captive Asian Elephants
Animals 2019, 9(8), 553; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080553 - 14 Aug 2019
Cited by 19 | Viewed by 6918
Abstract
Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) populations, both in the wild and in captivity, have been continually declining over the decades. The present study examined the physiological stress response of captive Asian elephants in relation to body condition score and different working conditions. [...] Read more.
Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) populations, both in the wild and in captivity, have been continually declining over the decades. The present study examined the physiological stress response of captive Asian elephants in relation to body condition score and different working conditions. A total of 870 dung samples of 37 captive elephants (24 males and 13 females) from four facilities were collected to examine fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations (fGCM). The elephants in forest camps with exposure to natural habitats had a higher body condition score than those in more confined spaces. Wild born elephants and females (except in one case) had higher concentrations of fGCM than captive born elephants and males, respectively. Elephants engaged in the Dussehra festival had elevated fGCM concentrations than their counterparts at Mysore zoo. We recommend a few management practices for the long-term survival of rapidly declining captive elephant populations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

Review

Jump to: Research

18 pages, 567 KiB  
Review
Welfare Assessment and Activities of Captive Elephants in Thailand
Animals 2020, 10(6), 919; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10060919 - 26 May 2020
Cited by 24 | Viewed by 8787
Abstract
Thailand is the epicenter of elephant tourism and visiting an elephant camp is a popular activity according to the Tourist Authority of Thailand. However, the welfare of these elephants has been questioned by animal activist groups, international tour operators, and the public. Conclusions [...] Read more.
Thailand is the epicenter of elephant tourism and visiting an elephant camp is a popular activity according to the Tourist Authority of Thailand. However, the welfare of these elephants has been questioned by animal activist groups, international tour operators, and the public. Conclusions that the vast majority of captive elephants are abused often are based on anecdotal evidence and not solid science. So, it is difficult to tease apart emotion, opinion, and fact with regard to what practices are good or bad for elephant welfare. The aim of this paper was to: (1) describe the unique status of captive elephants in Thailand and associated regulations, (2) summarize current issues and challenges facing elephant tourism, (3) review studies conducted on welfare of tourist elephants in Thailand, and (4) offer recommendations for how elephants can be properly cared for under captive conditions in tourist camps. We conclude there are many ways to manage these elephants, and that not all tourist activities are bad for welfare. However, it is essential they be managed in a way that meets physical, physiological and psychological needs, and that management decisions are based on objective data. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Show Figures

Figure 1

23 pages, 330 KiB  
Review
Commonalities in Management and Husbandry Factors Important for Health and Welfare of Captive Elephants in North America and Thailand
Animals 2020, 10(4), 737; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10040737 - 23 Apr 2020
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 5169
Abstract
This review paper is a synthesis of results from multiple studies that we have conducted over the past several years using similar methodologies to identify factors related to welfare of captive populations of elephants in North American zoos and Thailand tourist camps. Using [...] Read more.
This review paper is a synthesis of results from multiple studies that we have conducted over the past several years using similar methodologies to identify factors related to welfare of captive populations of elephants in North American zoos and Thailand tourist camps. Using multiple conservation physiology tools, we found that, despite vastly disparate management systems, there are commonalities in how environmental and husbandry factors affect physical and physiological outcomes. Elephants appear to have better welfare, based on fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) analyses, when housed under conditions that provide a more enriched, stimulating, and less restrictive environment. We also found it is essential to balance diet and exercise for good body condition and metabolic function. In Thailand, use of tools to control elephants, such as the ankus (i.e., guide, hook) and chains, did not equate to poor welfare per se, nor did riding; however, improper uses were associated with higher wound scores and FGM concentrations. Foot health was good overall in both regions, with cracks being the most common problem, and better foot scores were found in elephants kept on softer substrates. Based on these findings, science-based guidelines are being developed in Thailand, while in North America, changes are being incorporated into elephant standards and husbandry resource guides. Management across venues can be improved by encouraging elephant exploration and exercise, establishing socially compatibility groups, ensuring proper use of tools, and providing balanced diets. We contend there is no “one-size-fits-all” management strategy to guarantee good welfare for elephants, but there are essential needs that must be met regardless of where or how they are managed. Future studies are needed to find ways to better socialize elephants; determine how temperament affects coping styles and resilience; study the importance of good handler-elephant relationships; identify more ways for elephants to engage with the environment; and assess the effect of life history on subsequent physiological and psychological well-being. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Back to TopTop