New welfare tool to help improve the lives of elephants in human care

February 06, 2019

Zoos and safari parks in the UK are using a special new tool to help them more successfully monitor the wellbeing of elephants in their care, thanks to a study led by The University of Nottingham.

The new elephant behavioural welfare assessment tool, the result of research which has been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, allows keepers to quickly and easily track the welfare of individual elephants over time based on their demeanour and behaviour.

Regular use by captive elephant facilities is helping them to assess the impact of any changes in animal husbandry and develop facilities which are specifically designed to enhance elephant welfare.

The research was led by Dr Lisa Yon, a Lecturer in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, in the University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, with assistance from Dr Naomi Harvey also from the University Nottingham Vet School, and in collaboration with Dr Lucy Asher at the University of Newcastle and Ellen Williams, a PhD researcher from Nottingham Trent University.

Dr Yon has extensive experience of studying elephant behaviour, both in the wild and captivity and, heads the Behaviour Subgroup of the multi-stakeholder UK Elephant Welfare Group.

Dr Yon, said: "Our new tool provides, for the first time, a reliable way for people looking after captive elephants to use the elephants' behaviours to monitor their welfare over time."

Concern has previously been raised about the standard of care for elephants across North America and Europe and a report to DEFRA by academics at the University of Bristol in 2008 specifically identified some concerns about the welfare of elephants in UK zoos.

A review of this report by the government advisory committee, the Zoos Forum, suggested that evidence of welfare improvements was needed and a period of ten years was set for these to be implemented.

The research team began work to develop a questionnaire-style assessment tool that would take keepers no more than an hour to complete and without the need for specialist training or facilities.

This project built on two previous studies which examined previous evidence from peer-reviewed literature on welfare indicators for captive elephants (Williams et al, 2018) and used focus groups of UK zoo personnel and other stakeholders to capture their valuable knowledge of elephant behaviour (Chadwick et al, 2018).

From this work, they pulled together a list of behaviours which offer an indication of the animal's welfare, and this was used to develop a prototype tool to measure elephant welfare.

The tool, to be completed by the keepers consists of:

Four one-minute live observational assessments: asking keepers to record their elephant's demeanour in relation to a range of terms including: content, depressed, fearful, agitated, playful, relaxed and distressed.

Daytime behaviour questions: keepers are asked to observe their elephants for five minutes, four times a day over the course of three days and then score questions on a range of observed behaviours, which have been identified as being important measures of animal welfare.

Night time observations: keepers use overnight video footage to record a range of behaviours including social behaviour and sleep behaviour.

The prototype tool was tested at five elephant-holding facilities in the UK - including Twycross Zoo, Knowsley Safari Park, Colchester Zoo, Chester Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo - on a total of 29 elephants, representing almost half (46 per cent) of the total UK captive elephant population at the time.

A finalised Elephant Behavioural Welfare Assessment Tool was developed, based on the results from the testing of the prototype tool; this tool has now been included in the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice Guidelines as a routine part of the welfare assessment of captive elephants in UK zoos.

The researchers have suggested that similar methods could also be used to develop assessment tools for a wide range of other species in zoos and aquariums.
-end-


University of Nottingham

Related Elephants Articles from Brightsurf:

How do giraffes and elephants alter the African Savanna landscape?
Through their foraging behavior across the diverse topography of the African savanna, megaherbivores may be unknowingly influencing the growth and survival of vegetation on valleys and plateaus, while preserving steep slopes as habitat refugia.

New findings highlight threatened status of forest elephants
Conservation efforts for the African forest elephant have been hindered by how little is known the large animal, according to researchers.

Researchers study elephants' unique interactions with their dead
Stories of unique and sentient interactions between elephants and their dead are a familiar part of the species' lore, but a comprehensive study of these interactions has been lacking -- until now.

A chronicle of giant straight-tusked elephants
About 800,000 years ago, the giant straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon migrated out of Africa and became widespread across Europe and Asia.

Capturing elephants from the wild hinders their reproduction for over a decade
Capturing elephants to keep in captivity not only hinders their reproduction immediately, but also has a negative effect on their calves, according to new research.

Sisters improve chances of reproduction in Asian elephants
Researchers at the University of Turku found that the presence of a maternal sister was positively and significantly associated with annual female reproduction in a population of working elephants in Myanmar.

Future of elephants living in captivity hangs in the balance
Scientists at the University of Sheffield and University of Turku are looking at ways to boost captive populations of Asian elephants without relying on taking them from the wild.

Wildlife tourism may negatively affect African elephants' behavior
Increasing numbers of tourists are interested in observing wildlife such as African elephants, and income generated from tourism potentially aids in the protection of animals and their habitats.

Sex differences in personality traits in Asian elephants
Scientists from the University of Turku, Finland, have found that male and female Asian elephants differ in their personality.

New welfare tool to help improve the lives of elephants in human care
Zoos and safari parks in the UK are using a special new tool to help them more successfully monitor the wellbeing of elephants in their care, thanks to a study led by The University of Nottingham.

Read More: Elephants News and Elephants Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.