Age‐based variation in calf independence, social behavior and play in a captive population of African elephant calves

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Patrick T Freeman, Erica L Anderson, Kristin B Allen, Caitlin E O'Connell‐Rodwell
Zoo Biology
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African elephant calves are highly social and their behavioral development depends heavily on interactions with other elephants. Evaluating early social behaviors offers important information that can inform management decisions and maximize individual- and population-level welfare. We use data collected from the population of elephants at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, CA to evaluate developmental trajectories of spatial independence and social behavior in nine elephant calves across a range of ages. As calves aged, the probability of being further from mothers also increased. Tactile interactions were common among calves, with all individuals either initiating or receiving physical touches from other elephants in a large proportion of focal scans. While the probability of initiating tactile interactions tended to decline with increases in calf age, the probability of receiving tactile interactions from other elephants remained invariant with regard to this variable. The social play was also common, occurring in a fifth of all focal scans. While there was evidence that social play tended to decline with increases in calf age, results suggest additional factors may be useful in characterizing patterns in play behavior at the individual level. Calves most frequently engaged in play with individuals of similar age but showed substantial variation in play partner choice. Results of this study suggest that maintaining groups of elephants in captivity with diverse age structure positively contribute to their healthy social development.


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