Insights into Activity of Zoo Housed Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) during Periods of Limited Staff and Visitor Presence, a Focus on Resting Behaviour

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Katherine Finch, Fiona Sach, Malcolm Fitzpatrick, Lewis J Rowden
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Historically, behaviour of zoo housed species during hours of limited staff and visitor presence has been poorly studied, largely due to the lack of appropriate technology. Advances in digital monitoring equipment and facility design by European elephant holders has given researchers scope to accurately evaluate behaviour for this species over 24 hrs. Various behavioural indicators of welfare have now been identified for zoo housed elephants; however the relationship between resting behaviour and welfare experience has been an area highlighted to require additional research. Lying rest is a potential positive welfare indicator for this species, with studies suggesting that engagement in lying rest can be used to monitor both psychological and physiological wellbeing. Throughout this work we aim to give insights into the behaviour of individual Asian elephants at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, specifically between the hours of 16:00 and 10:00. In addition to presenting the activity budgets of our study individuals during these times, we explore individual engagement in resting behaviour. Furthermore, we evaluate the social associations of our study group during rest. We provide evidence that unrelated individuals can form strong associations with conspecifics when resting and show that life history is a factor to consider when evaluating social compatibility between group members. Finally, we demonstrate the positive role that calves and juvenile individuals can play in facilitating meaningful associations between group members during rest. Our study highlights the importance of evaluating behaviour during understudied time periods in order to obtain a holistic view of individual welfare, further emphasising the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach to management for this species in zoos.


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