CZAAWE Resource Article

The Sizes of Elephant Groups in Zoos: Implications for Elephant Welfare
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
This study examined the distribution of 495 Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and 336 African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in 194 zoos, most of which were located in Europe (49.1%) and North America (32.6%). Cows outnumbered bulls 4 to 1 (Loxodonta) and 3 to 1 (Elephas). Groups contained 7 or fewer: mean, 4.28 ( D 5.73). One fifth of elephants lived alone or with one conspecific. Forty-six elephants (5.5%) had no conspecific. Many zoos ignore minimum group sizes of regional zoo association guidelines. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association recommends that breeding facilities keep herds of 6 to 12 elephants. The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommends keeping together at least 4 cows over 2 years old. Over 69% Asian and 80% African cow groups—including those under 2 years—consisted of fewer than 4 individuals. Recently, Europe and North America have made progress with some zoos no longer keeping elephants and with others investing in improved facilities and forming larger herds. The welfare of individual elephants should outweigh all other considerations; zoos should urgently seek to integrate small groups into larger herds.