CZAAWE Resource Article

Social Interactions in Two Groups of Zoo-Housed Adult Female Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) that Differ in Relatedness
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Opportunities for positive social interaction are important in captive animals, and social interactions can be used as a welfare indicator. Wild elephants live in related multigenerational herds; however, in captivity they are often managed in less related groups, which could impact the quality of their social interactions, and thus their welfare. Here, we used a limited social network analysis to investigate the social interactions in two groups of four female captive Asian elephants, one of which contained individuals that were all related to one another, whilst the other was a mix of related and unrelated individuals. Data on pairwise social interactions was collected from eight days of video footage using an all-occurrence sampling technique. More affiliative, and fewer agonistic interactions were observed in the related elephant group. Additionally, non-contact displacement was observed at a higher frequency in the related elephant group, which we theorise represents an established functioning hierarchy, avoiding the need for overt aggression over resources. Although kinship is not likely to be the only factor affecting captive elephant social behaviour, these findings support the recommendation that for optimal welfare, elephants should be managed in multigenerational family herds. Evaluations of social interactions such as those conducted here would have wider applicability for aiding the management of any captive social species to identify when groups might be incompatible.