Social interactions in zoo-housed elephants: factors affecting social relationships

Williams, E. ORCID: 0000-0003-4492-1605, Carter, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-6216-2377, Hall, C. ORCID: 0000-0001-5916-311X and Bremner-Harrison, S. ORCID: 0000-0003-4770-1376, 2019. Social interactions in zoo-housed elephants: factors affecting social relationships. Animals, 9 (10): 747. ISSN 2076-2615

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Elephants have complex social systems that are predominantly driven by ecological factors in situ. Within zoos, elephants are held in relatively static social groups and the factors observed driving social relationships in the wild are largely absent. Little research has investigated the effect of social group factors in zoos on elephant social interactions. The aim of this research was to establish whether there is a relationship between social group factors and social behaviour, in order to identify factors that make elephant herds more or less likely to be compatible. Results will facilitate recommendations for optimum social groupings for zoo elephants. Behavioural data quantifying social interactions were collected between January 2016 and February 2017 at seven UK and Irish zoos and safari parks from 10 African and 22 Asian elephants. Social interactions were split into four categories: positive physical, positive non-physical, negative physical and negative non-physical. Social interactions were related to age (positive physical higher and negative non-physical lower in calves than adults), personality (elephants with higher sociability scores engaged in more positive interactions and less negative interactions), presence of calves in the herd (herds with calves had more positive non-physical), relatedness to other elephants in the herd (positive non-physical were higher when relatives were in the group and negative non-physical were higher between unrelated elephants) and species (Asian elephants engaged in more positive non-physical than African elephants). A greater understanding of factors that may contribute to the success of zoo-elephant social groups is important for individual and herd welfare as it will enable evidence-based decisions which have minimal impact on social structures to be executed. This knowledge will enable proactive management approaches to be undertaken and will thus be paramount in ensuring optimal welfare for elephant herds moving forwards.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Animals
Creators: Williams, E., Carter, A., Hall, C. and Bremner-Harrison, S.
Publisher: MDPI
Date: 29 September 2019
Volume: 9
Number: 10
ISSN: 2076-2615
Rights: This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 30 Sep 2019 08:36
Last Modified: 04 Oct 2019 07:09

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