The elephant in the room - use of enclosure and activity budget of a group of African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) in a Swedish zoo

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Animal Environment and Health

Abstract: African elephants ( Loxodonta africana ) are social animals that are adapted to life in arid environments. Zoos in northern climates have to keep elephants confined indoors for several months a year due to the risk of cooling down body core temperature and slipping on frozen ground. This study investigated how well a group of six African elephants (3 adult females, 1 juvenile male, 2 female calves) in Borås Zoo, Sweden, accepted their new indoor hall into which they had moved five months prior to the study. This was investigated in three different situations: baseline, visitors present and mature elephant bull using part of the indoor hall. Every animal (except the bull) was observed after 2-min-intervals for 20 minutes twice a day. Similar to the wild, foraging was the most common behaviour over all treatments. Locomotion was registered less compared to the wild but in line with previous studies in captivity. Positive social behaviour was primarily seen between mother and calf. In line with other studies, agonistic behaviour was low. Additionally, the time an individual performed the stereotypy weaving was noted. Only one of the two known weavers was actually seen performing the stereotypy, mostly when neither visitors nor the elephant bull were present. This individual probably developed the stereotypy in the time she was chained overnight. During baseline, the elephants clustered in the afternoon in front of the door to their training quarters, where they usually waited when the caretakers filled up the hall with fresh feed. This was also the setting when most weaving occurred. It was judged that the elephant cow weaved in anticipation of food. Both visitors and elephant bull seemed to disturb the elephants, as less foraging was registered compared to the baseline situation. There was an increase in resting behaviour when visitors were present which might predict a certain visitor effect. However, the zones mainly used were closest to the visitor area which came as a surprise. The only remarkable difference when the elephant bull was using part of the indoor hall was that no performance of stereotypies was registered. The elephant group in Borås Zoo showed a wide range of natural behaviours which indicated that they accepted their new indoor hall quite well.

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