Weighty welfare problems

Source: groenkennisnet.nl/ dierenwelzijnsweb
For three years, 255 African and Asian elephants were studied in 70 American zoos. A team of 27 researchers focused on various elephant health indicators. Overweight and other welfare problems came to light.
The 27 investigators studied thousands of hours of video material and read the elephants’ medical records. In addition, thousands of blood and faeces specimens were collected. The study was made possible thanks to an 800,000-dollar subsidy.

For the study, six indicator areas were established as important for elephant welfare: foot and joint health; body condition scores; walking; recumbence (lying down); behaviour; and ovarian cyclicity (reproductive cycle regularity). For each of these areas a percentage of animals with problems was established, and the causes identified. Furthermore, measures to achieve improvement were supplied. For example, three-quarters of the elephants examined were too heavy (their body condition score was too high); 4% of the population was overweight. Creating more opportunities for exercise, spreading feeding times throughout the day, and offering feed at unpredictable times are positive actions. More knowledge regarding ideal body condition (displaying posters for the keepers) is also positive. Enhancement programmes were mentioned for several indicator areas, as they stimulate more movement, healthier weight and less stereotypical behaviour.

The study results will be published in the coming years in various academic articles. In Europe as well as elsewhere, conditions in which elephants are kept are often criticised. A follow-up project has been started in Great Britain to identify problems and lead to improvements.