Elephants are Earth’s largest land mammals. One might believe that when it comes to zoo enclosures, size matters to them. However, a new study shows that elephants prefer socializing over extra space.
The study was released by the University of California. It shows that opportunities to engage with their surroundings and social interactions matter more for elephants than space.
The research represents the largest elephant welfare project and comprises results from 255 African and Asian elephants in 68 American zoos. The results were published on July the 14th in the Plus One Journal.
Some of the results were in accordance with the scientists’ expectations. For example, a study found that hard flooring hurt elephants’ feet and caused muscular and skeletal health problems which were common to captive elephants.
Other findings have shown previously unknown connections between elephant management and their welfare. Apparently, 75 percent of elephants had exhibited stereotypic behaviors such as swaying or rocking. These behaviors often show that the animal is unwell and its welfare is compromised. Their causes are hard to measure, however.
Researchers also found that elephants are social creatures. Spending time alone was a high-risk factor, at the same time as spending time in larger social groups, often including young animals, had a positive effect. Multiple zoo transfers also increase an elephant’s risk of doing the stereotypic behavior.
The authors of these studies recommend that zoo elephant programs should include larger, multi-generational social groups. The size of zoo exhibits and welfare are somewhat connected. But the connection is of minor importance compared to social factors.
Female elephants which experienced playing and puzzle solving before eating food were more likely to have normal reproductive systems. The study also revealed that elephants which were fed at less predictable times and walked more daily had a better body condition and increased social interaction. Daily movement is an important factor in the elephant’s health.
Overall, zoos can improve elephant welfare, if they follow a few simple rules: allowing more elephants together so they can interact socially, offering them variety in food and food timing, giving them time to play and interacting with them.
Have you ever been to a zoo? Are you for or against keeping animals captive, in enclosures? Please let us know below.
Image Source – Wikipedia