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Title: A comparison of behavioural development of elephant calves in captivity and in the wild : implications for welfare
Author: Webber, Catherine Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 7425 2649
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2017
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Compromised welfare and wellbeing of elephants (Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus) in captive facilities are significant and global problems. The period between birth and two years old is crucial for calf survival and social and environmental learning. Behaviour and developmental processes among captive elephant calves in these first years were compared with those seen in wild calves. Wild elephants calves develop within a complex, varied social context and provide one reference for normal patterns of development. Such comparisons enable insights into welfare at captive facilities. Eleven captive elephant calves born at three UK facilities were studied from birth to 18 months (AsianN=6; AfricanN=5). Older calves (AsianN=2; AfricanN=2) were also sampled up to 3.5 years; making a total of 15 calves studied from 2009 to 2014. Due to the small sample size, the 11 younger calves were also discussed as individual case studies. By 2017, only two of these case study calves were both alive and not orphaned. Three additional calves (AsianN=1; AfricanN=2) died on their day of birth and were not sampled. This small sample highlights the ongoing lack of self-sustaining populations of captive elephants. This thesis collated systematic behavioural observations on captive calves across 373 days (483.5hrs). Calf maintenance activities (feeding, resting, moving), associations with mother and others, interactions and calf play were compared with behavioural observations of wild AsianN=101 (74hrs, Uda Walawe, Sri Lanka) and wild AfricanN=130 (252hrs, Amboseli, Kenya) calves from ~birth to five yrs. Mothers’ (captive: AsianN=4; AfricanN=4; wild: AsianN=90; AfricanN=105) activities were also recorded to explore synchrony with calves. Captive calves raised by their mothers had similar activity budgets to those seen in the wild. Expected age-related declines in suckling were found in captivity. However, captive calves were more independent than wild calves for their age in distance from mother and spent significantly more time in play. A Decision Tree for whether to breed elephants in captivity was developed; benefits that a calf potentially brings to companions, e.g. multi-generational matrilineal groups, enabling social bonding and reducing abnormal behaviours, were considered against space required for families to grow and divide naturally over time, as well as ensuring that captive-bred males are socially sustained. It was recommended that facilities invest in future enclosure/housing designs which permit: free-access to other elephants; 24hr trickle feeding; juvenile males allowed to stay with their maternal group for longer, encouraging learning opportunities and further retaining age-structure/composition. Conversely, facilities unwilling to house a male or provide appropriate group size/composition are recommended to cease breeding.
Supervisor: Lee, Phyllis C. ; Vick, Sarah-Jane Sponsor: Longleat Safari and Adventure Park ; Chester Zoo's Richard Hughes Scholarship Award
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: elephant calves ; Loxodonta africana ; Elephas maximus ; welfare ; captive ; wild ; maintenance activities ; play ; interactions ; Elephants ; Captive elephants--Behavior ; Captive elephants--Conservation ; Animal welfare