Influence of Handling Method on Adrenal Activity in Zoo African and Asian Elephants
As a first step towards investigating the effect of management choice – free contact (FC) or protected contact (PC) – on zoo elephant well-being, this study evaluated serum cortisol concentrations in weekly samples collected over a 2-year period from 112 female elephants (58 African, 54 Asian) managed in either FC (n=58) or PC (n=54) management systems at 48 facilities. Results showed there were no differences in overall or baseline mean concentrations of serum cortisol between the two management systems. A GLM analysis exploring the response of individual baseline cortisol concentration to management (FC vs PC), facility, species, and the interaction of management and facility revealed that the only parameter with significant explanatory power was the facility where the elephants were housed. Thus, it may be more important to evaluate specific facility effects on adrenal activity, such as enclosure conditions, enrichment opportunities, or social interactions, rather than handling technique. Although many zoos are moving to a PC management approach, particularly within the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, from a welfare standpoint there is probably not a one-size-fits-all management strategy that is ideal. Rather, it may be necessary to consider individual elephant coping styles and social needs on a case by case basis before deciding whether FC or PC is most appropriate for management, especially when considering how to address welfare concerns.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).