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A survey of foot problems, stereotypic behaviour and floor type in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in European zoos

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2023

M Haspeslagh*
Affiliation:
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Surgery and Anaesthesiology of Domestic Animals, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, 9820 Merelbeke, Belgium
JMG Stevens
Affiliation:
Centre for Research and Conservation, Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Koningin Astridplein 26, 2018 Antwerp, Belgium
E De Groot
Affiliation:
Centre for Research and Conservation, Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Koningin Astridplein 26, 2018 Antwerp, Belgium
J Dewulf
Affiliation:
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Obstetrics, Reproduction and Herd health, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, 9820 Merelbeke, Belgium
ID Kalmar
Affiliation:
Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Department of Molecular Biotechnology, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
CPH Moons
Affiliation:
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Nutrition, Genetics and Ethology, Ghent University, Heidestraat 19, 9820 Merelbeke, Belgium
*
* Contact for correspondence and requests for reprints: maarten.haspeslagh@ugent.be

Abstract

This study investigates whether foot problems in captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) can be linked to: i) enclosure floor type; and ii) the occurrence of repetitive behaviour. Using a questionnaire, we collected information about floor type(s) in the enclosure, occurrence of repetitive behaviour and occurrence of foot problems for 87 Asian elephants (≥ 12 years) in 32 European zoos. The majority of elephants were housed on sand or concrete. A substantial proportion of the study population displayed repetitive behaviour. Respondents observed foot problems in 59 elephants, of which 53 displayed repetitive behaviour. Data analysis showed that elephants with access to sand flooring had a significantly greater chance of displaying stereotypic behaviour. Displaying this behaviour was also age-dependent with older elephants being more likely to do so. Furthermore, elephants that displayed stereotypic behaviour or that were being kept in an environment with sand or concrete flooring were more likely to have foot problems than others. Further research is required to determine whether the relationships between substrate, stereotypic behaviour and foot problems are of a causal nature.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2013 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare

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