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A review of current indicators of welfare in captive elephants (Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus)

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Lucy Asher



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 2018.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


© 2018 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Concerns over elephant welfare in UK zoos have implications for their future in captivity. To monitor improvements made to elephant welfare in UK zoos, non-invasive, valid and reliable indicators of welfare are needed. Using a rapid review strategy and critical appraisal tool, we aimed to appraise evidence from peer-reviewed literature on potential welfare indicators for captive elephants. Scopus, Web of Knowledge and Ovid were searched in January 2014 using terms relevant to captive elephants and welfare assessment. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied and remaining articles were critically appraised against a specially designed welfare indicator appraisal tool. Thirty-seven unique indicators of welfare were extracted from 30 peer-reviewed papers which met the inclusion criteria. Behavioural measures of welfare (n = 21) were more common than either physical (n = 11) or physiological (n = 5) measures. Stereotypies were the most frequently used behavioural measure, glucocorticoids were the most frequently used physiological measure and body condition scores were the most frequently used physical measure. There was most support for the following indicators of improved welfare state: reduced stereotypies, reduced glucocorticoids and improved body condition scores. Additional measures which require further validation but had strong associations with the most supported measures, and thus have potential use in welfare assessment, were: increased lying rest and positive social interactions. Further validation of the described measures is needed, but this information forms a crucial part of the knowledge required to efficiently monitor and improve the welfare of elephants in captivity.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Williams E, Chadwick CL, Yon L, Asher L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Welfare

Year: 2018

Volume: 27

Issue: 3

Pages: 235-249

Print publication date: 01/08/2018

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 01/08/2019

ISSN (electronic): 0962-7286

Publisher: Universities Federation for Animal Welfare


DOI: 10.7120/09627286.27.3.235


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