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Introduction of Foreign Female Asian Elephants (Elephas Maximus) into an Existing Group: Behavioural Reactions and Changes in Cortisol Levels

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Abstract:

The present study examined the extent to which the introduction of three female Asian elephants (aged 3, 11, and 27 years) into a group of 1.4 (1 male, 4 female) elephants at Münster zoo, Germany, affects the behaviour and urinary cortisol levels of the animals involved. At Münster, only the females were monitored — the bull was mainly kept separate. Behavioural observations were carried out before transfer and during the six-month period following transfer, and urine samples were collected regularly from each elephant during the whole observation period. All elephants showed behavioural changes to the process of introduction. The transferred animals increased their social behaviour after arrival in the foreign zoo. Two of them showed an increase in stereotypies and one a reduction in stereotypies. The elephants at Münster reacted with decreased frequencies of stereotypies and increased frequencies of social behaviour and manipulation/exploration behaviour. Six months after transfer, three of the four elephants at Münster and one of the three transferred elephants showed nearly the same behavioural activity pattern as before transfer. One female still showed elevated stereotypic behaviour. From the four elephants in which cortisol measurements could be reliably performed (two of the transferred elephants and two elephants at Münster), only one individual at Münster responded to the process of introduction with a short-term elevation in urinary cortisol levels. One elephant showed a negative correlation between locomotion and cortisol levels and one a positive correlation between stereotypies and cortisol levels. Taken together, the results suggest that transfer and introduction caused some stress responses in the elephants, but that stress was neither prolonged nor severe. Serious welfare problems may have been prevented through individual behavioural coping mechanisms and former experience with stressful situations.

Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; ASIAN ELEPHANT; BEHAVIOUR; STRESS; URINARY CORTISOL

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-11-01

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