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Stereotypic swaying and serum cortisol concentrations in three captive African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

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The behaviour and serum cortisol concentrations of three captive female African elephants (Loxodonta africana) were studied to determine whether their stereotypic swaying was more prevalent before regularly scheduled events in the elephants' routine, and whether the elephants that exhibited more stereotyped swaying had lower mean serum cortisol concentrations. Behavioural data were collected during hour-long observations balanced across three periods, and during 15-min observations prior to the elephants being moved to different portions of their enclosure. Observational data were collected using instantaneous focal sampling of behaviours every 30 s. Serum cortisol measures were obtained through weekly blood withdrawal from the elephants' ears. Of the three elephants, two exhibited stereotyped swaying, which accounted for a mean of 0.4% of the scans during the hour-long observations and a mean of 18% of the scans prior to the elephants being moved between different parts of the enclosure. Swaying was highly variable among the individual elephants during both categories of observations. Additionally, both elephants swayed more prior to moving in the after-noon than prior to moving in the morning. Analyses of serum cortisol concentrations indicated that each elephant had a different mean cortisol level, which did not clearly correspond with the expression of swaying. The findings indicate that a rigidly scheduled management event may elicit stereotyped swaying in the studied elephants. Future research should document the behavioural and physiological effects of an altered management routine to improve captive elephant welfare.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 February 2004

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