A ground-breaking study announced today revealed that analyzing the daily lives of zoo elephants -- ranging from when and how they are fed to how they spend their time both at night and during the day -- provides new, scientifically based information that zoos can use to improve the welfare of their elephants. "Using Science to Understanding Zoo Elephant Welfare" is the largest and most comprehensive, multi-institution study ever conducted to collect and assess data on the welfare of any species in North American zoos.
Representatives of the 27-member study team, which includes independent consultants, zoo professionals and faculty from three universities, presented results from the three-year, independent study today at the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) annual meeting attended by zoo professionals from throughout North America. The study is funded by an $800,000 leadership grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded to the Honolulu Zoo Society and administered by Kathy Carlstead, Ph.D. Study team members and dozens of research assistants from widely varied disciplines developed quantitative measures to assess elephant welfare indicators. A sample of the volumes of data collected included: 110,000 pages of medical records, 2,700 hours of video, 6,135 serum samples, 7.8 million GPS data points and 6,571 fecal samples collected from 40,000 pounds of elephant dung.
"Previous to this study, there had not been a large-scale, scientific assessment of zoo elephant welfare in the North America. Although elephant welfare has been a topic of public interest, the lack of available data on this specific population made it difficult to differentiate fact from opinion," said Cheryl Meehan, Ph.D., the study's consulting project manager. "This study gives a broad look at the lives of zoo elephants, and the outcomes provide both the science-based information necessary to inform conversation as well as actionable items that zoos can use to continue to enhance management of elephants."
She added that: "The results reported today are at the population level and do not address any specific zoo or any specific elephant.'' More....