Evison, E., McKenzie, A., Holmes, L. 2020. Social and environmental impacts on sleep in captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Zoo Biology 39(6), 397-404.
Modern zoos strive to improve standards of animal management, husbandry and welfare of their animals as part of a continual evaluation process. Elephants (Elephantidae) have received particular attention in recent years due to the challenge of providing environments which promote natural behavior and opportunities for social interaction. A number of measures have been proposed to measure wellbeing, with sleep quality increasingly being used. Sleep is a vital aspect of life for cell replenishment as well as optimal development of young. Sleep deprivation can lead to immunosuppression and illness; therefore animal managers have a responsibility to ensure they reduce the potential for disturbance through noise, light, or other environmental factors. The social environment also plays an essential role in wellbeing, particularly for species that live in multi-generational family units. In this study the nocturnal behavior of a multi-generational captive herd was observed to determine impacts of husbandry changes on sleep duration and bout length (measured as recumbent rest). As expected, average total duration of sleep was higher in younger elephants and rates were comparable to those reported in other studies of Asian elephants. Overnight access to an outdoor paddock in warmer weather increased overall average bout length of sleep in the herd. Average total duration of sleep also increased for the herd following the movement of an unrelated adult female who had previously shown weak bonds with other herd members. This indicates that social compatibility is a vital component of elephant welfare, impacting not only behavioral interactions but sleep quality and duration.