Fernandez, E. J., Upchurch, B., Hawkes, N. C. 2021. Public feeding interactions as enrichment for three zoo-housed elephants. Animals 11(6), 1689.
The past few decades have seen increased interest in studies examining the welfare of elephants and animal–visitor interactions. One understudied area for both pursuits is the impact of public feeding interactions. Our study examined the effects of public feedings on the general activity of three zoo-housed elephants. Prior to public feedings, we developed and assessed a 21-behavior ethogram split into six classes of behavior. Comparisons between the elephants demonstrated that only one of the elephants engaged in stereotypies with regularity (>30%), and that the stereotypies occurred in place of most foraging. During public feedings, we compared the general activity of each elephant independently and across both public feeding and nonpublic feeding days, as well as the general activity before, during, and after a public feeding. Public feedings increased social activity and decreased stereotypies when compared with nonpublic feeding days for two of the elephants. In addition, all three elephants showed increased foraging and decreased inactivity in the period after a public feeding session. These results demonstrate that public feedings can be a useful tool for enriching the welfare of zoo-housed elephants and are among the first sets of data to demonstrate positive welfare outcomes associated with public feedings.