Finch, K., Sach, F., Fitzpatrick, M. et al. 2020. Longitudinal improvements in zoo-housed elephant welfare: A case study at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. Animals 10(11), 2029.
Over the last two decades, criticisms were raised regarding the welfare experienced by elephants in European and North American zoos. Concerns regarding the welfare of zoo-housed elephants in the UK and Europe were consolidated in the publication of several key reports, and media interest peaked. Throughout this study we aim to outline the behavioural measures of welfare observed in the current group of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Whipsnade Zoo, using key welfare indicators for this species and comparing them to previous published work. Following the instigation of a species-specific research programme, empirical behavioural data were available to quantify any developments in care and welfare. The collection of behavioural information revealed that individuals in our study group engage in low levels of stereotypic behaviour, have formed and maintain strong associations with one another and display a high proportion of engagement in lying rest. We outline that by applying simple, low-cost methods of behavioural data collection and analysis, it is possible to collect evidence that allows us to evaluate individual level welfare. This facilitates the adoption of an evidence-based approach to zoo management as well as demonstrating compliance with updated legislation for this species.