Lasky, M., Campbell, J., Osborne, J. A. et al. 2021. Increasing browse and social complexity can improve zoo elephant welfare. Zoo Biology 40(1), 9–19.

While recent work has assessed how environmental and managerial changes influence elephant welfare across multiple zoos, few studies have addressed the effects of management changes within a single institution. In this paper, we examine how management changes related to social structure and diet affect the behavior of a group of zoo elephants over a 23‐month period while also considering underlying factors, such as time of day, hormonal cycle, and individual differences. We recorded individual behaviors using 2‐min scan samples during 60‐min sessions. We analyzed behavioral changes across several study variables using generalized linear mixed models. We found that increasing browse can improve opportunities for foraging throughout the day but may not be sufficient to reduce repetitive behaviors. We observed that increasing group size and integration of bulls with cows can lead to increased social interaction in African elephants. Our results highlight the importance of using multiple management alterations to address elephant welfare, and considering environmental factors, when making management decisions.

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