Schiffmann, C., Clauss, M., Hoby, S. et al. 2020. Weigh and see—Body mass recordings versus body condition scoring in European zoo elephants (Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus). Zoo Biology 39(2), 97-108.
Regular body mass (BM) monitoring plays a key role in preventative health care of zoo animals. In some species, including African (Loxodonta africana) and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), the process of weighing can be challenging, and alternative methods such as visual body condition scoring (BCS) have been developed. We investigated the temporal development of both parameters regarding correlation patterns between them, and their suitability as monitoring measures in dependence of an elephant's life stage. While BM is more suitable in calves and juveniles under the age of 8 years, both BM and BCS are considered equally reliable in adult elephants. In elephants over the age of 40 years, BCS might be more suitable for assessing the physical status. Independent of species and sex, juvenile zoo elephants grow in BM nearly linearly with age, and reach a higher BM at an earlier age compared with conspecifics of free-ranging and semi-captive populations in the countries of origin. The BCS typically remains constant during this life stage, seemingly unaffected by growth. In adult animals, breeding females have a lower BM and BCS than nonbreeders, and BM and BCS typically indicate fluctuations in the same direction. In geriatric elephants (>40 years) a drop in BCS occurs commonly, while BM may even increase in this life stage. We recommend regular body mass recording in zoo elephants to enhance our knowledge of body mass development and allow the formulation of objective practical recommendations. BCS presents a valuable and simple tool for complementary monitoring of an elephant's condition, especially in adult and geriatric individuals.