Wendler, P., Ertl, N., Flügger, M. et al. 2020. Influencing factors on the foot health of captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in European zoos. Zoo Biology 39(2), 109-120.
Pathological lesions of feet occur frequently in captive elephant populations. To improve foot health, it is important to identify risk factors associated with such pathologies. Several previous studies have analyzed potentially influencing factors but were limited, for example, by small sample sizes. This study analyzed the relationship between 87 independent variables and the foot health score of 204 Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in European zoos using bivariate correlation, multivariable regression models, and principal component analysis (PCA). Correlation and regression tests revealed significant results for 30 different variables, mainly with small effect sizes. Only three variables were significant in more than one test: sex, time spent indoors, and time spent on hard ground, with lower scores (i.e. less or less severe pathological lesions) in females, and when less time is spent indoors or on hard ground. Due to small effect sizes and differing results of the statistical tests, it is difficult to determine which risk factors are most important. Instead, a holistic consideration appears more appropriate. A biplot of the PCA shows that factors representing more advanced husbandry conditions (e.g. large areas, high proportions of sand flooring) were associated with each other and with decreased foot scores, whereas indicators of more limited conditions (e.g. high proportions of hard ground, much time spent indoors) were also associated with each other but increased the foot score. In conclusion, instead of resulting from just one or two factors, reduced foot health might be an indicator of a generally poorer husbandry system.