Assessing welfare of captive elephant populations

Published: July 14th, 2016

Category: Featured, News

Murchison Elephants

Image courtesy of Dr. Sadie Ryan

GAINESVILLE, Florida – A new collection of research articles, jointly edited by Dr. Sadie Ryan and published by PLoS ONE examines the health and well being of captive elephant populations in North American zoos and preserves. This collection is sensitive in nature. While keeping large, socially complex, and long-lived animals, such as elephants, in captivity is controversial, many ‘wild’ populations of elephants in Africa and Asia are small and heavily managed, and the greater wild populations are in precipitous decline. Research such as this collection, on captive populations, can thus provide wildlife managers with well-quantified research to inform management strategies for in situ conservation.

Epidemiological Investigations of North American Zoo Elephant Welfare is published as a PLoS ONE Special Collection comprising nine research articles describing the results of studies across 68 participating zoos. The studies took an epidemiological approach, assessing how social, housing, and management factors influence elephant welfare, including abnormal behavior and reproductive health. This collection will play an important role in informing evidence based zoological management.

Working on this collection builds on Dr. Ryan’s long standing interest in small population management in endangered species, particularly elephants. Earlier in her career, Dr. Ryan worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, on demographic management of endangered species in captivity, and the impact of management practices on disease transmission and reproductive health. She has continued to work on issues of breeding and disease in captive populations, and continues to be interested in the implications from analyses of, and protection for, endangered species in captivity.

“This collection is specifically focused on the fundamentally important aspects of managing welfare for captive elephants, leveraging an unprecedented, massive collaboration among multiple zoological institutions,” said Ryan. “Without this kind of cooperation and effort to bring proper analyses of such vital, evidentiary information, we cannot properly protect the welfare of such an important set of species. While my bias is towards informing the protection and conservation of wild elephants, we are in a paradigm of small population biology across much of the wild population, and therefore this information is valuable both to collections and to the conservation of elephants, globally.”

The collection was edited jointly by Sadie Ryan (University of Florida) and Elissa Cameron (University of Canterbury).


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