The Elephant Welfare group was set up in response to a series of reports highlighting welfare concerns in captive elephants.
Following this, BIAZA were asked by the UK government to co-ordinate a group to tackle these issues and drive forward a series of evidence based improvements in the welfare and care of elephants in UK collections. Lord Henley, the Government Minister said to BIAZA: I believe that BIAZA’s Elephant Welfare Group is well-placed to drive forward a programme of improvements, encourage co-ordination, develop and share husbandry advice and good practice, and monitor progress.
The group consists of members from academia, welfare organisations and zoos including scientists, keepers and directors. More information can be found here.
I sit on the Elephant Welfare Group as a Defra appointed member and I am work group leader for the "Reproduction and Social Behaviour" Subgroup.
I have been generously funded by Chester Zoo and the BIAZA Elephant Welfare Fund to produce a qualitative risk assessment on the reproduction of elephants in zoos.
The methodology involved using a workshop with elephant keepers and scientists at Chester Zoo to gain expert opinion identification of potential risk factors. The peer review literature and the European Elephant Studbooks were analysed and two questionnaires produced one focused on puberty to conception and the second on pregnancy to rearing a calf to five years of age.
The questionnaires collect information on management, social structure and stability, facilities design, health amongst others in an attempt to identify which of these factors may influence reproductive failure.
The questionnaire studies obtained a 50% return rate, which is exceptionally high and results in the survey component of the research being the largest reproduction study in European Elephants.
The evidence collected was assessed using qualitative risk assessment techniques. The significance and correlations between risk factors were then assessed using statistical analysis, where appropriate and the final step was to review these using a second independent expert challenge session. The important outcomes that can be reported at this stage are that:
- The European elephant populations face very different reproductive challenges to those experienced and studied in North America.
- There are very significantly different issues between the two species, which must be considered and addressed independently.
- Infant mortality rate has decreased in both species since 2008.
- Individual and herd behaviour is fundamental to reproduction. Stable, compatible herds, social experience of bulls, reproducing adults, calves and allomothering experience are critical factors both to reproduction and welfare.