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Recent Ex-situ Elephant Research
in AZA Facilities

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The AZA standards for Elephant Care and Management states:

Every AZA institution should contribute in some way to elephant research activities. Involvement in one or more of the following disciplines is strongly recommended: behavior, cognition, reproduction, communication, enrichment, health and education.


Humans have learned more about elephants and their needs in the last 20 years than in the last 200 years.  AZA institutions have played a leading role in the understanding and knowledge of elephants through an active program of elephant research. 

Many elephant research questions can be answered through scientific inquiry using elephants in the care of humans.  Reproduction, memory, communication, visual acuity, nutritional requirements, pathology of disease and its treatment are a few topics that have been researched in AZA institutions.  Because elephants in the care of humans are both easily accessible and acclimated to the close proximity of humans they can provide scientists with the opportunity to explore field research questions even further.  In recent years, elephant breeding has been more successful in both species because of increased efforts in natural reproduction and technical advances in assisted reproduction.

Research Projects

Elephants in AZA institutions provide a unique opportunity to learn more about the species through scientific research.  Listed below are a some of the more recent elephant research projects that continue to add to our body of knowledge.  They are listed by topic, project title, year, species and a brief project description.

NEW!!! For a limited time, the Journal of Zoo Biology is giving free access to its March/April 2010 special issue on the Care and Welfare of Elephants in AZA Institutions (Volume 29, Issue 2).

Articles featured in this issue include:

  1. Soltis, J. and J.L. Brown. Special Issue - The Care and Welfare of Elephants in AZA Institutions (pages 85-86).
  2. Dale, R.H.I. Birth Statistics for African (Loxodonta Africana) and Asian (Elephas maximus) elephants in human care: history and implications for elephant welfare (pages 87–103).
  3. Kowalski, N.L., R.H.I. Dale and C.L.H. Mazur. A survey of the management and development of captive African elephant (Loxodonta africana) calves: birth to three months of age (pages 104–119).
  4. Bercovitch, F.B. and J. Andrews. Developmental milestones among African elephant calves on their first day of life (pages 120–126).
  5. Proctor, C.M., E.W. Freeman and J.L. Brown. Results of a second survey to assess the reproductive status of female Asian and African elephants in North America (pages 127-139).
  6. Freeman, E.W., B.A. Schulte and J.L. Brown. Using behavioral observations and keeper questionnaires to assess social relationships among captive female African elephants (pages 140–153).
  7. Freeman, E.W., B.A. Schulte and J.L. Brown. Investigating the impact of rank and ovarian activity on the social behavior of captive female African elephants (pages 154–167).
  8. Proctor, C.M., E.W. Freeman and J.L. Brown. Influence of dominance status on adrenal activity and ovarian cyclicity status in captive African elephants (pages 168–178).
  9. Plotnik, J.M., F.B.M. de Waal, D. Moore III and D. Reiss. Self-recognition in the Asian elephant and future directions for cognitive research with elephants in zoological settings (pages 179–191).
  10. Soltis, J. Vocal communication in African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) (pages 192-209).
  11. Leighty, K.A., J. Soltis and A. Savage. GPS assessment of the use of exhibit space and resources by African elephants (Loxodonta africana) (pages 210–220).
  12. Lewis, K.D., D.J. Shepherdson, T.M. Owens and M. Keele. A survey of elephant husbandry and foot health in North American zoos (pages 221–236).
  13. G.J. Mason and J.S. Veasey. How should the psychological well-being of zoo elephants be objectively investigated? (pages 237-255).
  14. G.J. Mason and J.S. Veasey. What What do population-level welfare indices suggest about the well-being of zoo elephants? (pages 256–273).
  15. Brown, J.L., D.C. Kersey, E.W. Freeman and T. Wagener. Assessment of diurnal urinary cortisol excretion in Asian and African elephants using different endocrine methods (pages 274–283).

Click here to access these articles through Wiley's Online Library.

Elephant TAG/SSP Conservation/Research Project Review and Endorsement Instructions


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Updated: December 16, 2010