Geriatric Elephant Survey of Medical Care, Nutrition, Husbandry, and Welfare: Initial Results
As medical advances, husbandry and welfare continue to improve in zoos and aquariums, animals are often living longer and experiencing age-related diseases.1,2,4 Geriatric diseases in zoo animals may be challenging to manage based on variables such as species, social needs, resiliency and compliance. Veterinary hospice and palliative care are hindered by an inadequate amount of scholarly research to guide clinicians1,3; this is especially true for zoo and exotic species2. Providing optimal welfare for an animal relies on a strong preventive medicine program, appropriate nutrition, husbandry and medical care. This can be especially challenging in geriatric animals. The goal of this study was to conduct a survey to gather information pertaining to geriatric elephant medicine, management, husbandry, and nutrition. An electronic survey was created and sent out to AAZV and EAZWV members through an online link. There were 61 responses which included veterinarians, nutritionists, and elephant managers with a total of 314 elephants in their care, 142 geriatric (over 40 years old) of which 45 were known to be on their final set of molars. The most common diseases reported were osteoarthritis, foot disease, and colic. Flunixin meglumine and phenylbutazone were the analgesics reported with the highest frequency. Respondents described unique nutritional modifications made to accommodate animals with dental attrition and implementation of a variety of integrative medicine modalities. The initial results of this study provide information that may be applied to improve the welfare of geriatric elephants. Having an understanding of common physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes associated with aging can help better inform management practices and improve overall welfare.3
The authors gratefully acknowledge the many veterinarians who took the time and energy to participate in this survey and the animal care staff caring for elephants across institutions.
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