Gebr. Knie, Schweizer National-Circus AG, Knies Kinderzoo, Rapperswil, Switzerland
Inactivity has been recognized as a major factor in behavioral stereotypies and health problems in captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus).1 Besides weaving and digestive problems, lack of exercise can lead to overweight body condition, reduced muscle mass, and chronic degenerative joint disease in many species, including the Asian elephant.2,3
The current study measured the biomechanics of nine trained and less trained female Asian elephants during exercise. The age range was 14–54 years. Training status was categorized objectively by training hours and subjectively by the opinion of the elephant manager. Portable force plates and a specialized capturing and analyzing software were used to measure forces acting on the distal extremities. Results showed that large forces act on the musculoskeletal system of the Asian elephants during the normal gait, especially on the joints of the distal extremities. Differences in forces acting on distal extremities in relation to body weight were seen between trained and less trained elephants. Well-trained elephants had better control over their weight distribution, which reduced the stress on their joints during exercise.
Thus, captive management of Asian elephants should promote regular training programs, stimulating elephants to move and exercise every day. It is important to respect the ability and preferences of an individual animal. Individual training programs should train all musculoskeletal regions for various topographic environments and situations. An appropriate body weight, intact foot conformation, good foot health, and physical fitness are required to cushion forces and reduce the biomechanical stress on the extremities’ articulations.
We like to thank P. Habegger, Habegger Maschinenfabrik AG, Thun, Switzerland for their expertise and providing the specialized measuring equipment.
1. Gruber TM, Friend TH, Gardner JM, Packard JM, Beaver B, Bushong D. Variation in stereotypic behaviour related to restraint in circus elephants. Zoo Biol. 2000;19:209–221.
2. Csuti B, Sargent EL, Bechert US. The Elephant’s Foot: Prevention and Care of Foot Conditions in Captive Asian and African Elephants. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press; 2008.
3. Fowler ME, Mikota SK. Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of Elephants. Ames, IA: Wiley-Blackwell; 2007.