Obesity is a common problem in captive elephants and has been linked to pathology. Therefore, monitoring body condition is an important part of preventative medicine. Many institutions lack the equipment to weigh elephants and body condition scoring (BCS) represents a valuable alternative tool. As yet, the BCS of both elephant species has not been assessed comprehensively for the European population.1 Using a previously validated visual BCS protocol, we assessed 192 African (Loxodonta africana) and 326 Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) living in European zoos (97% of the population). The majority of elephants were in the upper score categories with 56% of adults assessed in the range 7–10 out of 10. Adult Asian elephants had significantly lower BCS (males: mean 6.2±1.0, range 4–8; females: mean 6.6±1.3, range 3–9) than African elephants (males: mean 6.7±0.7, range 6–8; females: mean 6.9±1.2, range 1–9). Samples of free-ranging populations (163 Asian elephants and 121 African elephants) revealed significantly lower scores independent of species, age, and sex category. Compared to previous reports from captive populations, we found that in European zoo elephants BCS decreased. In adult Asian elephant females, BCS was significantly correlated to their breeding status with lower scores in current breeders; however, breeding status was also correlated to group size, enclosure size, and a diet with reduced vegetables. Descriptive analysis of development over time revealed various circumstances of life and management adaptations to measurably impact condition of individual elephants as well as population-wide BCS over years.
We acknowledge all elephant-facilities for their support. EAZA, BIAZA, and both EEP-coordinators are acknowledged for their endorsement of our project. We wish to thank Dr. Cynthia Moss & the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and Jennifer Pastorini & Prithiviraj Fernando from Center for Conservation and Research Sri Lanka for providing photographs of free-ranging elephants, Jeanne Peter for example drawings for our scoring protocol, and Zoo Zurich, Zoo Basel and the Karl und Louise Nicolai-Stiftung for funding this research.
1. Schiffmann C, Clauss M, Hoby S, Hatt J-M. Visual body condition scoring in zoo animals - composite, algorithm and overview approaches in captive Asian and African elephants. J Zoo Aquarium Res. 2017;5:1–10.