Foot Health of Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) in European Zoos—Status Report and Influencing Factors
2018 Joint EAZWV/AAZV/Leibniz-IZW Conference
Paulin Wendler1, Dr med vet; Nicolas Ertl1, Dr med vet; Michael Flügger2, Dr med vet; Endre Sós3, Dr med vet, DECZM (Zoo Health Management); Paul Torgerson4, Prof PhD, Vet MB, DECVPH; Christian Schiffmann1,5, med vet; Marcus Clauss1, MSc, Prof Dr med vet, DECVCN; Jean-Michel Hatt1, MSc, Prof Dr med vet, DACZM, DECZM (Avian)
1Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; 2Tierpark Hagenbeck, Hamburg, Germany; 3Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden, Budapest, Hungary; 4Section of Epidemiology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; 5Elefantenhof Platschow, Ziegenhof, Germany


This study aims at evaluating foot health and influencing factors in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) kept in European zoos. Sixty-nine EEP-member zoos were visited and data of 243 individuals collected by systematic photographic documentation. From structured interviews, numerous husbandry and veterinary variables were established. Foot images were evaluated, and pathologies categorised in scores from 0–3.1 A new scoring system was developed considering the severity of each pathology by squaring and summing up the values of each nail and pad to the total score. The outcome was put into context with the independent variables.

Due to training and enclosure conditions, complete sets of foot pictures could be taken of 204 elephants, of which 87.3% had at least a minor crack, 72.1% attached cuticles, 69.6% solar horn defects and 58.8% major cracks. Severe lesions such as pad abscesses or altered tissues in cuticle and sole area occurred in 0.5–7.4%. Spearman correlations suggested that being female (ρ=0.15, p=0.031), sand as flooring material (ρ=0.31, p<0.001), indoor area size (ρ=0.30, p<0.001), time with free access to indoor and outdoor enclosure (ρ= -0.22, p=0.001), the amount of browse fed (ρ=0.60, p<0.001) and the individual’s cooperativity during foot care (ρ=0.19, p=0.006) were potentially protective characteristics. Multivariable models indicated chronic diseases (p=0.004) and the absence of relatives (p=0.046) as risk factors associated with increased pathological severity, whilst certain sires (p<0.001) were associated with decreased severity.

Our results show that to improve the elephant’s foot health, changes regarding enclosure design, management, diet, and training should be given more attention.


The authors would like to thank all cooperating institutions, Stiftung Hagenbeck for financial support, the BIAZA and the EAZA Elephant TAG.

Literature Cited

1.  Masters N. Protocol for the scoring of feet in captive elephants in zoological collections in the UK and Ireland. Elephant Welfare Group. 2013.


Speaker Information
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Nicolas Ertl, Dr med vet
Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife
University of Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland

Paulin Wendler, Dr med vet
Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife
University of Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland

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