Calculation of longevity and life expectancy in captive elephants



The concepts of longevity (longest lived) and life expectancy (typical age at death) are common demographic parameters that provide insight into a population. Defined as the longest lived individual, longevity is easily calculated but is not representative, as only one individual will live to this extreme. Longevity records for North American Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and African elephants (Loxodonta africana) have not yet been set, as the oldest individuals (77 and 53 years, respectively) are still alive. One Asian elephant lived to 86 years in the Taipei Zoo. This is comparable to the maximum (though not typical) longevity estimated in wild populations. Calculation of life expectancy, however, must use statistics that are appropriate for the data available, the distribution of the data, and the species' biology. Using a simple arithmetic mean to describe the non-normally distributed age at death for elephant populations underestimates life expectancy. Use of life-table analysis to estimate median survivorship or survival analysis to estimate average survivorship are more appropriate for the species' biology and the data available, and provide more accurate estimates. Using a life-table, the median life expectancy for female Asian elephants (Lx=0.50) is 35.9 years in North America and 41.9 years in Europe. Survival analysis estimates of average life expectancy for Asian elephants are 47.6 years in Europe and 44.8 years in North America. Survival analysis estimates for African elephants are less robust due to less data. Currently the African elephant average life expectancy estimate in North America is 33.0 years, but this is likely to increase with more data, as it has over the past 10 years. Zoo Biol 23:365–373, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.