Examination of the interrelationships of behavior, dominance status, and ovarian activity in captive Asian and African elephants

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Abstract

Ovarian inactivity has been identified in captive African (Loxodonta africana) and Asian (Elephas maximus) elephants and is thought to be mediated in part by social influences. Thus, a survey was conducted to determine how behavior and dominance status relate to each other and to ovarian cyclicity. For both Asian and African elephants, dominance status was positively correlated with relative size, age, temperament, disciplinary nature, and willingness to share novel objects. Relative size and temperament were also related to disciplinary nature toward herdmates. Behavior toward keepers was a good indicator of the willingness of elephants to follow commands, whereas sharing novel objects was positively correlated with object curiosity. Finally, dominance status, temperament, and disciplinary nature were all correlated with willingness to share. Comparisons of ovarian cyclicity status with behavior rankings were conducted only for African elephants because of the low number of noncycling Asian elephants surveyed. Overall, social status appeared to be the best predictor of ovarian activity in African elephants. Noncycling African elephant females ranked higher in the dominance hierarchy and gave more discipline to herdmates than cycling cohorts. It remains to be determined whether these are cause or effect relationships, but clearly it is important to understand how physical and social attributes impact physiological processes, such as reproduction. Captive management now needs to focus on optimizing social and environmental conditions to maximize reproductive potential in elephants. Zoo Biol 23:431–448, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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