Assessment of body condition in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus)

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Abstract

A method of assessing body condition of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) is presented. The method uses visual assessment to assign numerical scores to six different regions of the body, which are totaled to give a numerical index ranging from 0–11. The relationship between the index and morphometric variables is compared for a sample of 119 juvenile and young adult elephants from southern India, Nepal, and Myanmar. Mean ages of males and females were similar. Mean index of body condition (with standard error [SE]) was 7.3±0.2 points. No significant correlation was found between index of body condition and age over both sexes (r=0.01, n=50). Results were equivalent when sexes were treated separately (females: r=0.03, n=24; males: r=0.01, n=26). Sexes did not differ in height of the shoulder or body condition in our sample, but there was significant sexual dimorphism in breadth of the zygomatic arch and three measures of subcutaneous fat: girth of neck, thickness of cervical fold, and thickness of anal flap. These three measures were also significantly correlated with each other. Our assessment method should prove a practical tool for ecologic studies, but the relationship of the index to percentage of body fat should be determined using heavy water dilution methodology. Zoo Biol 25:187–200, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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