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Behavioural study of Asian elephants in Antwerp Zoo: social relations and dominance

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Abstract
While zoos strive to keep Asian elephants in more naturalistic group settings, by forming matriarchal family groups, still very little is known about the social dynamics in such groups. To evaluate our efforts in keeping elephants in good captive conditions, information about social relationships is required, especially in zoo herds that are small and more diverse in the background of the herd members compared to groups in the wild. The current study focuses on social behaviour in a small herd of female Asian elephants in Antwerp Zoo. The herd consisted of an older cow (D), that had very limited experience with calves, and that was mixed in 2006 with two younger cows of a similar age (Y and P) and the female offspring (M) of one of these females. In 2009 the same female gave birth to another female calf (K), which was included in some of the analyses. The elephants were studied for 25 days for a total of 150 hours, using all occurrences sampling to record affiliative and agonistic behaviours. Based on agonistic interactions, we used Normalised Davids scores to construct a cardinal rank order. We used Social Network Analyses to study affiliative relationships in the group. We found a clear, steep dominance hierarchy, which was closely linked to age: the oldest cow (D) was most dominant, the adolescent female (M) was lowest ranking. The frequency and intensity of aggression in this herd was low. Using the Social Network Analyses, we can conclude the herd is very close, with strong affiliative links between all cows. In line with previous studies using the same methods, younger calves have strong network ties. Food sharing was most common between the three adult females. As expected, we found that the relationships with the oldest female D, who could be considered a social outlier, were complex. Also, we noticed strong allomothering between the adult female Y and the calves of female P. Y allonursed the youngest calf K, and this calf spent more time suckling her then her own mother. Y also had close ties to P’s other offspring M, whom she had allonursed until the birth of K. Furthermore, the ties between Y and the oldest female D were stronger than those between D and P, or P and Y. Consequently, in this group the central role was not taken by the group’s dominant female D, neither by the female P that had two female offspring , but by an unrelated outsider Y. This illustrates the need for easy assessments of relationship quality in these herds, so that information on social relationships can be integrated in the captive management of the herds.
Keywords
hierarchy, Elephas maximus, social organisation

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Chicago
Kiadi Matsuela, Siska, Christel Moons, and Jeroen Stevens. 2011. “Behavioural Study of Asian Elephants in Antwerp Zoo: Social Relations and Dominance.” In BIAZA Research Symposium, 13th Annual, Abstracts. British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).
APA
Kiadi Matsuela, S., Moons, C., & Stevens, J. (2011). Behavioural study of Asian elephants in Antwerp Zoo: social relations and dominance. BIAZA Research Symposium, 13th Annual, Abstracts. Presented at the 13th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).
Vancouver
1.
Kiadi Matsuela S, Moons C, Stevens J. Behavioural study of Asian elephants in Antwerp Zoo: social relations and dominance. BIAZA Research Symposium, 13th Annual, Abstracts. British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA); 2011.
MLA
Kiadi Matsuela, Siska, Christel Moons, and Jeroen Stevens. “Behavioural Study of Asian Elephants in Antwerp Zoo: Social Relations and Dominance.” BIAZA Research Symposium, 13th Annual, Abstracts. British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), 2011. Print.
@inproceedings{1851793,
  abstract     = {While zoos strive to keep Asian elephants in more naturalistic group settings, by forming matriarchal family groups, still very little is known about the social dynamics in such groups. To evaluate our efforts in keeping elephants in good captive conditions, information about social relationships is required, especially in zoo herds that are small and more diverse in the background of the herd members compared to groups in the wild. The current study focuses on social behaviour in a small herd of female Asian elephants in Antwerp Zoo. The herd consisted of an older cow (D), that had very limited experience with calves, and that was mixed in 2006 with two younger cows of a similar age (Y and P) and the female offspring (M) of one of these females. In 2009 the same female gave birth to another female calf (K), which was included in some of the analyses. The elephants were studied for 25 days for a total of 150 hours, using all occurrences sampling to record affiliative and agonistic behaviours. Based on agonistic interactions, we used Normalised Davids scores to construct a cardinal rank order. We used Social Network Analyses to study affiliative relationships in the group. We found a clear, steep dominance hierarchy, which was closely linked to age: the oldest cow (D) was most dominant, the adolescent female (M) was lowest ranking. The frequency and intensity of aggression in this herd was low. Using the Social Network Analyses, we can conclude the herd is very close, with strong affiliative links between all cows. In line with previous studies using the same methods, younger calves have strong network ties. Food sharing was most common between the three adult females. As expected, we found that the relationships with the oldest female D, who could be considered a social outlier, were complex. Also, we noticed strong allomothering between the adult female Y and the calves of female P. Y allonursed the youngest calf K, and this calf spent more time suckling her then her own mother. Y also had close ties to P{\textquoteright}s other offspring M, whom she had allonursed until the birth of K.  Furthermore, the ties between Y and the oldest female D were stronger than those between D and P, or P and Y. Consequently, in this group the central role was not taken by the group{\textquoteright}s dominant female D, neither by the female P that had two female offspring , but by an unrelated outsider Y. This illustrates the need for easy assessments of relationship quality in these herds, so that information on social relationships can be integrated in the captive management of the herds.},
  author       = {Kiadi Matsuela, Siska and Moons, Christel and Stevens, Jeroen},
  booktitle    = {BIAZA Research Symposium, 13th Annual, Abstracts},
  keyword      = {hierarchy,Elephas maximus,social organisation},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Bristol, UK},
  publisher    = {British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA)},
  title        = {Behavioural study of Asian elephants in Antwerp Zoo: social relations and dominance},
  year         = {2011},
}