Publication Date

Fall 2015

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Bruce A. Schulte (Director), Dr. Michael Stokes, and Dr. Cheryl Davis

Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Concern for elephant welfare in zoological facilities has prompted a number of exhibit and management modifications, including those involving enrichment. Knowledge of how these changes impact measures of health and wellbeing, such as elephant movement and behavior, is crucial as the effects of multiple enrichment types and their interactions are largely understudied. The present study used observations and GPS unit collected data to determine the effects of space and food on the walking distance and behavior of thirteen African elephants, whose dominance structure was ascertained by the handlers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (SDZSP). This facility has two exhibits of approximately equal size. Three treatments were created to assess the effects of food and space enrichment: (1) access to half of the exhibit with food (Half); (2) access to both yards with food in one yard, or half the total exhibit space (Both/Half); and (3) access to both yards with food in both (Both). To account for mirrored effects, the reverse for Half and Both/Half were also completed. Significant differences across treatments were revealed for average total walking distances, which varied among elephants belonging to different dominance groups. Overall, treatment Both evoked the most diverse behavior. Walking and behavioral data were related, as were walking distances and elephant dominance rank. No such relationships were found between dominance and behavioral measures. The information obtained from this study has direct implications for the management of the SDZSP elephants and could be applicable for elephants at other facilities that consider the choices between increasing the size of exhibits and the use of other forms of enrichment.


Animal Sciences | Biology | Zoology