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A survey of elephant husbandry and foot health in North American zoos.

By K. D. Lewis, D. J. Shepherdson, T. M. Owens, M. Keele

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The foot health of elephants in human care is a longstanding concern. In 2001, the AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care were published recommending husbandry to improve foot health. This article reports the results of a 2006 survey: basic statistics describing facility, husbandry, and foot health attributes are reported and relationships among variables are investigated. Median area available to elephants exceeded Standard recommendations (755 ft2 per elephant indoor and 10,000 ft2 outdoor). Concrete makes up 69% of indoor area and natural substrates account for 85% of outdzoor area. Elephants in AZA facilities received an average of 45.5 min/day of exercise, and facilities with a structured exercise plan provided significantly more exercise than did facilities without a structured exercise plan (z=-2.522, P=0.012). Enrichment is important to psychological health and may also stimulate activity beneficial to foot health; 95% of institutions had a structured enrichment program. Preventative foot care was nearly universal, and 100% of facilities performed routine nail and pad trimming. However, foot pathology has not been eradicated; 33% of institutions reported at least one pathology in the previous year. This study found a strong inverse relationship between foot pathology and exercise ( chi 2(3)=24.34, P<0.001). Younger herds were less likely to have a member diagnosed with arthritis ( chi 2(1)=8.90, P=0.003). Lameness was unrelated to age or pathology, and only the presence of arthritis explained lameness (z=-7.81, P<0.001). African elephants seemed to experience lower rates of foot pathology and arthritis than Asian elephants; however, this was explained by differences in age.

Date 2010
Publication Title Zoo Biology
Volume 29
Issue 2
Pages 221-236
ISBN/ISSN 0733-3188
DOI 10.1002/zoo.20291
Author Address Oregon Zoo, 4001 SW Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221-2799,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal husbandry
  2. Arthritis
  3. Diseases
  4. Elephants
  5. Enrichment
  6. Exercise
  7. Feet
  8. Gardens
  9. Guidelines
  10. Health
  11. Husbandry
  12. Lameness
  13. Mammals
  14. Mathematics and statistics
  15. North America
  16. pathology
  17. peer-reviewed
  18. Primates
  19. recommendations
  20. standards
  21. substrates
  22. surveys
  23. United States of America
  24. Zoo and captive wild animals
  25. Zoos
  1. peer-reviewed