Utilizing Camera Traps, Closed Circuit Cameras and Behavior Observation Software to Monitor Activity Budgets, Habitat Use, and Social Interactions of Zoo-Housed Asian Elephants (Elephus maximus)
Accredited zoos and aquariums value superior animal husbandry and strive to ensure that the physical, psychological, and social needs of animals are met. In North America, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) relies on species-specific standards to ensure facilities provide the best care for collection animals. The AZA also makes explicit recommendations for long-term monitoring of welfare. Data collected through behavioral observations can be used to modify management as animals respond over time to social, environmental, or physical changes. In long-lived, social species like elephants, it is particularly important to document herd dynamics, calf development, geriatric health, and social bonds throughout their lifetimes. The Smithsonian's National Zoological Park housed one male and six female Asian elephants in dynamic social groupings. Behavioral observations were conducted on all elephants for two years using two methods involving ZooMonitor, closed circuit cameras, and camera traps. The goal was to compare how these two methods function to provide individual activity budgets, habitat use, and social interactions. Methodologies such as these, alone or in combination, have the potential to produce valuable data about potential changes in welfare over time in a zoological setting and can be performed either by staff or volunteers with high reliability.