Myanmar Timber Elephant Project


Researchers studying animal personality are interested in individual behavioural variation. It is crucial to consider behavioural variation as it is related to life-history, demography, dispersal, the distribution of individuals within habitats and social evolution, to mention just a few. Variation is not only the raw-material for natural selection to work on, but actually also the result of natural selection.

Two broad approaches to measure personality exist. Behaviours can be measured directly via observation across different environmental conditions and/or over time. However, in situations where the direct measurement of behaviour is not feasible, using behavioural ratings acquired by e.g. questionnaires is a fruitful alternative.

Previous studies on elephant personality have mostly been performed on zoo individuals and sample sizes were usually not high. These studies suggest that elephants have four or five personality dimensions and that some of those dimensions are related to status, age, stress or genetic factors.


We investigate if individual Asian elephants have different personalities. What kind of personality traits do they express and how do these differ between individuals? Is personality related to e.g. age, sex, origin or tuskness? Does personality affect the elephants’ social organization, maternal and allomaternal behaviour and ultimately fitness?


We perform questionnaires, asking the oozies to rate 30 traits on a scale from 1 (trait very rarely expressed) to 4 (trait very often expressed). The 30 traits include e.g. aggressiveness, friendliness, socialness, timidity, inquisitiveness and are well explained and defined in the questionnaires. Oozies know their elephants best and they help us to define the personality of each elephant. Using multivariate statistics we aim to disentangle the underlying personality factors influencing these 30 traits.


Our recent findings suggest that elephant in our population express five personality dimensions which are similar to what a previous study had found in African and Asian elephants. These five dimensions show also interesting parallels to the human Big Five personality structure.

Age, origin, sex and tuskness seem to be related to several personality dimensions. Watch this space in the future for more detailed results and to find out if personality is also related to elephants’ social behaviour and fitness.