Myanmar Timber Elephant Project

Jennie Crawley et al. published in Scientific Reports: Taming age mortality in semi-captive Asian elephants

February 10, 2020

Jennie A. H. Crawley, Mirkka Lahdenperä, Zaw Min Oo, Win Htut, Hnin Nandar & Virpi Lummaa 2020: Taming age mortality in semi-captive Asian elephants. Scientific Reports 10(1889)

ABSTRACT. Understanding factors preventing populations of endangered species from being self-sustaining is vital for successful conservation, but we often lack sufficient data to understand dynamics. The global Asian elephant population has halved since the 1950s, however >25% currently live in captivity and effective management is essential to maintain viable populations. Here, we study the largest semi-captive Asian elephant population, those of the Myanma timber industry (~20% global captive population), whose population growth is heavily limited by juvenile mortality. We assess factors associated with increased mortality of calves aged 4.0–5.5 years, the taming age in Myanmar, a process affecting ~15,000 captive elephants to varying degrees worldwide. Using longitudinal survival data of 1,947 taming-aged calves spanning 43 years, we showed that calf mortality risk increased by >50% at the taming age of four, a peak not seen in previous studies on wild African elephants. Calves tamed at younger ages experienced higher mortality risk, as did calves with less experienced mothers. Taming-age survival greatly improved after 2000, tripling since the 1970’s. Management should focus on reducing risks faced by vulnerable individuals such as young and first-born calves to further improve survival. Changes associated with reduced mortality here are important targets for improving the sustainability of captive populations.

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