Myanmar Timber Elephant Project

New article published by Crawley et al.: Asian elephant calf physiology and mahout perspectives during taming in Myanmar

April 14, 2024


A quarter of Asian elephants are captive, with greater than 90% of these tamed and cared for by handlers (mahouts) in Asia. Although taming is a much-discussed welfare issue, no studies to our knowledge have empirically assessed its impact on calves, and dialogue surrounding taming often lacks perspectives of those involved. Here, we interviewed mahouts involved in taming and monitored five physiological measures (faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs), serum cortisol, glucose, creatine kinase (CK) and heterophil:lymphocyte (H:L)) over the first 10 days of taming and following six months in 41 calves undergoing taming and 16 control individuals. These measures assess the duration and intensity of stress during taming. Interviews suggested mahouts had major concerns for their safety when discussing changing taming practices, an important consideration for future management. Calf physiological measures were elevated by 50–70% (FGMs/cortisol/glucose), 135% (H:L) and greater than 500% (CK) over the first few days of taming, indicative of elevated stress, not seen to the same extent in control adults. Some measures stabilized sooner (glucose/cortisol/CK/FGM: 7–10 days) than others (H:L: one–two months), indicating mostly acute stress. Our findings inform the welfare of approximately 15 000 captive elephants around the world. Future studies should compare taming in different populations and consider calf and mahout welfare.

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