GPS determination of walking rates in captive African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

Grant Title

Dr. Dolittle Project: A Framework for Classification and Understanding of Animal Vocalizations

Document Type


Publication Date


Source Publication

Zoo Biology

Source ISSN

0733-3188, 1098-2361


The movements of elephants in captivity have been an issue of concern for animal welfare activists and zoological professionals alike in recent years. In order to fully understand how movement rates reflect animal welfare, we must first determine the exact distances these animals move in the captive environment. We outfitted seven adult female African elephants (Loxodonta africana) at Disney's Animal Kingdom with collar-mounted global positioning recording systems to document their movement rates while housed in outdoor guest viewing habitats. Further, we conducted preliminary analyses to address potential factors impacting movement rates including body size, temperature, enclosure size, and social grouping complexity. We found that our elephants moved at an average rate of 0.409±0.007 km/hr during the 9-hr data collection periods. This rate translates to an average of 3.68 km traveled during the observation periods, at a rate comparable to that observed in the wild. Although movement rate did not have a significant relationship with an individual's body size in this herd, the movements of four females demonstrated a significant positive correlation with temperature. Further, females in our largest social group demonstrated a significant increase in movement rates when residing in larger enclosures. We also present preliminary evidence suggesting that increased social group complexity, including the presence of infants in the herd, may be associated with increased walking rates, whereas factors such as reproductive and social status may constrain movements.

Document Rights and Citation of Original

Zoo Biology, Vol.28, No. 1 (January/February 2009): 16-28. DOI.