University of Nottingham: Experts appeal for public support to help improve the care of elephants in human care

The team are now appealing to members of the public to help them to fund the ongoing development and upkeep costs, which will help to support the well-being, and ultimately the future existence of this incredible species.

The app is the next step in ongoing research being carried out by experts in the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Sciences, in helping to improve the welfare of elephants in captivity across the globe.

In 2019 the team launched the elephant behavioural welfare assessment tool, which was developed as part of their research which was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, which allows keepers to quickly and easily monitor the welfare of individual elephants over time, based on their demeanour and behaviour.

Captive Asian elephant – credit Ryan Harley
The research team at Nottingham developed a questionnaire-style welfare assessment tool which was designed to be rapid to complete, and which doesn’t need any specialist training or facilities.

The tool is now used by every zoo that houses elephants in the UK, as well as numerous other facilities around the globe, and is already helping them to assess the impact of any changes they make in how they manage their elephants, and to develop policies and practices which are specifically designed to enhance elephant welfare.

Until now, the tool was completed over multiple days using separate sheets of paper, scores were manually entered into excel, and limited results were provided by the spreadsheet.

The new android tablet-based app has been developed to replace the tool in its current format.

Dr Lisa Yon
It will enable keepers to rapidly complete the tool on a tablet, and they will be emailed with their results. Additionally, this exciting development for this welfare assessment tool will enable elephant carers in zoos and other captive elephant settings worldwide, to get instant reports tracking the welfare of their elephants.

Dr Lisa Yon from the University has extensive experience of studying elephant behaviour, both in the wild and captivity and, heads the Behaviour Subgroup of the multi-stakeholder UK Elephant Welfare Group. She says: “Use of our tool has provided, for the first time, a reliable and validated way for people looking after captive elephants to use the elephants’ behaviours to monitor their welfare over time.

“Whilst the initial feedback has been great, we wanted to make the tool even easier to use. We started developing the app earlier this year. Keepers can use it to guide them through the process and it also reduces paperwork and the time it takes to input the observational data, which will make it faster and easier for them.

“The app really will make our tool easy to use, and many of our colleagues all around the world are keen to adopt our app for use with their elephants. However, in order to encourage the use of our app by these different elephant-keeping facilities, it is essential that we make it freely available, as there are so many places with elephants that have very limited funding, that just couldn’t afford to pay for it.“

The app requires substantial ongoing costs associated with the maintenance of the database that will house the data from all the app users, creation of an online dashboard so that app users can create customised reports of their data, and potential creation of a separate version of the app for use on Apple ipads (iOS).

Unfortunately, there is a cost to the ongoing maintenance and further development of the app, and this is where we are hoping that members of the public will want to get involved and help us to provide this essential tool for free to captive elephant facilities all over the globe.”
Dr Lisa Yon
The team have set up a JustGiving page for donations to support the app.

“We appreciate this is a big ask, but this app could really make the difference in helping with the future preservation of these amazing animals,” adds Dr Yon.

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