Comparison of two introduction methods for African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

Kyle D. Burks, Jill D. Mellen, Gary W. Miller, John Lehnhardt, Alexander Weiss, Aurelio J. Figueredo, Terry L. Maple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Managers must consider an animal's potential for aggression when they decide to change or form a captive social group formation. In this study we compared two introduction methods (termed "sequential" and "nonsequential" introductions) in African elephants to assess their effectiveness in managing aggression and minimizing stress. Both introduction methods included four phases: baseline, visual contact, limited tactile contact, and physical introduction. In the sequential introduction, these steps were followed sequentially, and empirical data were considered during decision-making. In the nonsequential introduction, these steps were not followed sequentially, and decision-making was based primarily on intuitive assessments by animal managers. Behavioral data and fecal corticoid concentrations were measured throughout both types of introduction. The behavior categories measured included active aggression, passive aggression, submissive behavior, undesirable/stress-related behavior, and affiliative behavior. While the role of affiliative behavior was surprising, general behavior patterns were characterized by increases in behavior as animals progressed to the next phase of introduction regardless of introduction type. These increases then attenuated over time during each phase. Overall, less behavior was observed during the sequential introduction, as predicted. The data suggest that the sequential introduction managed aggression more effectively. Similar patterns were predicted for undesirable/stress-related behavior and fecal corticoid concentration. Undesirable/stress-related behavior was a poor predictor of observed behavior patterns. Although the patterns differed from those predicted, higher concentrations of fecal corticoids were measured during the nonsequential introduction and correlated significantly only with submissive behavior. While more investigation is warranted, the data indicate that the nonsequential introduction brought about an increased physiological response. Overall, the sequential introduction method appeared to manage aggression and stress better than the nonsequential technique. Every introduction is subject to factors that can influence success, such as staff experience, the design of the facility, and the animals' social histories. It is hoped that the rigorous sequential protocol will be a useful tool in the animal manager's "toolbox" for planning and implementing introductions. Applications of this introduction method are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-126
Number of pages18
JournalZoo Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004


  • Aggression
  • Behavioral management
  • Group formation
  • Socialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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