Head Elephant Keeper Tom Lindsey using the Elephant Welfare App

App developed to boost the welfare of elephants under human care

Tuesday, 27 June 2023

An app designed to improve the welfare of elephants in zoos, wildlife parks, and other facilities across the world has been created by researchers at the University of Nottingham.

The Elephant Welfare App (EWA) is designed to be easy to use for people caring for elephants in zoos, safari parks, and other settings. The app collects data allowing zoos and safari parks to monitor the welfare of their elephants over time and identify changes that ultimately improve their welfare.

Dr. Lisa Yon, Associate Professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine & Science at the University of Nottingham, led the team which developed the app. She said: "Both African and Asian elephants are now endangered in the wild and are at great risk of extinction. Zoo elephants may represent an important population for conservation of these species, and it is therefore important to ensure their well-being, but also contribute to their improved chances of survival so that they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations." 

“Caring for elephants is an immense privilege but also a challenge. It is therefore essential that we identify what are the most essential, and feasible factors that can encourage the expression of natural behaviours and positive welfare."

Each time a user uploads data onto the app, they are automatically sent a detailed report containing graphs and tables, which provide a visual summary of all the behavioural observations entered for that elephant over time.

Data from all the participating facilities is stored in a large, secure database at the University of Nottingham. It is hoped that this database will become one of the largest repositories of zoo elephant behavioural data in the world. Researchers at the University can then use all this collected data to give evidence-based, scientifically robust advice to captive elephant facilities on what they can do to encourage positive welfare in their elephants.

Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Somerset was one of the first facilities to use the new Android app. The wildlife charity recently opened a new plantation for their African elephants, Shaka, Janu and Sutton. This 5,000sqm plantation, which is within one of their elephant enclosures, is the first of its kind in the UK. This verdant enclosure is home to willow, aspen, and poplar as well as other delicious elephant-friendly snacks. The zoo will continue using the EWA, in order to help them make informed decisions about how to make welfare improvements for each their elephants, based on how each elephant responds to their environment over time.

Elephant Section Leader, Tom Lindley said: ‘’We believe that our elephant enclosure at Noah’s Ark Zoo is one of the best facilities for elephants in the world, providing top-notch welfare, but we are always keen to learn new ways in which to improve and maintain elephant welfare.

The app, designed by the team at the University of Nottingham, allows us to make timely judgements about our elephants’ welfare by documenting their behaviour. This information helps us ensure that their welfare is the best that it can be at any point in time.’’

The app is available free to all elephant facilities across the globe, with initial users ranging from the United Kingdom to the US and Indonesia to South Africa. There have been seventeen facilities in the UK and Ireland who have used the team’s welfare tool, to monitor the welfare of over 70 captive elephants, and this work is ongoing.

Story credits

For further information, please contact Dr. Lisa Yon, Associate Professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine & Science at the University of Nottingham.

Adam Mallaby - Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (Maternity Cover)
Phone: 0115 748 5719

Notes to editors:

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