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Dec 14, 2007

Natural Indoor Substrate to improve welfare of Newborn Elephants

Natural Indoor Substrate to improve welfare of Newborn Elephants from Chester Zoo - North of England Zoological Society

Sanded indoor enclosures are much better for elephants especially when giving birth

In Western zoos, concrete floors are the traditional substrate on which to keep elephants when housed. This floor surface is easy to maintain and clean but can compromise the welfare of the newborn calf and its mother in the periparturient period.

These impervious floors do not allow for the birth fluids to drain away which in turn leads to a very slippery surface and the calf remaining wet for long periods. In addition they do not allow the mother to display the normal wild behaviours of drying the calf by sprinkling it with earth and digging to aid the calf in standing.

Chester zoo has a long history of breeding Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) with 10 births in the last 15 years. As part of redevelopment of Chester Zoo’s elephant facilities, 540m2 of natural substrate floor (30cm deep Block Laying Sand BS7533 Cat II) was installed. This was done principally to improve the foot condition of the herd but was also envisaged to improve the welfare of the cow and calf in the periparturient period. Success of the new substrate was evaluated by comparing video footage of four births – three on traditional concrete flours and one on the new substrate.

Results indicate that calves get to their feet more easily on the sand floor (calves took more than 10 attempts to remain standing for greater than 30 seconds on the concrete floor but achieved this on the first attempt on the sand floor).

This innovation presents a significant welfare advance for the neonate and its mother and is a cost effective alternative to traditional concrete flooring.

Developed by:  Chester Zoo - North of England Zoological Society

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