Personality Assessment in African Elephants (Loxodonta africana): Comparing the Temporal Stability of Ethological Coding Versus Trait Rating

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The consistency of personality assessment was addressed in this study of 12 zoological African elephants living at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, CA, USA during the 2010 and 2011 summer seasons. Using 480 h of observational behavior data, three personality traits were determined based on behavior events, with the most significant correlations (two-tailed rs > 0.77, P < 0.005) being playful, curious, and sociable. During both summers, the animal care staff rated all elephants across 25 adjective items. Four rating-based personality traits were then clustered based on items with the most significant correlations (one-tailed rs > 0.72, P < 0.005): playful, observant, shy and confident. All seven personality traits correlated significantly (P < 0.05) from 2010 to 2011 for each individual elephant, demonstrating temporal stability. Additionally, the coded playful trait was correlated significantly (P < 0.01) to the rated trait playful, demonstrating construct validity and cross-method consistency. These results suggest that humans have the ability to discriminate zoo elephant personalities reliably and accurately. This, therefore, suggests that rating of zoo elephant personalities by caretakers with extensive knowledge of the species’ behavioral repertoire may be a valid proxy for long-term behavioral monitoring. Personality assessments may allow animal caretakers to identify appropriate roles for certain individuals (i.e., social compatibility, operant training, and transport to another facility), aid the individualization of environmental enrichment, and provide vital predictors of coping ability (i.e., stress response/resiliency).

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Applied Animal Behaviour Science



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