Personality assessment in African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

Kristina Marie Horback


The following study assessed personality in twelve African elephants using both observational behavior coding and standardized trait rating methods, thus demonstrating consistent individual differences across time and contexts. During the summer of 2010 and 2011, over 640 hours of behavioral data were collected onsite at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, CA. Four coding-based personality traits were determined after analysis: PLAYFUL, CURIOUS, TOLERANT, and, AGGRESSIVE. This data was then compared to survey ratings completed by the animal keeper staff during both summers. Four rating-based personality traits resulted from this analysis: PLAYFUL, CURIOUS, TIMID, and, AGGRESSIVE. All eight composite personality traits were highly correlated ( p < 0.01) from 2010 to 2011 for each individual elephant. In addition, the rated and coded traits were highly correlated (p < 0.05) among the individuals, demonstrating construct validity. Previous studies on personality in both humans and animals have found that individual differences in temperament are significantly related to immunity strength, breeding status, and stress response. This suggests that personality assessment in any species can be used to identify individuals that are more sensitive to environmental and social sources of stress, may help in determining inter-individual compatibility, and can shed light on personality-specific enrichment.