A1 Journal article – refereed

Handler familiarity helps to improve working performance during novel situations in semi-captive Asian elephants

List of Authors: Liehrmann Océane, Crawley Jennie A. H., Seltmann Martin W., Feillet Sherine, Nyein U. Kyaw, Aung Htoo Htoo, Htut Win, Lahdenperä Mirkka, Lansade Léa, Lummaa Virpi

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

Publication year: 2021

Journal: Scientific Reports

Volume number: 11

eISSN: 2045-2322

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-95048-w

URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-95048-w


Working animals spend hours each day in close contact with humans and require training to understand commands and fulfil specific tasks. However, factors driving cooperation between humans and animals are still unclear, and novel situations may present challenges that have been little-studied to-date. We investigated factors driving cooperation between humans and animals in a working context through behavioural experiments with 52 working semi-captive Asian elephants. Human-managed Asian elephants constitute approximately a third of the remaining Asian elephants in the world, the majority of which live in their range countries working alongside traditional handlers. We investigated how the familiarity and experience of the handler as well as the elephant’s age and sex affected their responses when asked to perform a basic task and to cross a novel surface. The results highlighted that when novelty is involved in a working context, an elephant’s relationship length with their handler can affect their cooperation: elephants who had worked with their handler for over a year were more willing to cross the novel surface than those who had a shorter relationship with their handler. Older animals also tended to refuse to walk on the novel surface more but the sex did not affect their responses. Our study contributes much needed knowledge on human-working animal relationships which should be considered when adjusting training methods and working habits.

Downloadable publication

This is an electronic reprint of the original article.
This reprint may differ from the original in pagination and typographic detail. Please cite the original version.

Last updated on 2021-12-11 at 14:32