Body condition assessment

Monitoring the physical state of an elephant presents a critical aspect in preventive elephant healthcare. It not only allows to quantify the body condition at a certain moment, but also helps to evaluate the effect of changes in management and nutrition when determined before and after implementation of the modification.

 

Several systems to assess the body condition of elephants have been developed. It is important to evaluate the condition of the elephant at your first visit.  

The scoring system used in this document is based on the extent of visibility of depressions around bone structures when an elephant is viewed laterally. Depressions around bones become prominent as an animal loses its subcutaneous fat deposits and muscles in the region concerned, thereby making bones appear more prominent. This system use scores of 1-10, where 1 represents an extremely poor (cachectic) and 10 extremely fat (obese) bodycondition. An assessment that uses a 5-points scoring system can be found here.

 

The table below shows the characteristics for each score in this 1-10 system and the selection path to be followed to determine the score that matches with the elephant.

Examples of body condition scores (1-10) in Asian elephants are shown in the photos below. The most important reference poinst are the forehead, backbone (vertebral column), scapula, ribs and pelvic bone (ilium).

Instead of using photos, the body condition can also be compared with drawings. For this purpose, Schiffmann et al. drew detailed pictures from both African and Asian elephants (2):

Example drawings used for body condition scoring of Asian elephants (drawings by Jeanne Peter)

Example drawings used for body condition scoring of African elephants (drawings by Jeanne Peter)

References:

1. Morfeld K.A., Meehan C.L., Hogan J.N., Brown J.L. (2016) Assessment of
body condition in African (Loxodonta africana) and Asian (Elephas
maximus) elephants in North American zoos and management
practices associated with high body condition scores. PLoS ONE
11:0155146.

2. Schiffmann C., Clauss M., Fernando P., Pastorini J., Wendler P., Ertl N.,  Hoby S.J-MHatt. (2018) Body condition scores of European zoo elephants (Elephas maximusand Loxodonta africana): Status quo and influencing factors. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 6(3) 2018