Behaviour 2019
How Are the Body States of Wild Asian Elephants Affected by the Presence of Humans?
Caitlyn Thai1, Sarah L. Jacobson2, Summer L. Fiori1, Emma A. Nguyen3, Matthew Rudolph1, Leah D. Wersebe1, Marnoch Yindee4, Teresa Romero5, Joshua M. Plotnik1,2. 1Animal Behavior and Conservation Program, Department of Psychology, Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, New York, United States; 2Department of Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, New York, United States; 3Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, New York, United States; 4Akkharatchakumari Veterinary College, Walailak University, Nakhon Si Thammarat, , Thailand; 5School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, , United Kingdom

Studying a species’ landscape of fear by observing body states or vigilance behaviors can provide insights about how animals navigate their environment and respond to risky situations. Due to rapid environmental change, elephants are more frequently experiencing risky encounters with humans. This study aims to investigate wild Asian elephants’ expression of body states and how this behavior might change based on perceived risk. We investigated the occurrence of alert and relaxed body states of elephants using video camera trap data collected in and around the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Using a mixed model, we found that time of day, moon phase, group size, and sex ratio were significantly associated with alert behavior such that it occurred more often at night, when less of the moon was visible, group size was smaller, and more males were present. While we had originally hypothesized that the elephants’ physical location would predict their expression of an alert body state, it seems instead that elephants may perceive risk based on other environmental or demographic factors that may or may not be related to the potential presence of humans.