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Grooming/ allogrooming

Elephants bathe in water and mud in the wild. Elephant mothers also wash their calves, this creates a parental bond which is important to survival of the species. Elephants often also scratch against trees and rocks. These activities also help temperature regulation.

In captivity, elephants are hosed down regularly. This keeps them clean, removes parasites and allows the keepers to get a better look of the elephants. Elephants in captivity also will water bathe if they’re given a manmade source of water. When a keeper grooms an elephant, it creates a bond between them. Captive elephants often don’t have trees and rocks to scratch against, but they’re often brushed down by keeper to remove dead skin and dirt. Captive elephants don’t need to do these activities to regulate their temperature as they often have regulated indoor areas.

Sleep/wake Cycles

Elephants are active both day and night and only sleep for 2-3 hours a day. This is because they’re constantly moving to find more food and they need to stay awake to keep an eye out for their calves.

Elephants in captivity tend to sleep much more than wild elephants as they don’t need to keep moving and there’s no threats to be aware of. They also don’t need to find their own food as they are given in straight up by their keepers.


Elephants spend 12-14 hours a day eating and even longer moving around for more food. This is because they digest so little of their food.

Captive elephants don’t need to forage for their food, but they still spend a lot of time chewing on hay. Captive elephants can also receive pellets and fruit as treats and to add nutritional value to their diet. Captive elephants also need less food as they are not constantly walking to find their food.

Parental Behaviour  

Elephants have strong mother, calf bonds. Mothers, and other elephants in the family are very protective of calves as they have natural predators, unlike adult elephants.

Elephant mothers in captivity don’t need to be as vigilant at protecting their calves as there’s no threats to them. They still have this instinct but often the mothers have not known any threats as they’ve grown up in captivity.

Activity Patterns




The interaction between mating males and females is short lived. They can rub against each other and the male chases the female around. In captivity, this can sometimes lead to injury. Wild males also often are aggressive to each other over females. However, in captivity this doesn’t happen as they’re usually separated.

Elephants in captivity don’t choose their partners usually, unlike wild elephants, as they’ve been chosen for each other for using breeding programmes. They also usually don’t meet each other, and the female is usually artificially inseminated. This means it’s cheaper and sometimes elephants can hurt each other when the male is chasing the female.

Social Interaction

Elephants live in tightknit family groups.





Predator Avoidance

Their large tightknit groups make it very hard for predators to separate one weak or young elephant from the rest of the group.

In captivity, elephants don’t need to avoid any predators but should still be kept in groups as this is the best and more natural situation for them.

Defensive strategies

Wild adult elephants, like captive elephants, don’t have any natural predators except humans. However, calves have predators such as lions. Elephants can also however fight each other over food and mates. They can use their ears and trunk to make them look bigger and their tusks to defend themselves. A defensive group of elephants will form a circle to protect their calves.

Captive elephants usually have nothing to be defensive over as they have any predators and they don’t need to fight over mates or food like wild elephants. They can however fight with other elephants but if there’s too much rivalry, they will be separated to avoid injury or death. They then use the same strategies as wild elephants, such as using their ears and trunks to look bigger and their tusks to attack.