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Behaviour and Welfare Impacts of Releasing Elephants from Overnight Tethers: A Zimbabwean Case Study

Williams, Ellen; Clark, Natasha; Rendle-Worthington, Jake; Yon, Lisa

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Ellen Williams

Natasha Clark

Jake Rendle-Worthington

Associate Professor


Within the southern African elephant tourism industry, chaining or tethering elephants is still a relatively routine practice, despite the known negative impacts. Cited reasons for chaining include fear of aggressive interactions between elephants when handlers are absent, or a general increase in expression of aggressive behaviours (both to other elephants and to their human handlers). In Zimbabwe, concerns expressed include the danger of elephants escaping and entering human-inhabited areas. Four male semi-captive elephants at a Zimbabwe tourist facility were taken off overnight (~12 h) tethers and were placed in small pens (‘bomas’), approximate sizes from 110 m2 to 310 m2), as part of a strategy to improve elephant welfare. Behavioural data were collected from overnight videos from December 2019 to March 2020, between 18:00 to 06:00, using focal, instantaneous sampling (5-min interval). Data were collected for three nights at three time periods: (i) Tethered; (ii) approximately four weeks post-release; (iii) approximately eight weeks post-release. Behavioural change over these time points was analysed using general linear models with quasibinomial error structures. Behavioural changes indicative of improved welfare were observed following these management changes, and no significant increases in aggression were observed either between elephants, or towards their human handlers. Proportion of time engaging in lying rest was higher in the first month after release from tethering (mean ± SD, 50 ± 14%) than when elephants were tethered (20 ± 18%) (p < 0.05). Additionally, although not statistically significant, stereotypies were reduced when elephants were no longer tethered (4 ± 6% observations tethered compared to 2 ± 2% off tethers), and positive social behaviour also increased (1 ± 1% on tethers, 2 ± 2% off tethers), with the greatest improvements seen in the pair-housed elephants. To improve elephant welfare in southern African tourism facilities we strongly advocate that less restrictive management practices which enable greater choice and freedom of movement overnight are implemented.


Williams, E., Clark, N., Rendle-Worthington, J., & Yon, L. (2022). Behaviour and Welfare Impacts of Releasing Elephants from Overnight Tethers: A Zimbabwean Case Study. Animals, 12(15), Article 1933.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 28, 2022
Online Publication Date Jul 29, 2022
Publication Date Aug 1, 2022
Deposit Date Jul 29, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jul 29, 2022
Journal Animals
Electronic ISSN 2076-2615
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 15
Article Number 1933
Public URL
Publisher URL


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