ESR 31:1-12 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00746

Accelerometers and simple algorithms identify activity budgets and body orientation in African elephants Loxodonta africana

Joseph Soltis1,*, Lucy King2,3, Fritz Vollrath2,3, Iain Douglas-Hamilton2,3

1Education and Science, Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, Bay Lake, Florida 32830, USA
2Save the Elephants, PO Box 54667, Nairobi 00200, Kenya
3Animal Behaviour Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Accelerometers can be used to monitor animal behavior remotely, but validation is required for each species. Previously, we showed that accelerometer data in collars could be used to identify specific behaviors in African elephants Loxodonta africana, using complex analytical methods. Here, we show that simple methods can also be used to identify elephant activity levels and body orientation. Subjects were 6 African elephants: 3 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, Florida, USA, and 3 in Samburu-Laikipia, Kenya. Each elephant wore a collar containing a tri-axial accelerometer positioned on top of the neck. Simultaneous video recordings allowed validation of accelerometer data against observed behavior. The standard deviation of the total acceleration was shown to be a valid measure of dynamic acceleration, differentiating activity levels associated with resting, feeding, bathing, walking, and rapid walking. The mean of the total acceleration was shown to be a valid measure of static acceleration, and indicated upright and recumbent orientations. Simulations showed how accuracy was affected by sample rate, number of axes examined, and analysis window lengths. Based on 34 continuous 24 h acceleration streams, the 6 elephants exhibited an average of 2.5 h of overnight recumbence associated with minimal movement, indicating sleep. Daily activity budgets exhibited periods of minimal activity (e.g. resting, 17%), low activity (e.g. feeding, 68%), medium activity (e.g. walking, 13%), and high activity (e.g. rapid walking, 2%). Kenyan elephants were slightly more active and exhibited less restful recumbence compared to zoo elephants. Accelerometers in elephant collars can detect activity levels that are associated with specific behaviors, and can detect body orientation as a proxy for sleep.


KEY WORDS: Behavior measurement · Accelerometry · Elephant management


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Cite this article as: Soltis J, King L, Vollrath F, Douglas-Hamilton I (2016) Accelerometers and simple algorithms identify activity budgets and body orientation in African elephants Loxodonta africana. Endang Species Res 31:1-12. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00746

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