Recently, I received the honourable request to comment on an article about the rewilding of captive Asian elephants. It’s not a topic I am very familiar with, so writing this commentary actually became a wonderful learning experience for me.
Several strong commentaries from cultural, ethical and psychological perspectives were already written. Here I tried to also add a relevant ecological & evolutionary perspective, focussing on the behavioural ecology of Asian elephants and their functional role in the ecosystem.
Abstract: Baker & Winkler make a thought-provoking contribution to the discussion of what role captive animals could play in nature conservation and how we could get there through rewilding. There certainly is potential for captive Asian elephants, Elephas maximus, to become targets of conservation efforts, but there are also many questions: (1) How much do (behavioural) traits of captive-origin animals differ from their free conspecifics? (2) What predicts the likelihood and strength of social reintegration of captive animals into free populations? (3) How much of an Asian elephant’s functional role in the environment can captive animals still fulfil and how may this influence the evolutionary dynamics of Asian elephant populations? These questions are challenging, but also an opportunity to gain crucial knowledge and insight into the elephant’s ecological role, as well as our own.
If you are interested in reading the complete commentary (approx. 1000 words) see here.
Snijders L (2020) Ecological and evolutionary dynamics of elephant rewilding. Animal Sentience 28(6): 1-4.