Ask your guide: do the elephants look malnourished or overworked?

How an elephant is cared for is vital to its health. As with humans, an elephants health is vital to its happiness and mental well-being.


Signs of a healthy elephant


  • Clear, bright eyes, no debris or pus. Elephants do not have tear ducts so some tears flowing down the face is normal. If the tears are flowing down to the mouth area, this is too much.

  • Foot injuries is one of the biggest killers of captive elephants. Inactivity, many hours spent walking on hard surfaces and poor husbandry practices can cause cracked toenails & bruised foot-pads which can lead to foot infections & osteomyelitis. It is important mahouts care for their elephants' feet. Toenails should be smooth, the pad should be smooth with grooves. No lumps or abnormal shapes should be visible.  

  • The tongue is a nice pink colour.

  • Ears are consistently flapping with no drainage.

  • Skin is soft and smooth with few abrasions or bull-hook wounds. If the skin is extremely dry and rough, the elephant could be dehydrated. If the elephants walk through the forest then scratches from branches and spikes are common, these are superficial. Deeper cuts or round wounds may be inflicted by a bull-hook or rusty nail.

  • Flapping tail. The hair on the tail is important as it is used as a fly swat and to flirt with other elephants. Some camps cut off the tail hairs to make elephant-hair jewellery to sell to tourists.

  • Elephants shouldn't be sleepy during the day time, except for the babies.

  • Interest in the environment is important, it shows the elephant has not become totally numb to its everyday routine.

  • The body should look round and healthy. Fluctuations in weight can be caused by illness but usually, poor diet is the cause. Look at the elephant's ribs, are they extremely visible or not at all? Ideally, they will be slightly visible. The pelvis should be the same, it should not be exceptionally prominent but slightly visible.

  • A healthy elephant will not display behaviours that are stereotypical of captive animals. Such behaviours can vary greatly but include head rocking, weaving or swaying and are usually caused by boredom, frustration, and desolation.

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