MS Defense by Jennifer Iacono

Event Details
  • Date/Time:
    • Friday November 30, 2018 - Saturday December 1, 2018
      11:00 am - 12:59 pm
  • Location: MoSE 2100F
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Summary Sentence: “Dominance and Exhibit Use in Captive African Elephants: Loxodonta africana

Full Summary: No summary paragraph submitted.

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of


Master of Science in Biology

in the

School of Biological Sciences


Jennifer Iacono


Will defend her thesis


Dominance and Exhibit Use in Captive African Elephants

(Loxodonta africana)”


Friday, November 30, 2018

11:00 AM

MoSE 2100F


Thesis Advisor:

Dr. Michael Goodisman

School of Biological Sciences

Georgia Institute of Technology


Committee Members:

Dr. Joseph R. Mendelson, III

School of Biological Sciences

Georgia Institute of Technology



Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade

School of Biological Sciences

Georgia Institute of Technology


Dr. Jenny McGuire

School of Biological Sciences

Georgia Institute of Technology


Dr. Megan Lee Wilson

Department of Psychology

Georgia State University



African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are a highly social species that typically live in large, matrilineal family groups called herds which contain a linear dominance hierarchy between the adult females. Management plans for African elephants in human care try to replicate their natural social structures by creating small herds of females but these individuals are typically unrelated except in the case of mothers and their offspring. Despite low genetic relatedness, these females still create their own dominance hierarchies within the herds. Although elephants in human care have all of their needs provided for, dominance within herds can lead to preferential access to high-value resources such as food, water, and shade structures.

            The purpose of this case study was to observe how the two female African elephants at Zoo Atlanta, Tara and Kelly, interacted with each other in terms of their usage of their current exhibit space. An incident occurred during data collection that led to a week-long separation of the elephants and the results of this study were then separated into two data sets. Anecdotal evidence of Kelly being the dominant individual was confirmed by Kelly initiating all 110 observed social interactions. After the incident there was a higher frequency of social interactions between the two elephants per hour. The amount of neutral and highly agonistic behaviors rose as well. It appears Kelly was re-establishing her dominance over Tara after their lengthy separation.

Both elephants had non-random patterns of exhibit spatial use when they were together and when they were alone in the exhibit, as well as before and after the incident. Before the incident, Kelly dominated use of the two areas that had direct access to the indoor barn when both females were in the exhibit together while Tara used the remaining two areas more often. These elephants have a complex social history, which includes Kelly dominating use of the barn and resources after a change to their social structure. As the dominant individual, Kelly had preferential access to this high-value area. Kelly continued to prefer staying in the areas closest to the barn when separated from Tara. The exhibit spatial use pattern displayed by Tara when separated from Kelly was different from her pattern when they were together because she used the area closest to the barn instead of the two furthest from the barn. The patterns after the incident were similar to those from the before results except Tara used the furthest area from the barn with a higher frequency when alone in the exhibit in addition to the closest. This change may have been caused by Tara’s restricted mobility after the incident.

Before the incident, all social interactions between the elephants and those that were agonistic in nature occurred randomly throughout the outside portion of the exhibit despite both elephants having specific patterns in how they used the exhibit. After the incident there was a non-random pattern in the location of all social interactions. More occurred in the area closest to the barn than would be randomly expected, which matches Kelly’s dominating use of that area. Although the occurrence of agonistic behaviors by area changed after the incident, the pattern was still random.


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ms defense
  • Created By: Tatianna Richardson
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Nov 15, 2018 - 2:41pm
  • Last Updated: Nov 15, 2018 - 2:41pm