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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Performance on a Means End Task by Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) in a Positive Reinforcement-Based Protected Contact Setting


The current study tested six Asian elephants ( Elephas maximus ) on a means-end behavioral task of pulling a support to retrieve a distant object; a systematic replication of the Irie-Sugimoto et al. (2008) study. The paradigm was somewhat modified from the original research to accommodate a protected contact setting, reduce the total number of trials, and one condition was excluded. Each elephant was tested on three conditions of increasing difficulty. Specifically, subjects were asked to select from a choice of two trays where one intact tray was baited with a highly-valued produce item and the other was A) empty; B) baited adjacent to the tray; and C) baited on the far side of a break in the tray. Results indicated that the elephants met or exceeded the criteria established for conditions A and B, but performed at chance levels on condition C. These data are contrasted with those of the original study where one elephant met criteria for all three conditions. We discuss potentially relevant variables affecting performance including differences in visual access to the trays, motivation levels, and training style.

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