Date of Award

Spring 4-26-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Joshua Plotnik

Second Advisor

Dr. Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere

Academic Program Adviser

Dr. Diana Reiss


Researchers are becoming increasingly aware that studying a species’ landscape of fear or, more broadly, their emotional states, can better inform cognitive questions about how animals navigate their environments. Vigilance behaviors are one way to determine how certain species perceive and respond to risky situations. Due to rapid environmental change, large animals such as elephants are experiencing risky encounters with humans more often than ever before. This study aims to investigate Asian elephants’ expressions of body states and how they might regulate their behavior based on perceived environmental risk or change. Specifically, we investigated the behavioral responses of Asian elephants to different locations in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex. To do this, camera traps were set up at watering holes within protected areas in Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary and crop fields outside the protected area. Video footage was coded using instantaneous scan sampling with an ethogram that defined alert and relaxed body states. We found that Asian elephants showed a higher rate of the alert body state outside of protected areas than within them. There was no significant difference between the rate of relaxed body states between the two locations. Asian elephants observed alone showed a higher rate of the alert body state than elephants that were among conspecifics. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the rate of alertness displayed when the elephants were either far from or close to crop fields outside the sanctuary. Together, these results suggest that elephants may regulate their expression of body state or emotion depending on environmental risk or their proximity to humans, and that their fear of humans may be an important factor for understanding how best to mitigate human-elephant conflict in the future.



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