Evaluating the personality structure of semi-captive asian elephants living in their natural habitat

Martin W. Seltmann*, Samuli Helle, Mark J. Adams, Khyne U. Mar, Mirkka Lahdenperä

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Data on personality for long-lived, highly social wild mammals with high cognitive abilities are rare. We investigated the personality structure of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) by using a large sample of semi-captive timber elephants in Myanmar. Data were collected during 2014–2017 using questionnaires, for which elephant riders (mahouts) rated 28 behavioural adjectives of elephants. Repeated questionnaires were obtained for each elephant from several raters whenever possible, resulting in 690 ratings of 150 female and 107 male elephants. We started by performing a confirmatory factor analysis to compare the fit of our data to a previously published captive elephant personality structure. Owing to a poor fit of this model to our data, we proceeded by performing explanatory factor analysis to determine the personality structure in our study population. This model suggested that personality in these elephants was manifested as three factors that we labelled as Attentiveness, Sociability and Aggressiveness. This structure did not differ between the sexes. These results provide the basis for future research on the link between personality and reproductive success in this endangered species and more generally, help to resolve the selective pressures on personalities in long-lived, highly social species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number172026
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Behavioural consistency
  • Elephas maximus
  • Factor analysis
  • Questionnaires
  • Sex


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