Elephant hair are most apparent around the eyes, ears, genital areas, chin and tail. Body hair in elephants are relatively thinner and sparsely present, but tail-hair are thicker, longer and easier to collect (Fowler & Mikota, 2006). Therefore, tail-hair samples were preferred over body hair and were collected by the elephant keepers in accordance with the recommendations in the “Guide for Animal Research Ethics” of the Wildlife Research Center, Kyoto University (WRC-2018-004A). Approvals from KCZ and KOZ authorities were taken to conduct this study. The individual tail-hair strand was cut as close as possible to the skin, avoiding any damage to the skin and to the tail-hair follicle. As elephants use their tail-hair for scratching the skin and swatting away insects, only a few strands (nearly 5 to 10 strands depending upon the thickness) were collected from an individual animal, labelled and were stored separately. The hair growth rate in Asian elephants had not been documented previously, therefore, an assessment of the growth rate of tail-hair in all study elephants was performed. To assess the growth rate, the remains of cut hair strands (nearly 3 strand remains to reduce handling-related disturbances) were alphabetically marked in the photograph and the growth of marked hair strands was measured after two to three weeks (based on the accessibility to the zoo facility: tail-hair growth was measured after 18 days for elephants in KCZ and after 14 days for Zuze in KOZ; see Fig. 1; Table S1). The monthly tail-hair growth rate for each individual was calculated by measuring the daily tail-hair growth (i.e., the total length of regrown hair divided by the number of days after sample collection; Fig. 1) and multiplying it by the total number of days in a month. To avoid any temporal influences on the hair growth, the tail-hair were collected within a month.

The figure illustrates the assessment of the daily tail-hair growth rate by measuring the length of the re-grown hair after two weeks (18 days for the Kyoto City Zoo elephants and 14 days for Zuze in the Kobe Oji Zoo) of tail-hair collection. The daily tail-hair growth rate was extrapolated to calculate the monthly growth rate (refer to Table S1 for the results). Illustrated by Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel.

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