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Mammals (other)
Operant conditioning facilitates safe induction and appropriate positioning for molar extraction under general anaesthetic in an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)
  1. Holly A Asquith-Barnes1,
  2. Lee Sambrook2,
  3. Nicholas J Masters3,
  4. Peter Kertesz4 and
  5. Fieke M Molenaar2
  1. 1Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK
  2. 2Zoological Society of London, London, UK
  3. 3Department of Veterinary, ZSL, London, UK
  4. 4Zoodent International, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Holly A Asquith-Barnes; hasquithbarnes1{at}


An Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) suffering from dental malocclusion was anaesthetised for dental treatment using etorphine. The main risks of the procedure were trauma, associated with falls during sedation, and malpositioning, preventing access to the oral cavity. To reduce these risks the elephant was trained, using operant conditioning, to lie down in the required position and accept hand injections. Induction was straightforward and no repositioning was required under anaesthesia. One molar was extracted and another reshaped to improve occlusion and prevent soft tissue trauma. The anaesthetic was reversed within two hours of induction, and the elephant was manually assisted by the keepers to stand up. Operant conditioning proved invaluable during this procedure by improving staff and animal safety by enabling controlled hand injection of potent opioids instead of remote injection; allowing correct positioning prior to induction, greatly reducing anaesthetic time; and allowing a swift-assisted recovery post reversal.

  • elephants
  • dentistry
  • operant conditioning
  • collaboration
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  • Contributors All listed authors meet the three criteria of authorship specified in the Guidelines for Authors. All listed authors have significantly contributed to this project, and all have approved the final draft of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The authors are happy to be contacted should anyone wish to share data or discuss content.

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