The fatty acid components of the plasma triglycerides and the phospholipid fractions of the red blood cells of a captive group of two African (Loxodonta africana) and four Asian (Elephas maximus) elephants were investigated. All the animals received the same diet of hay, fruits and vegetables, and concentrates. A comparison with data from free-ranging African elephants or Asian work-camp elephants showed that the captive elephants had lower proportions of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and for several lipid fractions a higher n-6:n-3 ratio, than their counterparts in the wild or under the more natural, in terms of diet, work-camp conditions. The difference in PUFA content was smaller in the African than in the Asian elephants. The captive Asian elephants tended to have lower levels of n-3 and total unsaturated fatty acids in their red blood cells than the captive African elephants.