Elephants suffer in zoos across Europe, a new report by animal welfare organization Born Free Foundation revealed on Wednesday. In Europe, there are still 580 elephants held in zoos.
The report Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame outlines the impact of captivity on elephants’ physical and psychological health and welfare.
Most elephants in zoos develop and display abnormal stereotypical behaviours, such as compulsive rocking and swaying, as a consequence of long-term psychological damage, the report said, adding that 40% of infant elephants in zoos die before they reach the age of five.
In the wild, elephants roam across huge land areas and live for up to 70 years or more in multigenerational families and societies. In zoos, elephants are confined in enclosures that are sometimes only a little larger than a football pitch, with an average ‘herd’ size of just three, and sometimes they’re forced to live alone.
As a result, they suffer dramatically shortened life expectancies and many health problems, and cannot participate in the rich social and behavioural norms of their species.
The report concluded that elephants do not belong in captivity and that the keeping of elephants in zoos should be phased out.
“This report confirms what anyone who has witnessed elephants in the wild already knows: to confine elephants is to condemn them to a life sentence,” Angela Sheldrick, director of the orphan elephant rescue and wildlife rehabilitation Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, said.
“These are creatures who mirror humans in so many ways, from their emotional depth, to their intellect, to their very lifespan. They value family above all else and spend a lifetime nurturing their loved ones,” she added. “No zoo in the world can provide elephants with the complex social structures and vast spaces they need to thrive.”
“It’s time all zoos did the right thing. If they don’t, then governments must step in to make sure the zoo industry acts without delay to bring this sorry chapter to a close,” Damian Aspinall, chairman of the animal conversation charity The Aspinall Foundation, said.
“Our research in Amboseli reveals that a single female [elephant] knows the calls of at least 100 other elephants. The social life of an elephant is marvelously rich in the wild; it is pitifully restricted in a zoo,” Cynthia Moss, director of Amboseli Trust for Elephants, said.
Born Free Foundation was started because of the elephant Pole Pole, who was stolen from her family in Kenya and gifted to London Zoo in 1969.
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