Born Free’s New Report Reveals The Horrific Suffering Of Captive Elephants Calling For A Phase-Out Of Enslaving Elephants In Zoos

International wildlife charity Born Free has released a new report revealing the true extent of the pain and suffering of elephants held captive in zoos. As a collaboration between Born Free USA and its U.K.-based sister charity Born Free Foundation, the report, Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame, provides a comprehensive global perspective on the exploitation of elephants in zoos across North America and Europe.

In 2021, there were 299 elephants housed in 67 North American zoos — at least 12 of them in complete isolation. In Europe, there were 580 elephants in 149 zoos. These numbers have increased over the previous 40 years largely through the import of wild-caught individuals. Using powerful individual case studies, Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame outlines the history and continuing plight of captive elephants.

The report lays bare the potentially fatal impact of captivity on the physical and psychological health and welfare of the individual animals. It is a horrifying fact that most elephants in North American and European zoos demonstrate abnormal stereotypic behaviors regularly, some almost constantly, such as rocking, swaying, and head bobbing, as a consequence of long-term mental distress.

The detailed research exposes the unsustainable nature of existing captive populations, mainly due to high infant mortality rates and poor reproductive success. Shockingly, the report confirms that 40% of infant elephants in zoos die before they reach the age of five.

To keep their exhibits “stocked” with elephants, some zoos have chosen to capture elephants from the wild, thereby affecting not only the animals stolen from their families, but the social stability and conservation of wild populations. This has substantial knock-on effects on the wider ecosystems of which elephants are a vital part of.

The report also underlines, through multiple real-life examples, the ethical and public safety concerns associated with the keeping of elephants in zoos. In the wild, these majestic animals roam across vast ranges in excess of 10,000 square kilometres, live up to 70 years, and occupy complex multigenerational social structures. By comparison, Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame shows elephants confined in enclosures, often only slightly larger than a football field, with an average herd size of just three elephants, and at times the elephants are completely alone. They suffer health problems, shorter life expectancies, and are denied the ability to engage in the rich social and behavioral norms of their species.

“The keeping of any wild animal in captivity denies them the ability to live their lives in freedom, with others of their own kind, and to thrive in their natural habitat,” said Angela Grimes, CEO of Born Free USA. “Elephants are a prime example of how captivity causes direct and lasting harm. Our work highlights serious health and welfare concerns for elephants in zoos, as well as negative consequences on free-living populations.”

“Holding these majestic animals in zoos as ‘exhibits’ for public entertainment does not support elephant conservation or welfare,” continued Grimes. “It is time for U.S. zoos to commit to ending elephant captivity by phasing out their exhibits for good.”

The facts, scientific analysis, and individual case studies speak for themselves. The report concludes that elephants do not belong in captivity and recommends that the keeping of elephants in zoos should be phased out.

With this report, Born Free continues its long traditon of advocating for an end to elephant captivity, which the organization has fought for since its inception. Born Free’s Co-founders, Virginia McKenna OBE and Bill Travers MBE, tried desperately to prevent a young female elephant named Pole Pole from being exported from Kenya to the London Zoo. Later, they campaigned for her to be moved to better conditions. This experience inspired the start of Born Free in 1984 under the name Zoo Check.

Read Born Free’s new report and explore their campaign HERE! 

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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