Elephant News

Zoo Announces Plan to Move Elephants out of Jackson

posted 26 Aug 2010, 11:30 by Bhavithra Aloysious

Zoo Announces Plan to Move Elephants out of Jackson

MEDIA RELEASE

Published: August 23, 2010


In keeping with its commitment to provide the best care possible to its animal collection, coupled with a struggling financial time, officials at the Jackson Zoo have made a most difficult decision concerning the elephants at the Zoo.

The Jackson Zoo Board of Directors and staff have decided that it is in the best interest of its two African elephants, Juno and Rosie, to be relocated from their existing exhibit to the Nashville Zoo in Tennessee.

The Zoo hopes to house elephants again in the future if funds become available to create an exhibit that can accommodate a herd of at least three elephants, as required by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (“AZA”).

The Jackson Zoo is the only AZA accredited zoo in the State of Mississippi—a fact which the Board and staff take very seriously. “The AZA requires at least three elephants in a single exhibit. In that manner, if one elephant should die, it is not as traumatic for the surviving elephant,“ said Beth Poff, executive director of the Jackson Zoo. “To comply with AZA requirements, it would cost between $8 to 10 million to construct a new exhibit at the Zoo.

Unfortunately, at this time, the Zoo does not have the resources to fund such a project, requiring us to move the elephants to another AZA facility.“ “We have an obligation to the animals, and the Nashville Zoo has agreed to house our two elephants in an enclosure which has plenty of room for them to roam, a large pool, and other herd mates,“ said Poff. “Juno and Rosie should be enjoying their new home in Tennessee by the end of this year,“ said Dave Wetzel, Deputy Director of the Zoo. “We will be working closely with the staff at the Nashville Zoo to ensure that their move is as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

We also have an agreement with the Nashville Zoo, so that members of the Jackson Zoo can visit our elephants free of charge.“ According to Davis Frye, President of the Zoo Board of Directors, the Board and Zoo staff members have struggled with the decision to move the elephants for more than a year. “Juno and Rosie have been part of the Jackson Zoo for more than two decades,“ Frye said. “The decision to relocate them has been extremely difficult. Thanks to the hard work and extraordinary dedication of the zoo staff, there are many exciting things happening at the Jackson Zoo.

Unfortunately, due in large part to current state of the economy, it is not feasible at this time to construct a multi-million dollar elephant exhibit at the Zoo.“ “Now more than ever, the Jackson Zoo needs the support of our community,“ said Frye. “I encourage everyone to visit the Zoo to say good-bye to Juno and Rosie and to experience all of the positive qualities that the Zoo has to offer.

It is only through such support that the Jackson Zoo can continue its important mission of educating our children and our community about wildlife and conservation.“

An ill-fitting new home for the National Zoo's elephants

posted 26 Aug 2010, 11:29 by Bhavithra Aloysious

By Peter Stroud
Sunday, August 22, 2010; C05

I visited the National Zoo for the first time on a cold and rainy afternoon last fall. For more than 15 years, I have been deeply engaged with questions about captive elephant welfare, so I was particularly interested to see how the Smithsonian Institution had spent a colossal $50 million on Elephant Trails, the new home for its elephants set to open in early September.


Since that visit, I have continued to follow the work on Elephant Trails. As a former zoo curator and director, I know that zoo development projects are complex and time-consuming, with many competing issues to balance. There are engineering and design challenges, visitor needs to be accounted for, restrictions imposed by the landscape and climate, and, of course, the welfare of the animals to consider.

The needs of wild animals in zoos can be hard to define, but there are a few basic rules. Top of the list is checking carefully the key aspects of a creature's life in the wild. What does it do with its days and nights? How far does it move and why? How does it interact with others of its kind?

Generally speaking, this sort of accounting works well, and many zoo programs create conditions and routines for animals that are broadly analogous to life in the wild. But the bigger the animal, the more difficult this becomes, especially where space is limited, the terrain difficult and the way of life of the species so complex that it is almost impossible to simulate.

Take, for instance, elephants at the National Zoo.

Elephants need space. Zoo people will often say it's the quality of the space that matters, and indeed it is -- to a point. Why, then, is the Elephant Trails landscape so unimaginative? There are sweeping green lawns and a shallow-looking pool, but little shade or shelter. The exhibit looks more like a golf course than an elephant habitat. There is nothing to engage or challenge an elephant.

Elephants need exercise. There is what the zoo calls an Exercise Trek -- a there-and-back route up a hill -- but it seems to be designed for elephants to be walked, circus-style, up and down, under the control of a handler. Elephants have soft feet and should never be made to walk any distance on concrete or asphalt, but the route is paved.

Elephants like to dust-bathe and wallow in mud. They like to dig and clamber about, and they like to rest against mounds of soft earth. Where are the piles of loose earth and sand? Where are the scratching posts? Where is the varied terrain, the boulders and logs and mud wallows? Why all this close-cropped green grass that will be worn away in mere days by pachyderm feet?

There are some good aspects to the exhibit. It provides more room for the elephants than they had previously, always a good thing. The surroundings will be lush and green in spring and summer.

But the things that are wrong are glaring if you consider how wild elephants live and how elephants could live in captivity. Fortunately, some of what I have listed above is fixable.

Harder to address are the problems for zoo visitors. It's generally accepted by zoo designers that it's a bad idea to place the viewer high above the animals. Visitors feel disconnected; the animals look small and remote. Better to put the viewer close up, at or below animal eye level, to create a sense of immediate engagement. This works better for the animals, too. Few species feel comfortable with activity going on above their heads.

Why, then, is one of the principal viewing points for the new exhibit a bridge soaring high above the elephant paddocks? It's hard to think of a better way to make an elephant look insignificant, an odd approach to showcasing one of nature's most spectacular creatures.

The Smithsonian Institution declares that it exists for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge." It seems strange, then, that an elephant exhibit has been created that fails to account for what sound science tells us about elephants and their needs. It's as if a lot of published knowledge has been ignored. Unless improvements are made, Elephant Trails will fail to convey any real sense of what an elephant is.

The writer, a zoological consultant based in Melbourne, Australia, is a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

What the Elephants Know

posted 26 Aug 2010, 11:23 by Bhavithra Aloysious

The Toronto Zoo has lost four elephants in as many years, and the fate of the remaining herd—Iringa, Thika and Toka—is uncertain. Can a one-hectare habitat in the middle of a northern city be any kind of home for exotic animals with complex thoughts and feelings? By Nicholas Hune-Brown, photography by Sandy Nicholson

from: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2010/06/29/what-the-elephants-know/

Senior Citizen: Iringa arrived at the zoo in 1974

On the morning of November 30, at around 7:45, three keepers entered the elephant enclosure at the Toronto Zoo to begin their daily routine. The elephants live on a dusty one-hectare tract of land with huge umbrellas for shade and three simulated termite mounds. During winter, they spend their nights in a concrete building with a corrugated roof, a poured rubber floor and metal bars as thick as tree trunks. That morning, the keepers were greeted with an alarming sight. Tara, the 41-year-old matriarch of the group, was on her side, unable to get up.

Most elephants can’t lie on their sides for extended periods of time—their sheer mass puts too much pressure on their internal organs—so zoo staff immediately began trying to raise her. Getting into the pen with an elephant is dangerous work—one elephant gored a keeper in 1993. But there wasn’t much time, and the team was desperate.

The eight staff who tend to the elephants had agreed that they wanted to be called in if one of their charges ever went down, and soon off-duty keepers were rushing down to the enclosure to help out or, more likely, to say goodbye. The African animal supervisor, Eric Cole, a 30-year zoo veteran with short-cropped hair and the remnants of an Irish brogue, had had some success coaxing fallen elephants back to their feet in the past. At first, Tara swiped angrily at the keepers with her trunk. She eventually calmed down, allowing Cole and his team to get straps underneath her. Using a winch, they raised the 3,800-kilogram animal to her sternum. Tara struggled. She managed to lift her hind legs but wasn’t able to pull her front legs under her. Keepers tried a few more times to raise her, but she wouldn’t budge. At around 11 that morning, Tara died. “She didn’t appear to have the will,” recalled Maria Franke, curator of mammals. “It’s like she decided to let go.”

The keepers were devastated. “It was pretty shattering,” Cole told me. “Everyone was just drained; the staff was all crying.” They brought Tara’s body out to the paddock so that the other elephants, Thika, Toka and Iringa, could mourn her. Elephants are highly social animals, and females live in tight-knit groups their entire lives. When an elephant, particularly the matriarch, dies in the wild, the loss can reverberate for months or even years. There are stories of elephants returning to the bones of a family member years after the death, rubbing their trunks along the teeth of the skull’s lower jaw in the same way they greet one another in life.

Tara had to be autopsied, so mourning could last only a few hours. The zoo’s remaining elephants—animals who lived with Tara for decades—straddled her and stroked her skin. They used their trunks to throw dirt on her. At the end of the day, keepers transported Tara and brought the rest of the elephants back inside for the night. Because the elephants don’t always get along, they are often kept in separate pens and spend the night apart. When keepers arrived the next morning, however, they found all the elephant dung piled close to the connecting corners of their respective pens. The three elephants—the final members of a haphazardly formed family group that had once been eight—had spent that night huddled together, as close to one another as possible.

Two days later, the Toronto Zoo was quiet, empty save for a few groups of teenagers playing hooky and a handful of daycare kids who toddled past the simulated Serengeti bush camp toward the empty Africa Restaurant (a Harvey’s and a Pizza Pizza outlet in a jungle-themed pavilion). It was a bright, unseasonably warm day, and most of the animals were in their outdoor display areas: tigers stretching out in the sunny section of their Indo-Malaya enclosure, muddy-looking polar bears in the new Tundra Trek area, a group of impalas and kudu blinking in a broad pasture, indifferent to the intruding raccoon and flock of Canada geese that compromised the verisimilitude of their savannah habitat.

At the African elephant exhibit, the mood was sombre. A young zookeeper in gumboots and khakis told me that she’d had an emotional few days. “We look after these animals eight hours a day,” she said. “We become close.” Since Tara’s death, the elephants had been unusually subdued, keeping near to one another, acting tentative. Thika, a 30-year-old female, stood motionless under one of the large wooden umbrellas, one foot cocked at the ankle. In the stillness, you could hear the swish of her trunk as she rubbed it over her rough body, over her head, over her ears, over her eyes.

Clockwise from top left: Tara and Tantor in 1982; Visitors admire the elephants in 1974; Tara arrived at the zoo in 1974 and died last year after a fall; Inside the elephant building; Zookeepers reward elephants with jelly beans (Images: Anne Levenston/Toronto Star; Dick Loek/Toronto Star; Michael Stuparyk/ Toronto Star; Ellis Wiled Fonds/Toronto Archives)

That day, in a quiet spot in the Rouge Valley on the other side of the 290-hectare zoo, staff were burying Tara. The autopsy had proven inconclusive—no one would ever know the exact cause of death. Still, the incident presented an unpleasant public relations problem. Tara’s death was the fourth elephant fatality in four years at the zoo, and it set off a storm of criticism. Zoocheck Canada, an organization dedicated to monitoring wild animals in captivity, demanded that Toronto shut down its elephant exhibit. The advocacy group In Defense of Animals rated Toronto the second worst zoo for elephants in North America (a ranking based mainly on newspaper reports). Joyce Poole, a noted elephant expert who has studied the animals in the wild for more than 30 years, wrote a letter to city councillors arguing that the zoo is unable to provide the warm climate, opportunities for social interaction with other elephants, and space to roam that the huge land animals require. The four elephants that died were all around 40 years old; in the wild, elephants can live 15 to 20 years longer. “Toronto,” Poole wrote, “is no place for elephants.” Tara’s death leaves the Toronto Zoo with just three elephants, the minimum recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and puts it in a tough position: either press forward with the elephant enclosure despite the negative attention, or close one of its most popular exhibits.

The controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time. The zoo’s CEO, Cal White, after 23 years in charge, retired four months before Tara died. Before White left, he declared the zoo’s fundraising capabilities inadequate and cut ties to the volunteer foundation that had been attached to the zoo for 34 years. The zoo is owned by the City of Toronto, which doles out about a quarter of the institution’s $45-million budget each year. White planned an ambitious 10-year, $250-million fundraising initiative—a haul that’s required to improve various animal habitats, build a new animal health centre and create new exhibits—but didn’t believe the zoo’s foundation was capable of handling the challenge. Two of the board’s members—city councillors Mike del Grande and Michael Thompson—quit in protest of White’s scheme. Since that time, the fundraising has been done in house, and John Tracogna, the former head of Ontario Place, has replaced White as CEO.

At this moment of transition, the death of Tara—the last surviving member of the original trio of elephants brought to Toronto in 1974—marked the end of an era. The zoo is no longer the forward-looking institution it was when Tara arrived. The monorail is gone, closed after a serious accident in 1994, and though there are some impressive new exhibits, including the new tundra area, many of the other enclosures are beginning to show their age. Something else has changed, too. In the years since the Toronto Zoo opened, the way we think about our relationship to the natural world has undergone a serious transformation. As scientists learn more about the intelligence of certain animals, the complexities of their socialization, and the depths of their emotion (a word that would have been dismissed as flagrant anthropomorphism a few decades ago), the business of keeping wild animals in captivity has come under scrutiny. The modern zoo is in many ways an anachronistic creation, a Victorian institution that has been awkwardly remodelled to fit the contemporary age, with ideas about conservation and education grafted onto the zoo’s core business: entertaining people with exciting creatures. Balancing entertainment and conservation, commerce and education, local politics and animal rights is a difficult trick, and zoos seem to embody all the complicated, contradictory attitudes humans have toward animals.

As head of the zoo, Tracogna will be expected to do more than revitalize a tired civic institution and kick-start a fundraising campaign. In the broader context, the death of a single elephant is a small thing, but it’s representative of some of the bigger questions that zoos will face in the coming years, questions Tracogna will be forced to answer: How does an elephant like Tara fit into a modern zoo? Should she be there at all? What can we learn from her life and death? And, most pressingly, what should a zoo be in 2010?

Clockwise from left: Tara, two-year-old Tumpe (now deceased) and zookeeper Tom Dunstan in 1986; Santa visits the elephants; Zookeeper Toby Styles rides one of his charges in 1976; The herd experiencing its first Canadian winter (Images: Alan Dunlop/Toronto Star; Erin Combs/Toronto Star; Graham Bezant/Toronto Star; from the Toronto Star)

When Tara was born in 1969 in the wilds of Mozambique, she was 250 pounds, nearly blind, and as close to helpless as the world’s largest land animal can be. Elephants aren’t born with sophisticated abilities but instead develop them over their first years of life. Like human beings and other intelligent mammals, they stick close to their mothers, often literally walking beneath them. Young elephants also grow up within a network of allomothers—the aunts, siblings and cousins that, in effect, teach a calf how to be an adult.

For Tara, this formative period was cut short. From the ’60s until the early ’90s, tens of thousands of elephants were killed across southern Africa in government-approved culls designed to prevent the animals from overwhelming local ecosystems. Armed with semi-automatic weapons, teams would descend on a family group in light airplanes or helicopters, followed by trucks loaded with labourers who would perform the skinning and butchering that would follow. The organized cull is a nightmarish scene. Frightened calves scramble to find safety between the legs of adults; panicked, trumpeting elephants are mowed down by the dozen, their still-warm bodies stripped of their hides and valuable tusks. Cullers, aware of the deep emotional bonds that form between family members, had a perversely humane aim: to kill every single elephant, leaving no grieving survivors.

Calves were the exception. Small enough to transport and valuable enough to make the effort worthwhile, young elephants were often spared. For Tara, Tessa and Tantor, the first group of elephants adopted by the Toronto Zoo, this meant that their introduction to humans was traumatic: probable witnesses to the massacre of their entire family, they were put into crates and shipped overseas. The young elephants were bought by a German animal dealer and sent to facilities in Europe, where a curator from the newly formed Toronto Zoo selected them as the first animals in what was to be an ambitious new exhibit. In the summer of 1974, they were shipped to Hamburg, where Toby Styles, the senior elephant keeper at the brand new Toronto Zoo, was preparing to escort them across the Atlantic.

After Tara died, the remaining three elephants stroked her skin and used their trunks to throw dirt on her. They spent the night huddled close together

When I met him in his Ajax home, just down the highway from the zoo that employed him for 26 years, Styles was getting ready for a road trip. Since retiring in 1999, he and his wife, Suzanne, have travelled a lot. The two spent five years in Africa following elephants in a beat-up Land Rover, driving down unmarked paths in the savannah, observing the animals to which Styles had devoted his life. He is a zoo man from a different era—a gruff, bull-necked lifer who came up through the system at a time when trainers were called “wranglers” and were more likely to have worked their way in through the circus or the farm than through a masters program in zoology. He was raised in Banff and has worked with animals his entire life, from a boyhood gig wrangling weasels for Walt Disney’s “True-Life Adventures”—a series of notoriously not-true-to-life animal documen­taries—to a job with a California company that trained animals for films, to years as a keeper at the Calgary Zoo. In Toronto, he rose from elephant keeper to executive director of marketing and communi­cations, becoming the public face of the insti­tution, the man known as Mr. Zoo in his dozens of TV and radio appearances.

Above all, though, Styles has always been an elephant lover. “In my opinion, there are two kinds of animals,” Styles told me. “Elephants, and everything else.” Styles named Tara after his daughter, who was herself named after an older elephant. In his Ajax home, he keeps two photo albums devoted to elephants. He showed me pictures of Tara, Tessa and Tantor from their first meeting. In the carefully mounted photographs, the young calves are up to Styles’s shoulder, their broad foreheads traced with a light fuzz of brown hair, their dark, wide-set eyes peering out from between the bars of the reinforced wooden crates that were their homes for two weeks during their crossing.

Styles took the three elephants, along with a black rhinoceros, from Hamburg to Toronto on the Polish ocean liner Zabrze, one of the few boats that would take deck cargo at the time. The elephants were still wild, not yet used to humans, and Styles remembers the trio using their trunks to knock down overly curious Polish sailors. Rounding the coast of Scotland, the water got choppy. Against the advice of the captain, Styles strapped on a life jacket and harness and staggered across the deck to feed and water the elephants. He remembers the crossing as a stressful time spent shovelling elephant dung in gale force winds and constantly worrying that the increasingly aggressive rhinoceros would burst out of its crate. Tessa, the smallest of the three, became sick on the journey. She developed sores on her trunk that were tended to by a retired German doctor onboard. When they finally pulled into Montreal 14 days after setting sail, the elephants were loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven to Toronto, where they arrived at their new home on a warm evening in July. Just weeks before the grand opening, the new zoo was teeming with last-minute activity. That same evening, a shipment of fur seals from South Africa had arrived. Tessa had grown weak, and Styles was eager to get her out of her cramped crate, but workers were still putting the finishing touches on both the elephant and seal enclosures. The keepers improvised, and the young elephant spent her first night in Toronto sharing the hippo exhibit with a group of barking seals. Two days later, Tara, Tessa and Tantor moved to the zoo’s new African elephant exhibit, where they would spend the rest of their lives.

The Toronto savannah: Iringa and Thika wander the zoo's outdoor paddock

The first modern zoo was built in London in 1828, born out of a public fascination with the exotic creatures found in Britain’s growing empire. The animals were arranged taxonomically: all the cats in one building, the odd-toed hoofed mammals in another, the birds of prey in another. The aim was to create a moving, breathing catalogue of living things, a kind of stamp collection of nature’s creations.

For the next 125 years, despite numerous changes and innovations, the basic structure and purpose of zoos remained the same. Animals in barred cages were presented for the edification and amusement of the public. In the late 1960s, that began to change. The birth of the environmental movement prompted new concern about our treatment of animals, which filtered its way into the world of zoos, where a few leading institutions recognized that in order to justify holding wild creatures in captivity, zoos needed to be more than just theme parks. Conservation became the industry buzzword. Zoos began to think of themselves as stationary arks, safe havens in which to breed and rehabilitate endangered species while their wild populations recovered.

The Metropolitan Toronto Zoo (as it was originally called) was built in the midst of this change in philosophy. The old Riverdale Zoo, a traditional monkeys-behind-bars institution, had been around since the turn of the century, but in 1966, a group of 11 citizens formed the Metropolitan Toronto Zoological Society with the aim of creating something better. Like professional sports teams or opera houses, zoos are civic status symbols, and Toronto, a growing city with growing aspirations, would need a top-notch zoo.

The man chosen to direct the operation was Gunter Voss, a passionate, uncompromising German zoologist who was, by both profession and inclination, most definitely not a people person. A prickly micromanager, Voss knew what he wanted and fought hard to get it. Instead of arranging animals taxonomically, Voss made Toronto the first zoo divided entirely by “zoogeographical” regions, displaying groups of animals based on their natural habitat and range. He also emphasized the role conservation would have. “Four words can describe the zoo,” he told a reporter from Toronto Life in 1974. “Recreation, education, research and conservation, the last being the most vital point. We’re living on a limited planet, living with limited resources. Nature is being wiped out. Zoos must begin to match game reserves and natural sanctuaries to propagate and maintain the gene pool.”

Voss’s ambition extended to the elephant enclosure. Elephants have always been at the centre of the modern zoo. Along with lions, gorillas and other large, lovable mammals, they are what zoologists call “charismatic megafauna” and what show business people call “a big draw.” At the Toronto Zoo, Tara, Tessa and Tantor were soon joined by Patsy, Tequila, Iringa, Jo and Toka (young elephants also captured in Mozambique), creating a much larger group than most North American zoos could accommodate. Unlike the majority of zoos, which kept elephants chained up overnight, Toby Styles decided his elephants would be allowed free movement within their enclosures. The zoo’s decision to adopt Tantor, a young male, was also ambitious. Male elephants are easy to care for up to a point, but as adolescence hits and they become violent and unpredictable, they require their own enclosure and extra staff. Owning a male elephant is expensive, but the zoo was eager to begin the breeding work that Voss had said was so important.

Soon Tara and the others settled into their new home. Patsy, the largest of the group, quickly asserted her dominance, and a crude hierarchy was born. One of the ironies of zoos, which in theory are supposed to allow visitors a glimpse of a wild animal, is that in order to survive in a zoo an animal must be at least partially tamed. In Toronto, the keepers and elephants developed a routine. When the staff arrived each morning, they fed the elephants breakfast before putting them through a set of “behaviours”—training routines designed to stimulate the elephants and to make their life at the Toronto Zoo more manageable. Tara and the others learned to present their feet to be inspected for wounds and sores. They learned to touch assigned targets. They learned to come when called, move when told, and stand still while keepers took blood samples, for which they were rewarded with jellybeans. During the summer, the elephants graze in their outdoor exhibit, where they are on view to the public until closing. During the winter, they are shifted around their indoor cement enclosure, moved between different 400-square-foot pens while mechanical metal gates bang and buzz like prison doors.

In 1980, Thika was born to Tantor and Tequila, the first African elephant bred in Canada. She was followed by Tumpe (who was shipped to Vancouver and eventually died at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2009), Toronto (who died of salmonella poisoning at the age of 10), and T. W. (who died just two days after birth). In 1989, Tantor collapsed hours after surgery to remove an abscessed tusk, leaving the zoo without a bull. For a time, keepers hoped to use new advances in artificial insemination to try to increase the group, even beginning the long process of preparing Thika for the procedure. In the end, however, they decided it was too risky, effectively ending the Toronto Zoo’s elephant breeding program.

You can’t know what goes on inside an elephant. They seem somehow inscrutable, possessing a mind that is profoundly different from primate brains. As Eric Cole says, “Their intelligence seems to come from a different direction.” Over the past few decades, however, while Tara and her companions continued their circumscribed routine in Toronto, scientists have been making some impressive discoveries about the elephant mind. Fieldwork by experts like Joyce Poole has revealed their intricate social networks. Using MRIs, researchers have discovered that there’s some basis for the cliché about elephants never forgetting: they have a huge hippocampus, one of the structures in the limbic system that is important in memory.

Bulk order: Toka is one of three elephants who remain at the zoo, the lowest number experts recommend

Elephants have passed what is known as the “mirror test.” Put in front of a mirror, most animals are unable to recognize themselves (dogs, for example, bark at their reflection and peer behind the mirror in search of the other animal). In 2006 at the Bronx Zoo, a female elephant called Happy stepped in front of a mirror and looked directly at her reflection. Using her trunk, she then reached up and touched a white X that had been painted on her forehead. According to researchers, the test showed that elephants are self-aware, able to recognize themselves as individuals separate from their environment, joining a “cognitive elite” group that consists of primates and cetaceans. In other words, elephants seem to have consciousness, the ability to gaze at themselves and think: I am elephant.

The picture that emerges from all this research is of a creature that is socially complex and empathetic. Scientists now recognize that animals like elephants are capable of intricate decision-making and feelings. In small ways, the rigid barrier we have put between human beings and all other living creatures has come to seem slightly more permeable. With that, the moral questions about keeping these animals in captivity have grown more urgent.

Captive elephants commonly suffer from a range of physical maladies: herpes, tuberculosis, arthritis, and especially foot disease, caused by decades of walking on hard floors. Now scientists have begun to discover serious mental issues. Large groups of unrelated females never form in the wild, yet Tara and the others were thrust together with the expectation that they would form a family unit. Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist and academic, argues in her 2009 book Elephants on the Edge that African elephants orphaned by the cull display signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. They startle easily and exhibit asocial tendencies, inattentive mothering and other characteristics typical of humans who have undergone a profound trauma. Tara and the other elephants who may well have witnessed the death of their families had been deprived of the intricate social support network most young elephants are given during their early neural development. Like troubled kids pushed into a foster home, the elephants didn’t always get along, and carefully managing the shifting alliances, bullying and moments of aggression that flared up between roommates became a big part of the keepers’ job. The keeper gored in 1993 was injured while trying to break up a fight between Iringa and Thika. Last summer, Tessa, the elephant who got sick on the boat and became a weak, somewhat odd adult, was jostled by Thika during feeding, causing her to topple over and eventually die. “These orphaned elephants are misfits; they always have been,” says Eric Cole. “Considering their backgrounds, I’m surprised we’ve never had any psychotic elephants.”

During the winter, the elephants shift around their indoor cement enclosure while metal gates bang and buzz like prison doors

In the wild, elephants can range for miles in a single day, encountering other elephant groups, new foods, new threats and mental challenges. Toronto’s herd has lived on the same one-hectare patch of land for 36 years. The staff tries to stimulate their minds as best they can—giving them tree trunks to strip, teaching them new behaviours, giving them balls that contain a hidden treat—but it’s difficult to create a healthy mental environment in a cement box. One of the ways the elephants have reacted is by engaging in what scientists call “stereotypic behaviour,” a mindless repetitive motion that is never exhibited in the wild. In circuses and zoos, elephants neurotically sway back and forth or bob up and down, a behaviour displayed by people with autism. According to Poole, this is an elephant’s coping mechanism to handle the stress of captivity.

This new information has led zoos to rethink their position on elephants. Most are trying to rebuild their facilities, creating larger enclosures that can better meet elephants’ needs, but some institutions have decided that humanely keeping elephants in a cold urban environment just isn’t possible. In May 2004, the Detroit Zoo announced that it would be closing its elephant exhibit after 76 years. In a memo explaining the decision, the director, Ron Kagan, stated, “Now we understand how much more is needed to be able to meet all the physical and psychological needs of elephants in captivity, especially in a cold climate.” In 2006, the Bronx Zoo—perhaps the most famous zoo in the world—announced that Happy and her two companions will be the final elephants in its collection.

At the heart of these decisions is a tacit admission that the conservation agenda of zoos, at least when it comes to elephants, has failed. When the Toronto Zoo opened, Gunter Voss said that zoos needed to “propagate and maintain a viable gene pool.” The zoo has had some success with this. It participates in a number of valuable conservation programs around the world and has created breeding programs for such creatures as the black-footed ferret, the Vancouver Island marmot and the Puerto Rican crested toad. Overall, though, and with elephants in particular, the dream of the zoo as a centre of conservation hasn’t come to fruition. Across North America, zoos aren’t able to breed enough elephants to maintain their own collections, relying on wild-captured animals to stock their exhibits. When the cull was banned in South Africa in 1995, the supply of orphan elephants shrank to almost none, leaving zoos like Toronto with aging elephants and little chance of getting new ones.

Zoos have begun to recognize that an argument based purely on conservation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. After all, is a theme park in a northern city really the best place to preserve an African species? The new industry buzzword has become education. Zoos are places that teach children about the natural world; captive animals are charismatic ambassadors for their wild cousins, creatures that inspire people to make meaningful conservation choices. Peter Evans, the long-time board member who acted as interim CEO before Tracogna was hired, says that the aim is to “create an awareness of life.” Elephants and other charismatic animals that immediately draw people in are essential.

Giorgio Mammoliti, the outspoken city councillor running for mayor who has a prominent role on the zoo board, believes that elephants are a vital part of the zoo, but his argument is financial. “Right now, if we got rid of those elephants, you can take that 1.5 million people that are coming through the gate and probably cut it in a third,” he told me. “People want to see elephants. There’s no question about that.” Mammoliti has big plans for the zoo. The junket he took to China to lobby to bring pandas to Toronto drew headlines last year. The ambitious councillor dreams of making the zoo a classy destination, with black-tie fundraisers that attract the Bay Street crowd and private partnerships with companies that can bring innovative ideas. Why not a zoo château, for people who want to explore the grounds over multiple days? What about a chairlift? The councillor won’t contemplate a radical rethinking of the zoo’s approach to animals. “We’re hearing criticism primarily from groups that want to shut down zoos completely,” Mammoliti told me. “Credibility comes into play.”

The elephant issue is just the beginning of a radical animal welfare agenda. Rob Laidlaw, the executive director of Zoocheck and one of the most prominent critics of the Toronto Zoo’s elephant exhibit, does indeed advocate for big changes. The argument over elephants, he says, is “the leading edge of a debate about what zoos should be.” Holding elephants in captivity is especially problematic, but what about gorillas? What about tigers? What about impalas? David Hancocks is the former director of Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and one of the most forward-thinking authorities on zoos. In the 1970s, he recommended closing Seattle’s elephant exhibit and was quickly told by a city councillor that he would be leaving town before the elephants would. He says the recent outcry over the treatment of elephants is a sign that zoos aren’t keeping up with the times. “I think 20 years from now, people will be saying, ‘How did zoos get away with all of this?’ ” He sees the zoos of the future as places that legitimately try to live up to the promises about conservation they have been making for 35 years. Places that may have smaller collections, fewer exotic animals, and a real focus on animal welfare. Places that most assuredly will not have elephants.

Other major zoos have closed their elephant exhibits. If holding them in captivity is a problem, what about gorillas, tigers and impalas?

When I asked Toby Styles about the future of Toronto’s elephants, there was a long, considered pause. Styles has been as integral to the Toronto Zoo’s elephant exhibit as anyone, so he wanted to make himself clear. “Those elephants, living all that time in Toronto, they’ve made a difference,” he said emphatically. “They’ve made an elephant real to a whole lot of people. We’ve learned things from them.” He stopped for a moment. “But, with all that, I’ll say that it’s time to let them go. All of those good things don’t make up for the winter weather.” The things he’s learned about elephants in the past 35 years have convinced him that they have no place in Toronto.

The next time I visited the zoo, on a morning in March three months after Tara’s death, things had settled down at the elephant enclosure. The living arrangements in the elephants’ house had been reorganized, with the three surviving animals sharing a space designed for eight. Thika, despite being more than a decade younger than the other two, had taken over as matriarch, and she was using her new-found power to antagonize Toka. The keepers, like concerned primary school teachers, were trying to teach the two to get along, forcing them to spend time with one another in short “compatibility sessions.”

That day, Iringa and Toka faced away from Thika, a sign of submission, while the new matriarch paced back and forth by the entrance to the pen, snaking a searching trunk through the bars. Eric Cole rubbed it affectionately. Like everyone who works with the elephants, Cole is in love with them. During a particularly bad heat wave a few years ago, he decided to try keeping the elephants outside all night rather than in their steamy indoor pen. For the first week, Cole and his staff worked 24-hour shifts, staying with the animals through the night to make sure they were adapting to their new circumstances.

Standing outside the enclosure, watching the three creatures, Cole told me he’s hopeful that the zoo can figure out a way to continue with the exhibit. He’s fighting hard for a new multimillion-dollar facility that could make them more comfortable in the winter, and hopes that they can bring in more elephants one day soon. Right now, it isn’t possible, but in South Africa (where the elephant population has more than doubled since the cull ended 15 years ago), officials have announced they will begin the controversial cull again. Soon orphan elephants could be available. Soon the zoo’s breeding program could begin again.

“If we had a baby elephant, that would be a top draw,” he said hopefully. He warmed to the topic, enthusiastically spinning out his dreams for the exhibit to which he’s devoted so many years. “If we build a facility and we draw the public in, we have the potential to raise a lot of money for conservation in the field. We could fund a whole lot of programs that could immediately affect elephants’ long-term survival.”

Up close, the elephants are enormous and beautiful, projecting a grave, alien intelligence. Humans have long attributed magical powers to them

As he talked, the elephants continued to shift and pace in the enclosure behind him. Moving away from the others, Iringa stood silently in the muddy paddock. She’s an intelligent elephant, the fastest to learn a new behaviour, and, though he was reluctant to admit it, Cole’s favourite. Up close, she is awe-inspiring—enormous and beautiful, projecting a grave, alien intelligence that suddenly makes you understand why humans have long attributed unlikely magical powers to elephants. From here, I can see the thick, wiry eyelashes that shade her eyes. I can see the soft padding on the bottom of her enormous feet, a touch of pinkness at the base of a craggy mountain of grey. She is smelly and huge and more real than any National Geographic video, which, of course, is the reason so many zoo people think that the public needs to see her.

While we watched, Iringa began to sway. With her feet stock-still, her right hind leg cocked at an angle, she rolled her head back and forth, her trunk swinging from left to right, left to right.
I asked Cole if she was showing stereotypic behaviour. “Yes,” he said slowly. “That developed after Patsy died. Of all the elephants we’ve had, Iringa’s probably the one who’s been most affected by the loss of her cohorts. It’s funny, she didn’t even like Tara. She probably just misses having all those other elephants around.”

He suddenly caught himself. Cole is an unsentimental man. He doesn’t buy into the mysticism around elephants. They are intelligent creatures, but they aren’t people, and he is constantly vigilant against the kind of sloppy thinking that tries to give them human emotions. “Who really knows what she’s thinking?” he said, correcting himself. “I could say, ‘She’s swaying because she’s thinking about her own mortality’ or something like that. The truth is, you can’t know what goes on inside their heads.”

We silently watched her. Without moving from her spot, Iringa swayed from left to right, her trunk swinging like a pendulum. It was a joyless, mechanical movement, detached from emotion or instinct, and in that moment—bobbing back and forth—she was not a wild creature. She was something else, something in between, something that exists only in the places where humans keep animals captive.

Councillor proposes zoo replace real elephants with interactive displays

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:06 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:22 ]

2010-03-04

David Nickle, InsideToronto.com

Fourth elephant death in four years prompts concerns

Tara the elephant died at the Toronto Zoo in November of 2009. She was the zoo's fourth elephant to die in the past four years. A Scarborough councillor and zoo board member is proposing the live elephant exhibit be replaced with an interactive one. Courtesy Photo The Toronto Zoo should replace its live elephant habitat with an interactive display that has everything to satisfy a visitor's curiosity about elephants - except the elephants themselves, according to zoo board member Glenn De Baeremaeker.

"I've been convinced - that in terms of the compassionate care of elephants, they shouldn't be here," said Ward 38 Scarborough Centre Councillor De Baeremaeker.

"Their requirements to live a balanced and healthy life just can't be met at the zoo - even a zoo as large as the Toronto Zoo. Where they walk dozens of kilometres in the wild, here they have to walk in a circle. In some ways, it's the equivalent of keeping a human locked up in a bathtub."

De Baeremaeker made the comments in response to calls from animal advocacy groups like Zoowatch Canada to close the zoo's elephant exhibit.

Over the past four years, the zoo has lost four of its elephants. Most recently, Tara - who was 41 - collapsed on the floor of her pen, where keepers found her early on the morning of Nov. 30, 2009.

Zoo staff managed to help Tara stand on her back feet but she couldn't muster the strength to free and stand on a front leg pinned under her. Tara's death was the third time in just 14 months that the zoo's small herd has lost a member.

Tessa, 39, died in June, 2009, after she was in pushed over by another elephant, and Tequila, 38, died in September 2008. Patsy, the previous group matriarch, was euthanized at 40 in 2006 because she had painful, degenerative arthritis. All four elephants arrived around the time the zoo opened in 1974. The zoo says the average captive elephant lifespan is 40 to 45 years.

A 2008 study published in the journal Nature indicated that zoo captivity has a dramatic shortening of elephants' natural lifespan of 60 to 70 years. The Toronto Zoo is contemplating a $40-million expansion to its existing facility.

However, De Baeremaeker said he intends to bring a proposal by Zoocheck Canada to the board, which would see the zoo spend about $15 million on an interactive display.

"I think we could give visitors to the zoo a much more exciting and interactive experience, where children could touch the real skeletons of elephants - they could actually touch the hides of different elephants - they could see photographs 15 and 20 feet tall, they could get up close and personal," said De Baeremaeker.

The proposed interactive centre would also let visitors view elephants on nature preserves, live via webcam, and have the feeling of a real stampede.

"If you say, 'Well, you don't get to see a live elephant,' my response is, 'You don't, but you have more fun,'" said De Baeremaeker.

Fellow zoo board member and Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor Norm Kelly said he's willing to look at the proposal, but was skeptical that an interactive multi-media experience would be able to replace the experience for visitors.

"It's the difference between watching a hockey game on TV and going down to the Gardens," said Kelly. "I have an open mind on this - I'd like to see the arguments. But the question is, why have a zoo? There is something for seeing live animals that you otherwise wouldn't see. I think there's an emotional connection. Maybe the zoo has other ways to address the issue."

Elelphants are grey areas in Toronto Zoo's future, Will officials make elephants a vanishing breed?

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:05 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:22 ]

2009-12-07

Bryn Weese, Toronto Sun

Pandas or pachyderms? That should be the question for the Toronto Zoo Board, according to one of its outspoken members.

For animal rights activists, though, it should be neither.

Councillor Paul Ainslie says given the recent deaths of two elephants at the zoo in the last six months, attention to the herd -- and the more than 500 other species at the attraction -- should trump a costly plan to bring two pandas to the zoo.

While the zoo board is attempting to raise $250 million over the next decade to fund an ambitious renovation plan, a panda exhibit could ultimately cost an additional $19 million over the life of the decade-long lease of the animals from China.

Without raising additional funds for the pandas, zoo officials have already told the board they would have to sacrifice other exhibits, including potentially beavers, to fund it.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Zoo now has only three female African elephants -- the minimum number allowed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which the Toronto Zoo is an accredited member. Elephants are social creatures which need to be part of a herd.

Four elephants, ranging in ages from 38 to 41, have died at the Toronto Zoo in the past four years. Of the remaining elephants, Toka is 39, and Iringa is 40. They're nearing the end of the life expectancy for elephants in captivity, which is about 20 years shy of those in the wild.

"We're going to have to move money around to get another elephant or two to maintain that exhibit," Ainslie said. "I think our priority should be maintaining what we have .... There's no point in ignoring our state of good repair to bring something else in, like pandas, at the expense of losing our elephants, or our giraffes."

The zoo has an $80-million backlog or work that needs to be done.

"How can you have someone walk through the zoo, past a decrepit giraffe house or elephant paddock, to a brand-spanking-new panda exhibit? It doesn't make sense," Ainslie added. "We're planning to rebuild the elephant exhibit. We should do that instead."

Within the next five years, the zoo plans to spend $40 million refurbishing the elephant exhibit, making a 3,000-square-metre winter holding facility complete with rubber matting, and deep sand floors. As well, the renovation plans include a heated windbreak structure, a year-round exercise area, and an off-exhibit yard to promote breeding.

But Julie Woodyer, campaign director for Zoo Check Canada, said the Toronto Zoo could never spend enough to make it viable to keep Elephants in Toronto's cold climate.

Elephants need enormous space to roam around -- travelling up to 30 km a day in the wild -- and also require large herds to fulfil their social needs. "The bottom line is elephants don't belong in Canada. You can't meet their biological and behavioural needs, and we're killing them," Woodyer said. "There is no humane way of keeping elephants in Toronto.

Since 2000, a number of North American Zoos -- most notably, the Detroit Zoo in 2005 -- have closed their elephant exhibits and sent their remaining animals to huge sanctuaries in Tennessee and California.

"Detroit made a tough decision, but there were no repercussions to the zoo. They didn't have any lower attendance," Woodyer said. "If I were the Toronto Zoo, I would be focusing on cold-climate species, and do a small number of things better, rather than trying to do everything.

"They've got to step away from this idea that they've got to have elephants."

But despite calls from Woodyer's group, and others, for the zoo to relinquish its elephants, zoo board members -- including Ainslie -- don't want the animals to go anywhere.

"I think many people who come to the zoo want specifically to see the elephants, so getting rid of the exhibit, for me, is not something that I would entertain or want to see," said Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a member of the zoo board who is championing the panda acquisition.

He was in China two weeks ago with a zoo staff member trying to secure a 10-year deal for the pandas.

"I know what's happening out there, and it's typical of some organizations to use this (the elephant deaths) as a platform to get rid of zoos, because at the end of the day, that's what these organizations want to do," Mammoliti said.

"But some of us really feel strongly about zoos, and the need for them in terms of education and conservation."

But can the zoo do both?

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said he'd only like to see pandas come to the zoo if the majority of the cost is borne by the private sector.

"I hope that money can be primarily raised from the private sector, because the panda is the iconic species of our planet," he said. "I think, for example, there are people who will donate to pandas that may not be as interested in elephants, and vice-versa."

The zoo will have to decide what to do about the future of its elephant herd, but staff are still reeling from Tara's death last week, according to Shanna Young, the zoo's executive director of marketing.

The 41-year-old matriarch of the herd, which had been at the zoo since 1974, died last Monday from still unknown causes.

The zoo board of directors meets Thursday.


ELEPHANTS PAST AND PRESENT

Elephants have been a staple at the Toronto Zoo since it first opened in 1974. Here is a list of it's surviving herd, and those that have died at the Zoo.

Current Herd:

  • Thika -- female
    - age 29
    - born in captivity at the Toronto Zoo in 1980
  • Toka -- female
    - age 39
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974
  • Iringa -- female
    - age 40
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974

Deceased:

  • Tara -- female
    - died at age 41 last Monday of unknown causes
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974
  • Tessa -- female
    - died at age 40 in June of this year when she was pushed to the ground by another elephant
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974
  • Tequila -- female
    - died at age 38 in 2008
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974
  • Patsy -- female
    - euthanized at age 39 in 2006 (arthritis)
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974
  • Toronto -- male
    - died at age 10 in 1994 from Salmonella
    - born in captivity at the Toronto Zoo in 1984
  • Tantor -- male
    - died at age 20 in 1989 from anesthesia complications
    - born in Mozambique
    - arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1974
  • T.W. -- male
    - died two days after birth in 1984
    - born in captivity at the Toronto Zoo

Elephant's death a crossroads for zoo

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:04 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:22 ]

2009-12-03

Josh Wingrove, Globe & Mail

After four deaths in four years, the Toronto Zoo's elephant herd is down to three - a number considered to be the bare minimum for the good of the animals, leaving management to decide whether to pursue getting new ones or to phase out its exhibit.

At 7:30 a.m. yesterday, zoo staff arrived for work to find 41-year-old Tara, described as the matriarch of the elephants, lying down in her enclosure. They couldn't get her back on her feet, and she died around 11 a.m. The cause of Tara's death is unknown. Her body was left in the pen for a few hours to allow the other elephants to grieve her death. An autopsy has been scheduled, and she'll be buried later.

Tara was one of the zoo's first three elephants when it opened in 1974, and is the latest of the Toronto elephants to die. Patsy, 40, was euthanized in July of 2006, suffering from debilitating arthritis. Tequila, 38, was found dead in her pen last year, while Tessa, 40, died six months ago. An African elephant can live up to 70 years, but Toronto's zoo pegs its elephants' life expectancy at 40 to 45. Tara, at 41, lived longer than any elephant the zoo had.

The Toronto Zoo herd is now a trio: Thika, who is 29 and expected to succeed Tara as the herd's leader, and the aging pair of Iringa and Toka, who both turn 40 next year. Because of the social nature of the female elephants, three is the minimum recommended by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which Toronto is an accredited member.

Tara's death has brought Toronto to a fork in the road. It will have to decide whether to add new animals to the zoo's elephant program or shutter it altogether. City Councillor Raymond Cho, who is chairman of the Toronto Zoo Board of Management, said the issue will be discussed at a Dec. 10 board meeting.

"We have to really pay attention to [the question]: 'What is our future plan?' I cannot add anything more. But we'd like to have a very serious discussion in the upcoming board meeting," Mr. Cho said in an interview.

Eric Cole, supervisor of the Toronto Zoo's Savannah section, said it's too early to guess about the elephant program's future.

"We wouldn't even think about that right now. When we've lost an elephant, obviously we reassess, and we look at the remaining elephants and how the dynamic plays out," a sombre Mr. Cole said.

However, Julie Woodyer, a former OSPCA investigator who is now campaigns director for the watchdog Zoo Check Canada, said Toronto's northern climate is ill-suited for elephants despite the Toronto Zoo's mixed indoor-outdoor enclosure.

"This is the thing about this - 40 [years old] is not old for an elephant, if that elephant were to live in the wild or even a large enclosure in a southern climate," Ms. Woodyer said.

"Canada is not elephant friendly... If they [Toronto Zoo management] want to move into the next century as far as animal care [and] conservation are concerned, they have to realize that certain species are not meant for the Canadian climate.

"The fact is, they should probably phase out their elephant program in Toronto." Her suggestion would face opposition from Mr. Cho, who hopes the city keeps its exhibit.

"I love elephants," he said. "[The] Toronto Zoo is a world zoo. We like to have representative animals of all the continents."

The Calgary Zoo is in the same bind - it's also part of the AZA and is down to three elephants, although they are younger than Toronto's. Calgary curator Tim Sinclair-Smith said the zoo's elephant program is popular and helps with research into diseases affecting the at-risk species. It's not going anywhere.

"We're certainly continuing with the program. There's no reason for us not to," he said, adding that the zoo would support Toronto deciding to do the same.

If Toronto or Calgary were to lose another elephant and be left with just two, the AZA wouldn't immediately revoke its membership status if there was a plan to phase the program out or add an animal, AZA spokesman Steve Feldman said.

Noting the autopsy on Tara hasn't been completed, he said there's "no specific evidence that cold weather has harmful effects" on the animals.

Other northern zoos have phased out their programs, and there are two general strategies by which to do so.

One is to stop acquiring elephants, but keep the remaining ones, as was done at Edmonton's Valley Zoo. It's not an ideal situation. The city now has just one elephant, Lucy, and has found itself the target of legal challenges and high-profile pleas from former Price is Right host Bob Barker to move the lonesome animal to a place with other elephants.

The other option would be to ship the remaining elephants to a more appropriate climate. The Detroit Zoo did this in 2005, saying it could no longer provide for the "physical, social and psychological needs" of its two elephants, Winky and Wanda. They were moved to a California sanctuary.

Mr. Cole said staff are stunned by the death of Tara, and the three that preceded it.

"It's a shock. It's really devastating for us to lose that amount of elephants in that time," he said. "We might get another elephant from another zoo in North America, we might not ... We don't know, so we just have to wait and see."

Central Zoo Authority - Elephants banned from Indian zoo collections

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:04 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:22 ]

2009-11-07

Reprinted Central Zoo Authority Circular (File No. 7-5/2006-CZA Vol. II)

Time and again, it has brought to the notice of this Authority that the housekeeping of elephants in zoos leaves a lot to be desired, causing trauma to the animal. Elephant is a large megaherbivore, which is free-ranging, cruising over long distances. There are very few zoos in this country, which have adequate space to permit free movement of elephants, as a result of which they are kept chained for long hours, causing stress to the animal. Further, more often than not, such captive elephants in zoos hardly breed. There are instances of zoo elephants coming in "Musth" causing serious threats to visitors. The zoo management also has tremendous financial liability for the day-to-day maintenance/ housekeeping of elephants. There is very little scope for ex-situ to in-situ linkage in the context of zoo elephants in India.

Considering the above, the following directives are issued:

*Elephants are banned from zoo collections throughout the country with immediate effect. All captive elephants in zoos should be rehabilitated in elephant camps/ rehabilitation camps/ facilities available with the forest department at National Parks/ Wildlife Sanctuaries/ Tiger Reserves for departmental use.

*The guidelines/ precautions issued by this Authority for transporting zoo animals, time and again, should be strictly followed. The programme for transporting elephants should be drawn up in consultation with the Chief Wildlife warden of the State, under whose supervisory control the said process should be conducted.

*The Central Zoo Authority would bear the cost for transportation of elephants in this regard, based on a proposal received thorugh the Chief Wildlife Warden of the State.

Toronto Zoo elephant dies after push to ground by one of her own

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:03 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:22 ]

2009-06-15

CBC News

Tessa was shoved by another elephant on Saturday at the Toronto Zoo, and died three hours later when the 40-year-old couldn't get back up. (CBC)An elephant died over the weekend at the Toronto Zoo after another elephant shoved her to the ground over some food.

Tessa, 40, fell and couldn't get back up even with the help a crane after a more dominant elephant pushed her Saturday, zoo officials said.

"We tried to lift her up with the crane and she put her feet on the ground, but she just wasn't supporting herself," Eric Cole, supervisor of the African Savanna, told the Toronto Star.

"She just stopped breathing when we put her back down. She died slowly. The breath went out of her and her heartbeat got dimmer and dimmer and then she was gone."

The elephant, one of the zoo's first animals when it opened in 1974 and a favourite among zookeepers, was weaker than other members of her group, zoo officials said. Her trunk didn't work well and one of her tusks pointed the wrong way.

Her shortcomings made her an easy target for the others in past years, though Saturday's accident wasn't about bullying but about getting food, Cole told the Star.

Zoo caretakers were distraught when Tessa died three hours after her fall.

"Lots of tears," Cole told CBC News on Monday. "Everyone's grieving in their own way."

Even the other elephants mourned.

"There was a lot of activity around where Tessa was," Cole said. One elephant "spent a lot of time with the body, throwing some dirt on it, digging around, some of them even sleeping beside her."

As for the elephant that pushed Tessa, she stood over the body and wouldn't leave her side.

"She was probably thinking, 'What have I done?'" Cole said.

The veterinary staff at the zoo will conduct an autopsy and then bury her on the grounds near other elephant graves.

RSPCA - Phase elephants out of zoos

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:02 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:21 ]

2008-12-12

RSPCA

The RSPCA is calling for a phase out of zoo elephants following concerning new scientific studies.

The 69 elephants currently kept in UK zoos commonly suffer lameness, obesity, and abnormal stereotypic behaviour linked with handling and limited living space, according to a new report published today.

The Bristol University study was funded by the RSPCA, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), in an aim to identify how specific aspects of husbandry affect health, welfare and reproductive success of elephants in zoos.

Most comprehensive scientific study of its kind A separate scientific paper, also published today in Science magazine, echoes these findings across the entire population of female zoo elephants in Europe. This paper is the most comprehensive scientific study of its kind, and also concludes the following.

Adult elephants in European zoos die younger than those in the wild in Africa, or working in timber camps in Burma.

Asian elephants are twice as likely to die before their first birthday if born in European zoos when compared to those born in captivity in Burmese logging camps.

Over half (58 per cent) of the Asian elephants born to first time mums in European zoos die before the age of one, compared to 17 per cent born to first time mums in Burmese logging camps.

Elephants lead impoverished lives in zoos "Elephants are having a torrid time in our zoos judging by this overwhelming evidence, and action must be taken to alleviate their welfare problems as a matter of urgency," said Dr Rob Atkinson, the RSPCA's head of wildlife science.

"We often hear that zoos play a vital role in conserving elephants, but patently this is not the case. The new data shows elephants die young in Europe's zoos, and the rarer Asian elephants born in captivity have a poor chance of survival.

"Surely the way forward is to encourage conservation programmes in native habitats rather than condemn elephants to a shortened and unhealthy existence in our zoos."

Urgent action needed for elephant welfare in zoos The RSPCA is appalled to find that despite previous warnings, currently elephants living in UK zoos are typically lame, obese, and prone to pacing or weaving from side to side, seemingly due to small enclosure sizes and keepers' handling methods.

This is a far cry from the general health and welfare of their wild and working cousins, according to the Bristol University research.

Dr Atkinson added: "Elephant populations must be phased out of European zoos by stopping imports and captive breeding. Meanwhile, there is a clear and urgent need for husbandry to be improved for those existing zoo elephants while they live out their impoverished lives."

The Elephant in the room

posted 25 Aug 2010, 12:01 by Bhavithra Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 11:21 ]

2008-09-07

Jonathan Nicholas, The Oregonian

Portland seems hugely proud of the new baby elephant at its zoo. What the city should feel is ashamed.

The new calf is not really an elephant. It's a caricature of an elephant, a shadow of an animal, a hapless beast that that all too soon will be exhibiting every known sign of severe trauma.

A Rose-tu by any other name . . . an elephant . . .or a more shadow of one? The terrible truth is that the 300-pound infant over which we're being invited to ooh and aah is a compromised creature in a contemptible cage. Putting such an animal on public display is as appalling today as it was in the time of the Romans.

That was when zoos began, as the playthings of plutocrats. For thousands of years, potentates dispatched their armies hither and yon to pillage and plunder. Among the treasures hauled home were "exotic" creatures displayed to amuse the masses.

Should Portland spend $30 million on a bigger and better cage for its elephants? Of course, anything less would be inhumane.

Of course not, for God's sake free the poor beasts

What we need is a visioning process, some public hearings, then a blue ribbon commission to compile an environmental impact statement for an elephant sanctuary in the Tillamook Forest.

By the 1850s, this exhibitionist offshoot of imperialism had "evolved" into the municipal zoo, an institution that hurried to cover its freak show nakedness with the figleaf of an educational mission. In 1906, it must have been that passion for pedagogy that led the Bronx Zoo to exhibit a pygmy in a cage alongside its apes.

It's still a rite of parental passage to take kids to the zoo, exposing them to displays of institutionalized trauma, inviting them to gaze with wondrous eyes upon obvious suffering and interpret it as normal.

Today, almost everyone in America over 40 has a searing image from childhood. It's of a big cat in a small cage, the tiger pacing back and forth, back and forth, post-traumatic stress disorder made manifest.

Today we have bigger cages, with caring keepers and native foliage and wading pools and interactive toys designed for environmental enrichment. But the bars are just as sturdy, the confinement just as cruel.

Only once ever have I seen a happy tiger. She was in an Indian forest. The reason for her contentment was clear. She thought she was about to eat me. There are a whole series of myths perpetuated by modern zoos. Foremost is the notion that their work is critical to wildlife conservation. But it's increasingly apparent that the creatures zoos are conserving are not wild animals at all. Their carefilly calibrated bredding programs are producing nothing more than semi-domesticated shadows of the animals' true selves.

Nowhere is this more apparent -- or more tragic -- than in the American community of elephants. There is much about wild elephants, most especially the ways in which they communicate across many miles, that still we barely comprehend. But this much we do know. In their native habitat, elephants are profoundly social creatures. They raise their young within extended family structures that stretch across decades. They bury their dead, mourn them, stand vigil over their graves.

Gay Bradshaw, founder of The Kerulos Center in Jacksonville, is an ecologist and psychologist, formerly at Oregon State University, now pioneering the field of trans-species psychology. In a series of widely published papers, and an upcoming book from Yale University Press, she suggests that the global elephant population is suffering chronic post-traumatic stress, a species-wide affliction spurred by decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss.

Much of this might sound like advanced anthropocentric conjecture, but recent research in psychology, ethology and neurobiology points to increasing numbers of elephants -- in both captivity and the ever more abbreviated wild -- exhibiting behaviors associated with acute psychological distress.

This is the world in which a zoo elephant such as Portland's Rose-tu might try to trample her newborn calf, behavior utterly new to the species.

Portland has been in the zoo business since 1887. That was when a worker at City (now Washington) Park dug a bear pit and invited citizens to come by and ogle the grizzly. It's now almost 50 years that the zoo has been in the business of breeding elephants. That's long enough.

If the people of Oregon, with their zoo tickets and tax dollars, really want to serve elephants, they should contribute to the restoration and preservation of native habitat for these magnificent creatures. If citizens really care about wild creatures, after all, there's a simple solution.

Let them run free.

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