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."
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