Life of Captive Elephants
1. Life of Captive Elephants – The Good & Bad Side of Captivity.
A) The Good side:
Elephants in captivity such as elephants in zoos don't have to cope with the challenges of the wild, such as:
- Being shot by poachers for their ivory or meat or
- Dying in human-elephant conflict situations.
B) The Bad Side:
Captive elephants inactivity, abnormal social situations and captivity-associated stress. So, despite being provided with shelter, veterinary care and the attention of professional keepers, elephants in zoos routinely deal with problematic health issues, such as:
- foot infections (the leading cause of death in captive elephants),
- reproduction problems,
- psychological disorders,
- early mortality,
- low fertility,
- high rate of stillbirths,
- difficulty giving birth and raising young, and
- engagement in a wide variety of abnormal behaviors, such as:
- stereotypic swaying,
- killing of infants, and
- Hyper-aggression to wards other elephants.
Elephants faces variety of other challenges that they have no natural mechanism to cope with, such lack of space, and standing on hard ground surfaces.
No amount of expansion at any zoo will give them the complex, varied habitat—with ponds, mud, trees, and hills—that they need for their physical and psychological well-being.
Zoos Breed for Greed:
Breeding elephants in captivity has been a colossal failure. For every elephant born in a zoo, another two die—yet zoos continue to breed elephants in an effort to churn out more “cash cows.” According to an in-depth report by investigative reporter Michael, the overall infant-mortality rate for elephants in zoos is an appalling 40 percent—nearly triple the rate of elephants in the wild.
Artificial insemination involves the insertion of probes, catheters, and scopes into an elephant’s rectum and complex vaginal opening. There’s nothing simple or straightforward about this procedure. Elephants are often chained by their legs when they give birth.
2. How are the Elephants sourced?
Elephants were first captured and tamed in the Indus Valley about 4000 BC. As early as 1400 BC their enormous size and power was harnessed on the battlefield and recorded in Thai history. Porus, Emperor of India, used 85 elephants to confront Alexander the Great at the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC.
Hannibal went through Spain, France and across the Alps with 34 African elephants in 218 BC, although most of them died. And elephants fought for the Khmer Empire in Cambodia between 800 and 1600 AD. The Belgian King Leopold II, captured and trained African elephants in the late eighteen hundreds.
Elephants in captivity are in most cases Asian elephants captured in the wild. Selective breeding of elephants is impractical due to their long reproductive cycle, so there are no domestic breeds. African bush elephants and African forest elephants are less amenable to training. There are estimated to be 15,000 to 20,000 elephants in captivity, of a total population of 40,000 to 50,000.
The majority of elephants in zoos are taken from their homes and families in the wild.
The strength and intelligence of elephants has also been used by people in huge construction projects to great effect. For example, the extensive and intricate irrigation system on Sri Lanka was built up with the assistance of elephants. And prior to the development of machines, elephants played an essential role in logging and other lifting and transportation tasks.
Elephants play an important role in both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Ganesh, the Hindu elephant God, is revered as the remover of obstacles. In his teaching, the Buddha often spoke about elephants and their image and characteristics as powerful metaphors.
Incongruous as it may seem, though elephants are worshiped and held in high esteem, many are treated abysmally. For example, temple elephants, though exalted, may be chained outside places of worship in the hot sun for months on end.
The relationship of mutual respect and benefit, yet our relationship with captive and working elephants has always been an exploitative one. Although fewer and fewer Asian elephants are being recruited into the service of people, ancient attitudes stick deep; we have a long way to go to improve the lives of captive elephants.
3. How are they tamed and trained to follow instructions.
Why are elephants trained?
Unlike domestic animals, which were bred continuously deploying the most suitable animals, elephants in the zoo and in the circus are wild animals - however sweet and nice they are looking. Nobody would think of treating a rhinoceros, a tiger or a polar bear the same way as a gentle dairy cow or a riding horse.
How do they train elephants in Asia?
In Southeast Asia, methods for taming elephants have been developed and fine-tuned over thousands of years. When a wild elephant is caught (khedda), it is first tied up alongside several experienced working elephants (kumies) and dragged to a training ground.
This is the beginning of a bitter and cruel "breaking-in" program. This stage lasts for about one week and is meant to achieve the young wild elephant's total submission to the will of man.
How are wild elephants broken in?
The elephant, still wild, is tied to a wooden frame or between two tree trunks where he is unable to move. And it is thus, tearing at the ropes and flailing with his trunk, that he is introduced to his mahout. In order to break it in, the young elephant is repeatedly stuck with an elephant hook and beaten. At the same time, the mahout talks to him in a calming voice.
Fear, pain, thirst and hunger finally make the elephant give up all resistance. When the elephant begins to accept its fate, the mahouts allow it to take a bath in a river and to eat, although it continues to be tied to a working elephant throughout.
After a few weeks, the young elephant will be tame enough to be led, still shackled and supervised by several mahouts, but no longer accompanied by working elephants.
After this "initiation phase", the elephant starts its proper training to become a working elephant.
Are zoo elephants trained in the same way?
The breaking-in phase where the elephant must learn to get used to man is unnecessary when an elephant has been born in captivity. Thus, elephants born in a zoo or circus are very different in character from broken-in working elephants.
For the most part, elephants born and raised in captivity live in permanent family groups. Nevertheless, they must learn at a very early stage to coexist with man, i.e. with their keepers. This coexistence requires fixed rules that a young elephant must already learn very soon after birth.
Who trains the elephants?
In order to be not only fascinated by these animals, but also to be able to handle them and to work with them, some preconditions are required, which not all people and not even all keepers have.
What does a good animal trainer need?
A good elephant keeper or animal trainer has to slip into the elephant’s skin. He has to feel and to behave like an elephant. For this purpose he has to know the animals very well. He needs the powers of observation, sensitivity, determination and a sound severity. First of all he should see how elephants behave among each other, how they resolve conflicts, how they quarrel and fight.
What does a zoo elephant learn?
The elephant training for the zoo is restricted to a practical training. The zoo elephant has to know the commands, which are important for everyday contact and for hygiene. E.g. it has to learn to stand patiently, to lift its feet for pedicure and to lay down for washing.
What are circus elephants taught?
Circus elephants must additionally learn some tricks that are to be shown in the program later on. There are good and impressive elephant numbers, which enable the animals to show their strength and swiftness or rather their sensitivity. But there are also many bad circus acts, which force the elephants to show exercises absolutely unnatural for elephants.
Among these are the two- and even one-armed handstands, as well as the standing on the hind legs.
When does training begin?
The training starts already at the second day in the life of an elephant baby. The little elephant with a body weight of more than 120 kg has already to learn that it must never push its keepers, press them against the wall or kick them by its little feet. If it tries to do so, the elephant keeper has to defend himself by a little, gentle but determined smack of his hand or by the elephant hook.
How does a training session begin?
At the age of about one year it is time for the little elephant to let itself chain for washing like the other elephants. This step takes about 2 months. First the little elephant gets a little foot chain put on. It has to learn to stand patiently while the keeper ties the chain around its foot. This is already quite difficult and requires everybody’s patience and sensitivity.
The consistent training with the little elephant is also important. That means, once you have started, you have to continue this training every day.
When the little elephant lets itself put on a chain, it is tied up at the forefoot for a short time. After this is going off smoothly and reliably, the same exercise is started with the hind leg. Now the elephant knows what the keeper wants and the keeper knows that the little elephant has learned e.g. being tied up. Now the elephant has also to obey.
How does a young elephant learn a command?
E.g. to teach an elephant to lie down, often a rope traction device (Habegger) is used as a support. The hind leg of an elephant can be pulled back by this apparatus, so that it has to lie down. That means that the natural motions are supported by the Habegger. Elephant keepers do not have enough physical strength to push or to pull the leg.
The trainer needs all instruments used for the training, to compensate the difference in physical strength between elephant and human. Used properly, these devices are a good support and protect the elephant from whacks by the hook and from screaming.
4. Ways of elephants are exploited.
A life of abuse and brutality :
Captive elephants are transported around in small trailers and boxcars for the travelling circus, confined in small enclosures in zoos, used as gimmicks in promotions and marketing, used to carry tourists on safari or to entertain them by playing football or polo, paraded in the streets for ceremony and begging purposes, and chained in the sun at Temples. Many of them have been "tamed" through the use of unbelievable brutality, and kept under life-long human control with continued abuse.
A growing number of people and organizations are working tirelessly to make a difference for the lives of captive elephants by providing rescue, sanctuary and reintroduction to the wild and by educating people.
Baby elephant smuggling:
Video for Baby elephant smuggling: https://youtu.be/PvTnJrqx0X8
In order to fuel the tourist industry in Thailand, baby elephants are being captured and subjected to a horrific 'domestication' process, before winding up at elephant camps where tourists pose for pictures with them, unaware of the elephant's tragic story.
This illegal and brutal cross border trade in wild Asian elephants is a very real threat to remaining populations of the endangered species.
Extracted from the forest, baby elephants are separated from their families, and subjected to a brutal practice, where they are tied up, confined, beaten and tortured to break their spirits.
For every wild caught calf that makes it alive into a camp, it is estimated that up to two others will die from this 'domestication' process, and as many as five others are killed during the capture.
It is estimated that anywhere between 50-100 calves and young females are being traded across the Thai-Myanmar (Burma) border each year, to supply tourist camps.
Beating Baby Elephants:
Baby elephants are still being forced into submission through beatings, hunger, and other torments designed to break the animals’ spirit, despite claims to the contrary. “Every trained elephant in Thailand has faced this cruel torturing,” the Thai group Animal Activist Alliance (AAA) wrote in an article on the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) website. AAA argues that the use of this method, known as Phajaan, is in response to the growing demand for trained elephants in tourism hotspots across Thailand.
Illegal Poaching & Trading :
Elephant numbers have dropped by 62% over the last decade, and they could be mostly extinct by the end of the next decade. An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat and body parts, leaving only 400,000 remaining.
An insatiable lust for ivory products in the Asian market makes the illegal ivory trade extremely profitable, and has led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants. Between 2010 and 2014, the price of ivory in China tripled, driving illicit poaching through the roof.
If the elephants are to survive, the demand for ivory must be drastically reduced.
As of 2011, the world is losing more elephants than the population can reproduce, threatening the future of African elephants across the continent. Bull elephants with big tusks are the main targets and their numbers have been diminished to less than half of the females. Female African elephants have tusks and are also killed, which has a terrible effect on the stability of elephant societies, leaving an increasing number of orphaned baby elephants.
The Asian elephant, whose habitat ranges over 13 countries across Asia, is an endangered species with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide – less than a tenth of the African elephant population. Wild Asian elephants suffer severe habitat loss in some of the most densely human-populated regions on the planet.
Their traditional territories and migration routes have been fragmented by development, highways and industrial mono-crops such as palm oil and rubber tree plantations, which has destroyed millions of hectares of forest ecosystems.
With no access to their natural habitat, elephants are forced into deadly confrontations with humans where neither species wins. Asian elephants are also poached for their ivory tusks, meat and body parts while baby elephants are captured from the wild and sold into the tourism industry. Worldwide, Asian elephants are trained, traded and used for entertainment in tourist parks and circuses, and also for illegal logging activities. These captive elephants are often mistreated, abused and confined to sub-standard facilities without adequate veterinarian care.
Elephants don’t breed in captivity:
The longer females are kept in captivity without being bred, the more likely they are to become infertile. They will also have a shorter reproductive lifespan (Hermes et al 2004). Long term captivity can also decrease male fertility, presumably because of social stress or physical activity; there is also a lack of breeding bulls in many zoos (Hermes et al 2004).
It has been observed that elephants which experience stress such as moving to another zoo, having their social position challenged within the herd, or being subjected to intense physical activity, can stop their reproductive cycles Calf mortality is significantly higher in captivity than in the wild – a third of all captive-born calves die because of stillbirths or infanticide, whereas these events are very rare in the wild (Kurt and Mar 1996). In captivity, more males are born than females.
Because the birth rate is affected by how many females there are, the number of births will decline, which makes it even harder for zoo populations to be self-sustaining (Saragusty et al 2009).
The behavioral problems due to exploitations in captivity :
Many elephants experience whilst in captivity like the development of stereotypic behaviors and aggressiveness due to their removal from their family, mean captives are often less interested in breeding behavior and therefore are less likely to reproduce. These behavioral changes can also persist if the elephant was re-released into the wild which would make it difficult for the individual to become successfully integrated within an existing social group – this process is necessary for the survival of an elephant
5. Changes in Life span and behavior of Captive elephant
Many studies have shown that despite being protected from poachers and having unlimited access to food, water and healthcare, captive elephants have a shorter lifespan than wild elephants. In one study looking at over 4500 female elephants, the authors found that wild African elephants live over twice as long as zoo-born elephants, even if their death is caused by humans. If they die of natural causes, wild African elephants can expect to live for over 56 years, compared to 17 years in captivity. Asian elephants show similar survival patterns.
While the survival rates in zoos are slowly improving over time, currently zoo elephants can still expect to have their lifespan at least halved (Club et al 2008). Reasons for lower survival in zoos could include obesity, increased stress, traumatic removal from their mother when young, and the stressful process of transportation between zoos.
Intelligent and complex social lives
In the wild, elephants form female-led groups of between 5 and 20 cows and their offspring (who are usually all related), whereas bulls are generally solitary. Being part of a group is crucial for the survival and wellbeing of the elephants, as group living enables offspring to learn from adults, adults to use their memories to guide the herd to the best food sources, and protection from invading elephants.
Usually when elephants are removed from the wild, only one or two individuals are taken, rather than the whole group. Removing even one animal from the group, especially if it’s an older animal like the matriarch, will often mean the remaining troop can’t function and will fragment. This can have fatal consequences for the younger elephants, which are left without adults to learn from. If juveniles are removed to captivity, they are especially likely to develop behavioral problems and become more aggressive, as they don’t have the comfort or experience of the adults of the troop to guide their behavioral development.
Elephant Well-being and Climate:
The fact that zoo elephants are plagued by a host of physical and psychological ailments that are not observed among their free-living counterparts is well established. In addition to the usual assortment of challenges inherent in the housing and care of any large, intelligent, wide-ranging animal in captivity, many problems (e.g., inactivity, boredom, frustration, standing on hard floor surfaces, obesity) are exacerbated in cold climates since elephants are confined indoors for a much greater percentage of time.
Comfortable temperatures, places to relax outdoors, opportunities for long walks, and an abundance of different types of exercise, mud wallowing and swimming areas and pasture are critical facets of elephant enclosures and should be available on a year round basis.
Studies indicate that elephants have a limited ability to adapt to wide temperature ranges, as they are unable to insulate (add fat) or adjust to extremes in temperature.
Lack of Space Impacts Health:
Elephants require a vast amount of space in order to maintain their health. In the wild they can be active 20 hours per day. Their constant activity and movement exercises joints and ligaments, maintains muscle tone, burns fat, and ensures good blood flow. It also creates constant shifts in exposure to varying landscapes and consequent inevitable richness in experiences and visual change.
Very few captive facilities in North America provide the hundreds of acres needed to keep elephants healthy. In addition there is little motivation for elephants to be active in small spaces that are devoid of stimulus to keep elephants active in their environment.
Alan Roocroft, a top zoo industry consultant who has worked with captive elephants for over 30 years and is considered an expert in captive elephant foot problems has said:
"Long periods of inactivity can and will be detrimental to the health and longevity of an elephant. To an animal that is programmed to move eighteen out of twenty-four hours, inactivity has a high price. Normally, the nail and foot tissue of an elephant is worn down during the long hours of walking over different substrates.
Flexibility to wrist, knees and their joints is increased and maintained by the continuous movement of their daily activities. Foot problems, if not caused by injury, trauma or arthritic conditions of joints, are the end product of inadequate movement and activity.
An elephant's foot will regenerate normally without elaborate pedicures, providing an exercise regime of mass movement and daily walks is sustained throughout the elephant's life. If an abscess develops and the elephant is maintained in an inadequate care system, re-infection will occur until the infection has reached the toe digits and surgery is needed. Very few of these cases survive."
Lack of space also causes natural substrates (i.e., earth) to become hard-packed, as observed at the Toronto Zoo, because animals are walking over the same ground constantly. These hard substrates are boring, uncomfortable, can cause physical harm to elephants and lead to foot infections (the leading cause of death in zoo elephants) and can damage other tissue as well. Dr. Leslie Golden, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago explained how the damage is caused as follows:
"The damaging effects (of hard substrates) exceed the obvious orthopedic ones. The concussive effect is proportional to the weight of the body. For massive animals such as the elephant, the effect is horrendous and is easily calculated. It can amount to three times the weight of the body. For a 5-ton elephant, that is a force of 15 tons -- as if the weight of seven automobiles is slammed into the body. Mammal bodies are composed largely of water, an incompressible fluid. When that force hits the elephant's body, the concussion is transmitted through the legs, and upward through all organs of the body.
The cells of those organs are ruptured. This occurs notably among the delicate cells of the alveoli of the lungs. That is the source of the well-documented prevalence of deaths due to tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs, among captive elephants and other large mammals. As the many organs in the body necessary for digestion are also damaged, emaciation is also a common occurrence. Damage to brain tissues results in dementia. Ruptured capillaries results in internal bleeding and anemia. All result from the continual concussive effects of 3G (three times the force of gravity) deceleration.
It is as if the elephant experiences hundreds of minor automobile accidents each day."
6. Link between Tourism & Trafficking.
As the role of elephants as beasts of burden declined, people sought to put them to other work instead. In recent years the use of elephants in tourism has become an industry in itself. Elephant-backed safaris, elephant polo, elephant football, elephant painting, elephant orchestras, elephant orphanages, elephant begging have each become popular sight-seeing activities and/or destinations for foreign visitors. While some of these activities provide a source of income to care for needy elephants, others are exploitative and mask cruel realities.
Seated atop a rollicking elephant on a rudimentary platform strapped to the animal’s back, tourists in Thailand take happy snaps as a mahout edges one of Asia’s largest land mammals along with a stick.
But at the end of this stick glints the curve of a blade. Underneath the platform, the elephant’s back is blistered and raw — apt metaphors for the dark underbelly of Thailand’s elephant rides.
The Asian elephant is endangered, and demand by tourists for elephant rides in Thailand is fueling a system of abuse that compounds the threat to its survival, according to a new report from TRAFFIC, a leading international wildlife trade monitoring network.
Tourists often feel good about the elephant rides, having been told that the beasts have been “rescued” for “conservation,” and that the fees they pay will help the animals. Yet watchdogs say young elephants from neighboring Myanmar are being illegally captured and trafficked to Thailand under the protection of legal loopholes for sale into the tourist trade there.
The once-prolific population of wild elephants in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has dwindled to between 4,000 and 5,000 in recent years. Development and deforestation are partly to blame, but capturing wild elephants, previously for logging but now increasingly for tourism, has played a key role in population declines and is now considered a major threat to wild elephants, the report argues.
“In Myanmar, domesticated elephants are used to corral wild animals into pit-traps where older protective members of herds are often killed and the higher value, younger animals taken,” the report reads. “The young are then transported to Thai-Myanmar border areas and then mentally broken and prepared for training before being sold into the tourism industry in Thailand where they are put to work at tourist camps or hotels.”
Thailand has no legislation that specifically addresses this type of animal trafficking, although some efforts have been made in the past to authenticate the origin of tourism elephants. One of the Thai legislation loopholes is the requirement that tourism elephants be registered only after they reach eight years of age, leaving young elephants from Myanmar highly vulnerable to being laundered into the Thai tourist trade.
When forced to carry tourists around, they’re often denied food and water for hours and aren’t given any breaks from the extreme heat—which could have been what causes of heart attack.
When not being forced to give rides, these gentle animals are chained and barely able to move. In the wild, elephants have complex social networks, and they experience the same loneliness and grief that humans do when they’re separated from their families and forced to live without such important relationships.
Activists say baby elephants are still being forced into submission through beatings, hunger, and other torments designed to break the animals’ spirit, despite claims to the contrary.
It is estimated that. More than half a million exotic animals are enslaved in the tourism industry around the world.
7. Perspectives of Local tribes and other owners of captive elephants.
Captive elephants are primarily used for tourism activities such as elephant back safaris, and for exhibition in zoos and circus. The majority of these animals are Savanna Elephants Loxodonta Africana Africana, with very few Forest Elephants still in captivity. Less than half of the 37 African Elephant range countries manage a captive elephant population, and these are mostly southern African nations. A very small number of elephants are in zoos in northern African non-range countries.
Many of the captive elephants in Africa today came from culling operations (Cadman 2007). In recent years, culling as a conservation management tool has been practiced much less frequently in Africa, and where there is an interest to supplement captive populations in this region, captive breeding programs are being established.
Currently all 13 Asian Elephant range countries have a captive population. However, the numbers, uses, and need for captive elephants differ from country to country (AsERSM 2006). While some uses of captive Asian Elephants have become obsolete (i.e. as war animals), other uses are increasing, such as elephant-back patrols to monitor protected areas or to mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC) (Azmi et al. 2006).
Within Asian range countries captive elephants are managed in a variety of environments; their ownership and management is by government agencies, commercial organizations (i.e. tourist resorts, circus), religious institutions, and private individuals.
They are used for a variety of purposes: for practical work, i.e. logging, transport, patrolling, HEC mitigation, and for cultural activities, i.e. tourism, ceremonial, display, performance, and education. Historically, logging was one of the most locally important economic uses of captive elephants in Asia; this reached a peak in the mid 19th century (Sukumar 2003).
Today, due to a ban on logging in several Asian countries, the use of elephants for this type of work has considerably diminished. In countries where large numbers of captive elephants were used for this purpose, some former logging elephants now provide tourism activities such as rides and shows (Godfrey & Kongmuang 2009); however, the lack of this specific work has forced other elephants to be used for questionable purposes such as begging in cities, thereby increasing welfare concerns (Angkawanish et al. 2009).
Presently a few Asian countries still rely on logging elephants, and consideration should be given to the potential of illegal trans-border movement of captive elephants from countries who do not use these animals for logging to countries who do.
In non-range countries, captive elephants are primarily used for exhibition, performance, and education in zoological institutions, commercial organizations (circus), and private facilities. As elephants in these countries are largely for display, over the past decade the focus has been on developing management systems.
These systems originate from two basic concepts: free contact management where staff and elephants share the same space, and protected contact management where staff and elephants are separated by some form of barrier (Olson 2004).
Currently most non-range facilities manage their elephants using a combination of these two basic systems, however most adult male captive elephants are managed in a protected contact system, in contrast to the free contact system used with adult males in range countries.
Variables such as gender, age, and disposition of the exhibited elephants, staff expertise, and enclosure design and size all contribute to the management style used by a facility. Every management system has inherent rewards and difficulties for the exhibited elephants and staff, and this needs to be carefully considered when developing elephant programs.
There is a need to better leverage opportunities in these small non-range country elephant populations for study, public awareness, fundraising, and advocacy in support of the conservation of wild elephants and their habitats.
Non-range elephant exhibitors at times overestimate the effect their outreach programs and fundraising have on conservation and on the general public’s awareness of issues and challenges facing elephants today. The impact of such programs should be constantly evaluated and improved to ensure successful public education and awareness, as well as effective support of conservation actions.
Elephants kept under private ownership contribute a large percentage of captive elephants in India. These elephants belong to specific age-class indicating the interest of owners in commercial exploitation.
Elephants under private ownership play a critical role in defining welfare status and the overall welfare of elephants in captivity. Other captive elephant management regimes,
For e.g., forest camp, zoo and temple and even circus come under a structured management, have specific roles and could be held responsible for management of elephant. But elephants kept under private ownership have no structure, i.e. are individual based, and their knowledge levels. This aspect puts a lot of strain on the elephant. Here, the management of elephant is random, highly commercially oriented and animals are pushed to their limits to meet their owners demands.
Karnataka has 2 types of private owners: one who keeps elephants within the forested landscape. The second type of owner keeps elephants in city limits, which attracts a lot of tourist. The only advantage for the elephants with such owners is that they are kept as a group and has some structure and management in handling the elephants.
8. Comparison of the safety of elephants in captivation and non-captive elephants.
If you have seen an elephant up close then it was likely one in captivity. Many people view them in such settings as very calm creatures. Still, you have to always remember that they are wild animals. They can become aggressive in any location or situation so always be cautious around them.
Just about every zoo setting out there has a couple of elephants on display. That is the most common place for them to be placed in captivity. Others are part of a traveling circus and put on some amazing shows. There are also conservation preserves out there that have plenty of room for elephants to explore.
There are plenty of individuals out there though that strongly oppose to elephants being placed into captivity. This is because of their high intelligence. It is also due to the fact that by nature they need a wide area to explore. Those that are in the circus or that have to work are the ones that people are the most strongly opposed to.
This is because it is believed their dignity and their freedom is being violated. Those that are worked very hard often end up crippled at an early age and that can make it hard for them to care for themselves later on in life. Many work that their social needs aren’t being met either due to being in captivity.
Most of the time elephants adjust very well to being in captivity. They are social; especially the females so having at least two of them together is important. They can suffer from depression if one of them dies due to the strong bonds that they form. They can also show strong emotions that indicate to those caring for them that they aren’t doing well with the environment they are a part of.
Many elephants that are in captivity have been there since birth. These seem to adjust much better than those brought in from the wild later on. When this occurs signs of stress can be observed. One way that the animals seem to cope is by rocking back and forth for long periods of time.
In some instances those that rock constantly became aggressive so now most of the time efforts are in place to help the elephant adjust better when rocking starts so that nothing escalates from it. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that elephants in captivity are more likely to become aggressive than those in the wild.
This is a fact that just doesn’t sit very well with many people. They feel that elephants are too intelligent to be ordered around and to spend time chained up. They also don’t like to see them working endless hours like slaves. Many organizations including PETA have asked people to ban such exhibits at the zoo and to boycott circuses in support of reducing the number of elephants in captivity.
Over the years there has been quite a bit of controversy stirred up with elephants in captivity.
There have been recorded instances of abuse on these animals which infuriate people. Once there was even an elephant that was part of the circus and always very calm. Then one day she attacked a man in the stands – it was later revealed that he had abused her long ago and she never forgot! The strength of these animals is hard to stop which is part of what makes them so dangerous should they decide to attack.
We have learned a great deal though about the health and anatomy of elephants through them being in captivity. However, we still don’t fully understand everything about them. We do know how to help them to live a long and healthy life while in captivity though.
Elephants are safer in captive V/S Non captive :
Elephants in the wild live in large family units, sometimes as many as 100 members, and have constant companionship. Their intricate social networks have been studied for decades. Studies show elephants mourn the loss of a family member for several days. Elephants have been reported to “cry” upon the death of a family member or friend.
Forced to live in artificial social units of two to three -- or in some cases kept alone -- elephants in captivity are deprived of the basic necessity of family and socialization. Any type of bond the animals might create is often broken, as zoos and circuses routinely shuffle elephants between facilities.
Wild elephants typically walk up to 40 miles a day. Constant exercise is crucial to the health of these animals, as their massive body weight puts enormous pressure on their joints and bones.
The effects of inadequate exercise on elephants are often deadly. Elephants are frequently chained and forced to live on hard surfaces such as concrete. The small sizes of their enclosures and living out of train cars exacerbate this problem even further, causing arthritis, foot abscesses, and other chronic foot and joint problems.
c) Life Span
Wild elephants have long life spans and typically live to 60-70 years of age.
Captive elephants have significantly lower life spans than their wild counterparts and are usually dead before the age of 40. The oldest elephant in captivity in the U.S. -- Peaches -- died in January 2005 at the young age of 55 at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Captive elephants suffer from chronic health problems such as tuberculosis, arthritis, and foot abscesses, which nearly always leads to premature death.
Furthermore, attempts to breed in captivity have been largely unsuccessful. Only three of 11 African elephant calves born in zoos since 1998 were still alive as of June 2003. Of five Asian elephants born in the 12 months preceding June 2003, three are already dead.
d) Freedom from Abuse
Aside from humans, elephants have no natural enemies. When left alone, elephants are very peaceful creatures.
Elephants in captivity are routinely beaten, shocked, abused, and chained for long periods of time. Despite claims by circuses and zoos that “tricks” performed by elephants are based on natural behavior, elephants in the wild do not stand on their heads, balance or sit on stools or other items, or walk only on their hind legs. These behaviors are demeaning, unnatural, and painful and cause fear in elephants.
In order to make such an enormous animal behave in such an abnormal manner they do not understand, they must literally be beaten into submission.
A Perspective from Former AZA Director/William Conway Chair of Conservation & Science.