What the Afflictions of Circus and Zoo Elephants Have Taught Us About Captivity
Good article from Onegreenplanet looking at the way captivity can have a range of physical and emotional impacts on elephants. Do elephants really belong in captivity?
Elephants — sensitive, social, and highly intelligent — are simply ill-suited for captivity. In the wild, elephants thrive in large family groups, with their physical and psychological needs met by life in the environment in which they have evolved to live. In zoos and circuses, it is clear that they suffer physically and psychologically, doomed to boredom, anxiety and an unnaturally shortened lifespan.
Let’s be clear: captivity does not benefit elephants. It only hurts them.
Common Afflictions of Captive Elephants
The most common physical ailments that afflict captive elephants are obesity, foot and joint problems, skin conditions, tuberculosis, and circulatory issues. In fact, heart attacks and circulatory problems are estimated to cause between 11.4 percent and 20 percent of deaths in non-infant captive elephants.
Elephants in zoos also have a higher mortality rate and lower breeding rate than wild elephants, which results in unsustainable captive “populations.” For example, in the past year alone, nine Asian and African elephants have died in zoos accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), while only two elephants have been born.
Young elephants in particular suffer a high mortality rate, with a significant proportion passing away from a disease known as Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV). Since 1978, EEHV has caused the death of approximately 25 percent of Asian elephants born in North America. (Although there is some evidence of EEHV in wild Asian elephants, it has not been shown to cause as many deaths to wild elephants as it does to captive elephants.)
Psychologically, captive elephants suffer from stress and deprivation and may display stereotypic behavior — repetitive behavior that appears to have no obvious goal or function, other than as a coping mechanism for the misery and monotony they endure. A recent study of elephants by the AZA found that approximately two-thirds of captive elephants exhibit stereotypic behaviors such as head bobbing, weaving, and swaying. These behaviors are acknowledged as an indicator of past or present welfare problems.
So, what happens when captive elephants have a high mortality rate, low breeding rate and small group sizes in an aging population? The result is that many end up living alone. Solitary confinement is a cruel, undeserved sentence for these complex, innocent animals.
Read the rest of the article on Onegreenplanet
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