Annex: Elephants in Zoos and Circuses
by Lindsay Gillson in Elephants (1998) by Dr W. J. Jordan, Dr
J.Poole, D. Sheldrick M.B.E, published by Care for the Wild International.
In the wild elephants live in family groups, led by a matriarch.
They are very social animals, which depend on long periods of parental
care. They are intelligent and sensitive, with phenomenal memories.
They are known to mourn a lost member of their family and weep salt
tears when distressed. They spend up to 16 hours per day feeding
and cover vast distances in their search for food and water. Each
day elephants bathe in mud or dust, to protect their skin, which
is surprisingly sensitive.
Some zoos refuse to keep elephants because they know they cannot
provide conditions which allow elephants to fulfil their natural
behaviour patterns. Others, however, insist that an elephant house
is a major attraction and can play an educational role.
The reality is that zoo and circus elephants often suffer terrible
distress as a result of their confinement. Many are chained for
the majority of their life, leading to the development of stereotyped
behaviours. Stereotyped behaviours, such as swaying and head weaving,
are repetitive and indicative of chronic stress. Zoo and circus
elephants are often kept alone or in pairs, so there is no opportunity
for normal social interactions to take place. Elephant do not breed
well in captivity and the morality of young is high compared to
that of wild elephants.
Captive elephants can suffer form skin conditions, as it is difficult
to provide them with adequate access to water mud and dust. Circus
elephants in the USA have died from TB, presenting a potential health
risk to circus audiences. Captive elephants can also suffer from
problems with their feet, especially if they are kept on soft or
damp substrate material. Captive elephants who have been passive
for years have been known to turn on their keepers, perhaps as a
result of the long term stress associated with their captivity.
After watching footage of circus elephants in the UK, Daphne Sheldrick
said, “From what I have seen of circuses, I honesty think
the baby elephants would better off dead than suffering a lifetime
of imprisonment, abuse and being kept in chains.”