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I borrowed the above statement from an article published in the AZA (American Zoological Association) Newsletter, June 2004. It was itself a slogan from an animal rights association that opposed the importation of eleven African Elephants by the San Diego and Lowry Park Zoos. It referred to the fact that the elephants lived in an overcrowded reserve in Swaziland. There weren’t any suitable reserves to place them in and the animals would have had to been killed if they weren’t taken by the zoos. To the animal rights activists this was preferable.


This is particularly relevant to the Australasian Region as a consortium of Australian and New Zealand Zoos are wishing to bring in Asian Elephants to establish a breeding program. This program is opposed by a variety of Conservation and Animal Rights Groups and the proposal is currently being examined by the Australian Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, who will have the final say on the import of the nine animals.


I wish to examine the ethics of keeping elephants in captivity and to put forward the arguments from both sides.  If anyone would like to comment on the article I will be glad to post any POLITE comments on my website.



























ARAZPA Position Statement


Keeping elephants at our zoos allows us to help wild Asian Elephants by

a)      Raising and providing funds for elephant conservation in the wild

b)      Raising community support for elephant conservation in the wild

c)      Developing skills and expertise to assist the future management of elephants in the wild.





The Humane Society International (HIS) recently released a report that condemned the whole captive breeding program. The trump card was a report put out by a zoo expert that stated the breeding proposal would not be successful.


Peter Myroniuk, a former population biologist at the Melbourne Zoo states that the plan relies heavily on unproven and unreliable artificial insemination techniques to develop a captive breeding population that is numerically self sustaining. His analysis explored various scenarios all of which lead to population declines to non viable levels within 50 years.


HIS statement


“Elephants breed poorly in captive situations, suffer significant animal welfare problems and high mortality rates. To date no elephant has been bred successfully in an Australian Zoo, and even captive populations numbering in the hundreds in Europe and the United states are not self sustaining.


“The zoos would be better off spending the money used on in situ exhibits to facilitate conservation programs that would protect the elephant’s natural habitats. After all, zoos can raise funds for in situ Asian elephant conservation programs without exhibiting captive elephants, as do many conservation organisations.


“When you consider that public dollars for conservation are extremely limited, and that the Australian Government is spending $10 million dollars over three years to fund multiple conservation programs in Asia Pacific benefiting hundreds of threatened species. $40 million dollars to house 4 elephants in Taronga Zoo seems a pointless extravagance.” 
































International wildlife experts from Thailand have called for the ban of trafficking of Asian elephants, warning that demand from zoos and theme parks is driving the illegal trade from countries such as Thailand. (Balderdash – the elephants to be imported into Australia are already captive elephants from logging camps. US cannot legally import elephants without much paperwork, ditto for Europe. I don’t believe that there is a large trade in LIVE elephants.)


The International Fund for Animal Welfare Asia-Pacific director, Mick McIntyre, claims footage filmed at Taronga, Melbourne and Auckland Zoos showed the current elephant population was suffering. The animals are apparently indulging in stereotypic behaviour such as bobbing their heads and continually swaying from side to side all of which indicates stress and boredom.



































ARO Concerns


  • Due to their large size and exercise requirements, elephants require more space than any zoo can provide.
  • Elephants high intelligence means that they are not stimulated enough in zoos, so leading to emotional and mental problems, best seen in stereotypic behaviour such as swaying, pacing and head bobbing.
  • Elephants are not being successfully bred in zoos therefore leading to a demand on wild populations to keep up the captive population.
  • The large amounts of money spent on zoo exhibits would be better spent on conservation programs in the wild.
  • Elephants are a major drawcard for zoos and so the only reason zoos want them is for commercial purposes






  • Elephants can be kept in a healthy physical and mental state in captivity has seen situations in Asia  -----------(see other emails)
  • All that is required is to have the animals natural behaviour, social and environmental needs met – can be done in captivity via
  • Exercise programs, daily wash downs, swimming and long walk.
  • Their needs cane better met at Open Range Zoos such as Werribee and Western Plains
  • You can watch TV documentaries as much as you like but you will never be able to experience the true majesty of elephants unless you see them in the flesh. It is of course best to see them in the wild but not everyone can, or wishes, to travel to Asia. Seeing them in zoos is the next best thing.











































































































































My conclusion


The new elephants shouldn’t be imported into the country until the zoos show that they are serious about captive breeding.


I have no problem with keeping elephants in captivity. I don’t view zoos the same way that animal rights groups do. However the animals must be kept well. This means providing them with

1. Space to move around in, ensuring that they walk many miles in a day.

2. That life is stimulating with plenty of things to. This can include activities such as walks and basic work, as Auckland Zoo does and painting such as at Melbourne.

3. That basic essential amenities are met. Water deep enough to swim, plenty of browsing, sand, mud and other substrates to walk or roll over.

4. A social life that matches the natural situation. A herd comprising several females of different ages that are not broken up. Males are not kept constantly with the females.


Zoos can and are providing this.


It would have been best for the zoos to have combined their animals together at a large acre institution, either Werribee or Western Plains. Perhaps Werribee would be the preferred place due to its ease of access from major cities.  The combined groups of 5-7 cows would have been more likely to inspire natural social behaviours which may have lead to breeding. This would have a less expensive option; the rest of the money raised could then have been used for conservation in the native countries. This way the zoos could show that they were serious about captive breeding and conservation and not thinking purely along commercial lines.


Why didn’t this happen. For political and commercial reasons, zoos are not just conservation centres but they must also be businesses’ and elephants are a big drawcard. Also rivalries between zoos may also have been a factor. It is my opinion that animal rights groups must work with zoos instead of constantly criticising them. Unfortunately their aim generally is to close all zoos, with an ideology that does not allow interaction between humans and animals. While I believe that most if not all people in these groups are concerned about the welfare of elephants, this issue is also a useful political tool for them.





















































Thanks to Nigel from New Zealand and Patrick from Victoria for their comments, ideas and photos.


‘Better off Dead Than Captive Bred’ by Michael Hutchins, Communique June 2004


‘HIS Condemns zoo plans to import Asian elephants’ News release 18th March 2004


ARAZPA Position Statement – 9th June 2004


‘Elephants not on immediate agenda for zoo’ R.G.B.Morrison, letter to the editor, The Adelaide Advertiser 9th Nov 2004


‘Experts say elephants doomed in Australian zoos’ News Release 4th Nov 2004



‘Zoo demand fuels illegal elephant trade, Australian conference told.’

TerraDaily 30th Nov 2004


zoo seeks elephant stamp of approval’ The Age 16th July 2004 


‘Trail of the Elephants’ Zoological Parks and Gardens Board of Victoria 2003