The short, miserable lives of zoo elephants: A Seattle Times exposé »
[T]he decades-long effort by zoos to preserve and protect elephants is failing, exacerbated by substandard conditions and denial of mounting scientific evidence that most elephants do not thrive in captivity.
The Times did a first-of-its-kind analysis of 390 elephant fatalities at accredited U.S. zoos for the past 50 years. It found that most of the elephants died from injury or disease linked to conditions of their captivity, from chronic foot problems caused by standing on hard surfaces to musculoskeletal disorders from inactivity caused by being penned or chained for days and weeks at a time.
By 2003, the weight of scientific evidence that elephants failed to thrive in zoos, combined with pressure from animal-welfare groups worldwide, prompted U.S. agencies to dramatically slow the importation of wild elephants. An easy supply of elephants masked the premature deaths and decline of captive elephants in U.S. zoos. With their supply line nearly closed, zoos stepped up captive breeding to replenish the dying ranks.
[The Association of Zoos and Aquariums along with representatives from dozens of zoos that housed elephants] agreed to “speak and act with a unified voice” in claiming that elephants were thriving in zoos. Together, they hired a crisis-management firm and agreed to dub critics of elephant captivity as “extremists.” They also committed in writing to aggressively breed elephants, following a “species survival plan.”
That’s all from part one. Part two addresses zoos’ sneaky methods of importing wild elephants, and their efforts to keep their old, abused elephants out of sanctuaries like (Vegansaurus favorite) PAWS.
A consortium of zoos is also building its own sanctuary where zoos can send unwanted males. Officials broke ground in April on a 225-acre sanctuary called the National Elephant Center in Fellsmore, Fla. The first phase includes a 13,000-square-foot barn and enough pasture for nine elephants. The $15 million project will eventually house up to 36 elephants.
Accredited zoos also plan to use the center for breeding, one way to revitalize the nation’s elephant population.
Gift idea this year: Adopt a PAWS elephant. Zoos really are the grossest. If you want to show tiny children the magic of wild animals, take them to a sanctuary and let a nice staff person explain why putting animals on display is horrible in tiny-child-friendly terms. Or, you know, just watch nature videos on a big TV and recognize you can’t have everything.