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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 00:58 GMT 01:58 UK
Plight of Europe's captive jumbos
Elephant in UK zoo
Elephants do not live as long in captivity
Elephants kept in captivity at zoos and safari parks live short, stressed and unhealthy lives, says a report calling for huge changes to living conditions.

The independent Oxford University study, funded by the RSPCA, found that Asian elephants in European zoos live on average only 15 years, compared with between 60 and 65 in the wild.


We were shocked at what emerged

Dr Ros Clubb, Oxford University
The RSPCA is now calling for a complete halt to new elephants being sent to zoos in Britain and Europe, and an end to any captive breeding programmes.

There are currently thought to be approximately 500 elephants in zoos and circuses in Europe.

It believes that no zoo or safari park in the UK is capable of providing satisfactory conditions to keep elephants in good condition.

The Oxford study, led by zoologists Drs Ros Clubb and Georgia Mason, looked at striking evidence of poor welfare.

Dr Clubb said: "It showed that about 35% of zoo females fail to breed, that between 15% and 25% of Asian elephant calves are stillborn, and that another 6% to 18% are rejected or even killed by their mothers.

"We were shocked at what emerged. Now the urgent need is to find out how to solve these problems."

The RSPCA also wants to see traditional "free contact" between zookeepers and elephants phased out.

The study found evidence that elephants in some European zoos were still performing circus-style tricks for visitors, and the RSPCA believes that brutal techniques are used in some places to "break in" young elephants so they become more docile.

No natural grazing

The body also calls for improvements to enclosures to protect their welfare.

These might include pools, rubbing and scratching posts, mud wallows, and even heated rubber flooring.

However, 90% of the enclosures surveyed in Europe had no areas in which the elephants could graze naturally.


I don't believe zoos serve any useful purpose.
Steve T, England

To read more of your comments, click here
A spokesman for the RSPCA said that the large sums of money that would have to be spent to keep elephants properly in Europe would be better spent on protection of the animals in the wild.

She said: "Some zoos and safari parks in the UK now no longer house elephants in their collections.

"But even safari parks still don't go far enough in meeting the needs of elephants.

"At Whipsnade, for example, there is grazing, but their welfare is still being compromised - two babies were stillborn there recently.

"In the wild, elephants can roam over areas of more than 55,000 square kilometres."

Stout defence

The Federation of Zoological Parks of Great Britain has just issued new guidelines for the management of elephants in captivity.


New enclosures are being built, welfare has improved - credit needs to be given for that

Chris West, UK Federation of Zoos

Chris West, the chairman of the federation's Elephant Management Group, which drew up the guidelines, said that the situation had improved greatly since the 1960s, and that an elephant born now in a zoo meeting the guidelines should expect a lifespan comparable with one born in the wild.

He said that while some zoos did not yet meet the new set of standards, there would be a rolling programme of inspections, beginning next year, to check progress.

He told BBC News Online: "New enclosures are being built, welfare has improved - credit needs to be given for that."

However, the RSPCA says that the new guidelines are welcome, but do not go far enough.

The spokesman said: "There are still breeding programmes in these zoos, and these should be stopped."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"On an average day these animals will roam 40 miles"
Dr Rob Atkinson, RSPCA
"They've inherited animals and a system that's archaic"
Prof. Gordon McGregor Reid, Chester Zoo
"The life for elephants in the wild is not very good"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
ElephantsElephants
Time to stop keeping them in zoos?
See also:

23 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
26 Feb 00 | Scotland
01 Nov 01 | England
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