[Ed. Note: There have been many elephants removed from zoos and taken to elephant sanctuaries where they are able to live on hundreds of acres and interact with other elephants. They NEVER have to perform. Most recently in April 2011, Anne The Elephant, Safe At Last. Two of the best-known elephant sanctuaries in the world are both in the United States: PAWS (Northern California) and The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee).]
Following the diagnosis of tuberculosis in Donna, an Asian elephant at the St. Louis Zoo, In Defense of Animals (IDA) is urging the zoo to end its elephant program due to a history of elephant suffering from a broad range of captivity-induced problems.
One of the St. Louis Zoo's elephants.
“The St. Louis Zoo is a breeding ground for suffering, as a result of keeping elephants in inadequate and extremely unnatural conditions,” said IDA Elephant Campaign Director Catherine Doyle. “It’s time for the St. Louis Zoo to stop breeding elephants and to take a hard look at the serious problems the elephants are suffering under its care.”
According to IDA, St. Louis provides the perfect example of why elephants do not belong in urban zoos, citing the wide array of disorders directly related to their captivity:
- Foot disease and arthritis caused by lack of space for movement and standing on concrete flooring are the leading causes of death for elephants in zoos. These conditions claimed the life of Clara in 2007 and have been found in several other elephants. Long cold winters compound the problem by forcing elephants indoors for greater periods of time.
- Rani rejected and even injured her calf Jade soon after her birth in 2007. Though generally unheard of in the wild, calf rejection is prevalent in zoos where elephants lack the opportunity to learn appropriate mothering behaviors. Rani is again pregnant and expected to give birth this year.
- Sri’s full-term fetus died in utero in 2005 and was not expelled. Birth complications, including a high rate of stillbirths, are common in zoos. Excessive weight gain due to lack of movement likely plays a part.
- Jade was stricken with a lethal elephant virus in 2009; Maliha was also infected. The disease, which strikes young Asian elephants and has an 85% mortality rate, historically sickens only captive elephants. The zoo recklessly continues to breed elephants despite the high risk of another calf becoming infected.
- Tuberculosis, recently diagnosed in the St. Louis Zoo’s Donna, is not endemic to elephants; the disease was passed to elephants from humans. It infects at least 12% of Asian elephants in captivity, and most infected elephants do not show clinical signs of the disease. Stress and impaired immunity play a part in susceptibility to tuberculosis.
Though elephants have a natural lifespan of 60-70 years, scientific data shows that those in zoos are dying decades sooner than elephants in protected wild populations. Some zoos have recognized they cannot meet elephants’ natural needs. In the United States, 18 zoos have closed or plan to close their elephant exhibits.