Groundhog Day Prediction May Spell More Misery for Elephants in Zoos

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Groundhog Day Prediction May Spell More Misery for Elephants in Zoos

From In Defense of Animals (IDA)
February 2010

31 out of 75 (41 percent) zoos are holding elephants are situated in cities that experience long, frigid winters....3 out of 4 of zoos are holding elephants in cold climates have average mean temperatures below freezing for two to five consecutive months...approximately 40 percent of all elephants in AZA zoos will be confined indoors for much of the winter

When Punxsutawney Phil crawls out of his burrow, what he finds may determine whether elephants living in cold-climate zoos will suffer another six weeks of miserable confinement. Zoo watchdog organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) today released an unprecedented survey showing that scores of elephants are warehoused throughout the long winter months, many of them hidden from the public.

“Elephants living in cold climates will be confined indoors for the vast majority of each day during the winter, standing in small concrete cages where they lack the space they need for healthy movement,” says IDA captive elephant specialist Catherine Doyle. “Cold weather dramatically increases the suffering that elephants already endure in zoos, where they are dying prematurely from conditions caused by their inadequate environment.”

According to IDA’s survey of 75 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos holding elephants in the U.S. and Canada:

Increased confinement during the winter only adds to the physical and mental problems elephants suffer due to lack of space and being forced to stand long hours on cold, hard concrete floors. These include painful and often-fatal foot disease and arthritis, and aberrant behaviors such as aggression and repetitive rocking and swaying.

Zoos identified in the survey have a mean average temperature below 40 degrees – the temperature at which zoos typically keep elephants indoors – for three consecutive months or longer. While some zoos may allow elephants outside during cold weather it generally is only for brief periods – sometimes as little as half an hour. The rest of the elephants’ time is spent in areas as small as 20 x 20 square feet – the size of a two-car garage.

Elephants typically hail from semi-arid savannas and tropical and subtropical forests, where they walk tens of miles a day in huge home ranges. Designed for temperate climates, elephants have a limited ability to adjust to extremes in temperature and are at risk if subjected to consistently cold temperatures.

Zoos included in the survey
Brookfield Zoo (Illinois)
Buffalo Zoo (New York)
Buttonwood Park Zoo (Massachusetts)
Bronx Zoo (New York)
Calgary Zoo (Canada)
Cheyenne Mountain Park Zoo (Colorado)
Cincinnati Zoo (Ohio)
Cleveland Zoo (Ohio)
Columbus Zoo (Ohio)
Denver Zoo (Colorado)
Dickerson Park Zoo (Missouri)
Granby Zoo (Quebec, Canada)
Hogle Zoo (Utah)
Indianapolis Zoo (Indianapolis)
Kansas City Zoo (Kansas)
Lee Richardson Zoo (Kansas)
Louisville Zoo (Kentucky)
Maryland Zoo
Milwaukee Zoo (Wisconsin)
National Zoo (Washington, DC)
Niabi Zoo (Illinois)
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo (Nebraska)
Pittsburgh Zoo (Pennsylvania)
Roger Williams Park Zoo (Rhode Island)
Rosamond Gifford Zoo (New York)
Seneca Park Zoo (New York)
St. Louis Zoo (Missouri)
Sedgwick County Zoo (Kansas)
Toledo Zoo (Ohio)
Topeka Zoo (Kansas)
Toronto Zoo (Ontario, Canada)