Auckland Zoo Elephant Import Criticised

After years of debate and controversy Auckland zoo have attracted renewed criticism for importing elephant, Anjalee, from Sri Lanka despite huge oppostion - the decision attracted negative attention from around the world.

When plans were announced, The Born Free Foundation had this to say; (we) “are alarmed by reports that young elephants from Sri Lanka may soon be transferred to Auckland Zoo. Exporting elephants from range states to overseas zoos is ill-conceived, unsustainable and inhumane. We firmly believe that this proposed export to New Zealand will result in little or no conservation benefit to wild elephants, and come at a significant cost to the welfare of the individual elephants involved. We are urgently calling on the governments of the countries involved to reconsider this move.”

SAFE, conservation groups and wildlife experts long opposed the import of more elephants. The zoo’s lone elephant, Burma, had been on her own since 2009 when Kashin was euthanised after losing her battle with chronic health problems, largely caused by being kept in captivity. Kashin suffered painful arthritis and foot abscesses, problems often associated with elephants kept in zoos, due to standing on hard floors and not having the space to roam and exercise. SAFE believes that Burma, and now Anjalee, should be moved to a dedicated sanctuary where they can live with more elephants.

Good welfare in zoos depends on continual enrichment programs and attempts to replicate a natural environment, which can never be properly achieved.

The proposal was to exhibit just three female elephants which is in fact contrary to the guidelines of the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia itself, of which Auckland Zoo is a member. The guidelines state that any facility-keeping elephants must have a minimum of four cow elephants in order to provide a basic social life. They now have just two.

The elephants at the facility in Sri Lanka where Anjalee came from are not in need of new homes. The facility was originally set up as an orphanage, but is now owned by the national zoo, and is a tourist draw card. The main problems facing wild elephants are human-elephant conflicts and pressure on their natural habitat.

“Many elephant experts and a number of zoos are now of the opinion that zoos cannot provide elephants with sufficient space or facilities and they suffer as a result. It is wrong to remove these magnificent animals from their native land and put them into a restricted space, with inadequate social grouping, leading to consequent health problems.” says executive director Hans Kriek.

Expert Opinion

Some of the worlds most prominent international zoologists and respected elephant experts publically appealed to Auckland Council to rethink their plans to import elephants to Auckland Zoo.

Over twenty distinguished animal behavourists and international animal advocates wrote to Auckland Council to express their concerns. These included: Will Travers of Born Free Foundation, Dr Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices and Peter Stroud, a zoological consultant, along with representatives of Amboseli Trust for Elephants, RSPCA, Elephant Aid International, In Defense of Animals, International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society International.

An extract of a letter sent to the council reads:

"After lengthy and careful consideration, we are convinced that removing elephants from Sri Lanka at this time, whatever the motives, is not helpful in any way to securing better outcomes for elephants in that island nation. The sense, in much of Asia, that elephants can be treated as livestock, as commodities, works actively against efforts to promote elephant welfare and conservation. On these grounds alone we urge the council not to support Auckland Zoo's plans."

An RSPCA (UK) report refutes the zoo industry's arguments that elephants need to be in captivity for 'conservation' purposes saying keeping elephants in zoos can be up to 50 times more expensive than conserving free-roaming elephants in the wild.  The RSPCA called for the phase out of elephants in zoos, saying that "recent research has shown that they were suffering from severe welfare problems, which range from lameness and obesity to obsessive behaviour, and that it was inappropriate and cruel to keep them in confinement.

The World Wide Fund For Nature and the African Elephant Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature have concluded that captive breeding does not contribute significantly to elephant conservation believing funds spent on captive zoo elephants should be spent on protecting elephants in their natural habitat.


Peter Stroud

Melbourne based, independent zoological consultant Peter Stroud has worked with many zoos to overcome problems associated with keeping elephants in captivity. He was disappointed to hear Auckland Zoo was planning to establish a breeding herd of elephants.

"No urban zoo can cater for the complex needs of elephants. Sound science tells us that elephants are social animals that spend their lives in and around families of closely related individuals, moving across vast areas. Family life cannot be created in a zoo and there is growing evidence that simply placing unrelated elephants together does not simulate natural social life," said Mr Stroud.

"Removing elephants from existing zoo programmes will neither assist the sustainability of zoo elephant populations nor assist the welfare of the elephants involved. Existing zoo populations of Asian elephants, internationally, are not self-sustaining because of a combination of insufficient genetic diversity and skewed age structure," he says.

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TAKE ACTION! Boycott zoos and tell others about how animals suffer in captivity.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

September 2015