PM Urged to Reject Cruel ‘White Elephant’ gift amid International Condemnation

SAFE has urged PM John Key to do the right thing and reject the promised ‘gift’ of a second elephant from the Sri Lankan government, as the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visits New Zealand from 1-3 October.

Auckland Zoo currently house older elephant Burma, plus another elephant from Sri Lanka, Anjalee. New Zealand was ‘gifted’ an additional elephant, Nandi, earlier this year, who, it is planned, will join them. Auckland Zoo ostensibly plans to start a breeding programme, at a cost of millions of dollars to rate payers.

Animal welfare advocates in Sri Lanka also oppose the move, with legal action taken by local groups in Sri Lanka, who have petitioned the Court of Appeal in an attempt to keep Nandi in the country. The appeal will be heard on October 21.

Mandy Carter, head of campaigns, says, “The zoo’s plans are at odds with the thinking in leading zoos around the world which are increasingly moving away from keeping elephants on welfare grounds. The ‘breeding programme’ proposed for Auckland Zoo is not linked to any valid conservation programme. Elephants born and bred in zoos cannot be and never are released back into the wild. Any elephants born at Auckland Zoo will remain in captivity their entire lives.” 

Concerns around keeping elephants in zoos from international experts include:

  • No zoo in the world can adequately cater to the needs of elephants. Sound science says that elephants are social animals that spend their lives in and around families of closely related individuals, moving across vast areas. Family life amongst these unrelated elephants cannot be created in a zoo and there is growing evidence that simply placing unrelated elephants together does not simulate natural social life. Urban zoos can neither provide sufficient space for elephants, nor sufficient environmental complexity, and has welfare implications.
  • The zoo’s long term plans are presented as a breeding programme for conservation, but no elephants have ever been released to the wild, and any born at Auckland Zoo will remain in captivity their entire lives. The true reason is that elephants are a draw card for the zoo.
  • Auckland Zoo also says it wants to display these animals for the general public as ‘wildlife advocates,’ but studies show visitors spend longer in the gift shop than they do learning about the animals, and it does so by keeping them in an environment that limits their natural instincts to walk, feed and associate freely.
  • Building for urban elephants is always more expensive than initially estimated. Even attempting to create basic living conditions for a "herd" of elephants in Auckland Zoo will be extremely expensive. Experts say the estimate of $NZ13 million is almost certainly an under-estimate. The National Zoo in Washington has spent $US50 million on basic and inadequate facilities for a proposed total of nine elephants. In Australia, the Melbourne Zoo and Sydney's Taronga Zoo each spent in excess of $AU15 million.
  • It is not a priority or in New Zealand’s interests to be breeding Asian elephants in captivity. Inspiring New Zealanders with projects with genuine, realistic, conservation aims and clear benefits is what the zoo should focus more on.
  • Internationally there is a trend away from exhibiting captive elephants in zoos due to the welfare risks, and the fact that many elephants die young in zoos.
  • SAFE is very concerned that the risks involved are misguided and are being taken simply for the zoo’s own interests in promoting visitor numbers. Care and regard is not being taken for the elephants themselves.

A consortium of over 20 highly respected leading elephant experts has called upon plans for more elephants to be imported to be rejected. These include welfare expert 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.

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.”

“We would like to see our PM look beyond the surface and listen to what elephant welfare experts are saying. The evidence is damning: elephants do not belong in zoos,” says Mandy.


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2 October 2016