Chaining is one of the most common methods used to confine elephants in captivity. It severely restricts an elephant's movements, eliminating its ability to lie down, walk, or socialize with other elephants. The severity of these restrictions can result in neurotic psychological behavior, physical injury, and even the death of captive elephants.
Elephants in the circus and other traveling shows are typically chained at all times — except when performing or immediately prior to show time. Although the industry will claim that its elephants are chained "only during train rides and at night" evidence to the contrary ranges from eyewitness testimony, photographs, and video footage.
The use of chains or similar devices poses a significant health risk to elephants as their prolonged use requires elephants to remain in virtually the same place for hours on end. As a result, many elephants in captivity suffer from lameness, foot abscesses, and arthritis. When elephants are immobilized by chains, they are forced to stand in their own excrement, which can cause rotting in the pads of their feet, urine burns on their legs, and other foot problems including rot, sole cracks, hoof overgrowth, cracked nails, and infected cuticles. Chaining on concrete or similar hard surfaces has been identified as a cause of painful arthritis and resultant lameness. These foot and joint maladies are the leading reasons for the euthanasia of captive elephants.
Chaining typically results in neurosis and stereotypic behaviors as a result of the boredom and torment inherent to prolonged restraint. "Stereotypic behavior" is a repetitive, abnormal behavior pattern with no obvious goal or function that manifests itself in captive wild animals. Stereotypic behaviors observed most in chained elephants include head-bobbing and swaying. Chaining contributes to the psychological abuse of elephants by preventing these naturally family-oriented animals from interacting. This behavior, indicative of psychological distress, is not observed in elephants in the wild.
Contrary to opposition claims, no federal law mandates that animals be chained while in transport. 9 CFR §3.137 of the Animal Welfare Act, relating to the transport of elephants, states: (c) Primary enclosures used to transport live animals shall be large enough to ensure that each animal contained therein has sufficient space to turn about freely and to make normal postural adjustments: Provided, however, that certain species may be restricted in their movements according to professionally acceptable standards when such freedom of movement would constitute a danger to the animals, their handlers, or other persons. (emphasis added)
Chaining can lead to increased aggression in elephants, resulting in attacks and injuries to keepers as well as spectators. The general consensus of elephant behaviorists, zoologists, and animal welfare organizations is that confinement on chains is unnatural and harmful to elephants, dangerous to keepers and the public at large, and of no educational value. The practice should be completely discontinued except for medical treatment. No animal — much less an active, sociable one like an elephant — should be sentenced to a life in chains.
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